Pros: Excellent fuel economy; child seat friendly backseat; true off-road ability; reasonable price; powerful turbo model; new high tech options
Cons: Somewhat subdued styling; confusing audio interface no manual transmission on the turbo model; oddly grouped option packages
What's New: The 2014 Subaru Forester is entirely new from the ground up. Compared to the outgoing model, the new Forester features more room, better fuel economy and a quieter interior. There's also a new, more powerful turbocharged XT model as well as features never before seen on a Forester, such as a power rear liftgate and Subaru's EyeSight accident avoidance system.
The Forester has always been the value leader in the Subaru family, as if offers the same engine and all-wheel drive layout as the larger Outback without a hefty price tag. For 2014, Subaru has kept all that was good about the Forester and improved upon its shortcomings -- namely interior comfort and noise levels, available equipment and overall ride and handling. There is also a revised XT model touting significantly more power over the previous XT, plus upgrades to its frame, suspension, brakes and steering. The new Forester doesn't look that much different from the outgoing model, but the driving experience, both behind the wheel and in the passenger seats, is like night and day.
Comfort & Utility
Subaru stretched the new Forester by only 1.4 inches, but the improvements made to its interior room are nothing short of game changing. There is more leg, hip, head and shoulder room in both front and rear, in some cases by more than an inch. Subaru engineers lowered the center floor tunnel and scalloped the front seat backs to improve legroom. They also made the rear seat more child seat friendly by expanding the rear door openings and moving the tether anchors to the rear seat backs. On Limited and Touring models, the rear seat cup holders now reside in the folding center armrest, making it easier for little ones strapped in their child seats to reach their sippy cups. When the rear seats are folded (and they now fold flush with the rear cargo floor) there is an additional 6 cu ft of space compared to the previous model, which gives the 2014 Forester a class-leading cargo volume of 74.7 cu ft. That number drops to 68.5 cu ft with the panoramic moonroof that is standard on all but the base and manual transmission models.
New seat designs and fabric go a long way towards improving comfort, although we did find the front seat bottoms to be a bit short and somewhat flat. On the flip side, we love the angle-adjustable head restraints, which are a vast improvement over the annoying and uncomfortable fixed angle design.
Standard equipment levels are quite generous even on the base model and include air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, remote keyless entry and a rear wiper/washer. The Premium trim adds a rear backup camera, 6-speaker audio, 17-inch alloy wheels, HD radio, privacy glass and a power driver's seat. Oddly, manually equipped models come standard with the Cold Weather package (heated seats, mirrors and windshield wiper de-icers) but not the panoramic glass moonroof, while CVT automatic equipped models include the moonroof but have the Cold Weather Package as optional. Limited trims add leather seats and auto climate control, while the Touring model receives a 440-watt harman/kardon audio system, touchscreen navigation and a power rear liftgate, among other features.
The XT model includes many of the same features but adds a sport suspension, 18-in wheels, high torque CVT automatic with SI-Drive and dual exhaust pipes. However, the All Weather Package in not available on the XT Premium.
Subaru has made big strides in updating the Forester's technology roster. Starting at the lower end of the tech scale, every model except for the base 2.5i includes a rear backup camera and all models feature a multi-information display.
Moving to the middle ground finds a new touchscreen navigation radio. We are lukewarm on this unit, which is available on the Premium trim and standard on Limited and Touring models. The navigation system isn't terribly intuitive, the system locks out many controls when the car is in motion and the touchscreen controls are small and difficult to operate. On the plus side, Subaru has added Aha, an app that allows you to link smartphone apps like Pandora and Spotify to the car's audio, which allows you to stream content via Bluetooth. Also, if you want Satellite radio, you'll have to opt for the navigation upgrade.
