Hitting The Mainstream Sweet Spot



The Forester does quite a bit of heavy lifting for Subaru. What was once a plucky little all-wheel-drive utility box has matured into a competitive crossover that accounts for a quarter of the company's total sales in the US. With those numbers continuing to swell even in the third generation's twilight hours, engineers and designers found themselves in the unenviable position of being asked to fix what ain't broke. Rather than reinvent the company's workhorse from the ground up, as we say in our first look at the CUV, Subaru honed the Forester to offer better fuel efficiency, more usable space and a more refined drive.

In doing so, the automaker hopes to toe that delicate line between luring in new devotees to the cult of Pleiades and keeping the brand's longtime fans smiling. While the fourth-generation Forester may have lost some of its trademark pluckiness in the pursuit of a more mainstream existence