At the high-end of the tech scale is Subaru's EyeSight Driver Assist System. EyeSight can maintain a safe distance between you and the cars ahead when the Adaptive Cruise Control is engaged, or it can help to avoid accidents by slowing the vehicle in the event of an imminent collision as well as give audible warnings to alert the driver. At speeds under 19 miles per hour, the system can actually bring the car to a stop before rear-ending the car ahead; at greater speeds, Eyesight will slow the vehicle (if the driver fails to act) lessening the force of impact. EyeSight also includes a lane departure warning system and pedestrian detection.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The standard engine for the 2014 Subaru Forester is a carryover from last year. The 2.5-liter boxer 4-cylinder produces 170 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. With the CVT automatic, the 2.5 earns an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated 24 miles per gallon city/32 mpg highway, fuel economy that rivals or bests the figures posted by some of the Forester's FWD 4-wheel drive rivals. A new 6-speed manual is standard on base and Premium models and comes with a less sophisticated all-wheel drive system that offers slightly lower fuel economy figures of 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy.
Those seeking a more performance-oriented ride will appreciate the new XT trim. With its direct-injection 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, the XT produces 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. While performance figures are not exactly in the WRX territory, the new XT shaves a full second off the previous model's 0-to-60 mph time, making the run in just 6.2 seconds. The added horsepower doesn't detract from fuel economy either, which comes in at 22 mpg city/28 mpg hwy on regular gas (Premium is recommended but not required).
The Forester has been given all the safety features mandated by the federal government, plus added protection in the form of a reinforced passenger compartment frame and a driver's knee airbag. Subaru expects the Forester to earn a 5-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as well as earn top marks in all the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests, including the new small overlap offset crash test.
Performance with the 2.5-liter engine is surprisingly strong, with good acceleration and passing power and quiet operation. The Forester rides and drives more like a small car than an SUV blessed with 8.7-in of ground clearance. Subaru's electric assist power steering is a bit numb in the curves, but not annoyingly so, and the nicely weighted steering wheel makes it easy to keep the Forester track straight and true. Most noticeable is the improvement in ride comfort and lower interior noise levels, which were sore spots on the outgoing model.
The XT trim provides a much sportier ride, thanks in part to its stiffer chassis, increased spring rates and bigger brakes. To our delight, we found that the XT model's 18-in tires vastly improve handling without diminishing ride comfort or noise levels. Of course, the real joy when driving the XT is the rush of power from the turbo engine. If you require superior passing power and jack rabbit sprints, this is the engine you'll want in your Forester.
The Forester's CVT automatic includes a low-mode setting for more controlled descents and on Limited and Touring trims, has Hill Descent Control and X-Mode, a system which provides better control in certain driving situations. On the XT trim, the CVT includes a version of the SI-Drive system found on the WRX. SI-Drive includes three modes: Intelligent (I), Sport (S) and Sport Shift (S#). In Sport and Sport Shift, the CVT can simulate a 6- or 8-speed gearbox for maximum response to throttle input.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda CR-V: In front-wheel drive form, the CR-V has a lower starting price than the Forester and rivals it for resale and reliability. But the Forester gets better fuel economy even with its standard all-wheel drive, and its all-wheel drive system is much better suited to off-roading. Also, the CR-V doesn't offer the option of a turbocharged engine.
Hyundai Santa Fe: The Santa Fe has more powerful engine choices and much better audio, infotainment and navigation systems. But the Santa Fe's fuel economy, especially on the all-wheel drive models, falls far short of the Forester's and its all-wheel drive system is only part-time. The Forester's base price is also about $1,000 less than the Santa Fe.
Ford Escape: The Escape has a lower base price and much better audio and infotainment features, but its fuel economy isn't as good nor does it have as much interior space.
If fuel economy and some modest creature comforts top your shopping list, the 2.5i Premium with the CVT, Cold Weather Package and touchscreen navigation radio would be our pick. However, if power and performance are paramount, then the 2.0 XT Premium would be our choice. The Limited is nice if you like leather seating, heated seats and auto climate controls and those who must have the all the bells and whistles will find them on the Touring trims. But be prepared to pay a premium for the top models, on par with what you'd receive from a similarly equipped Outback.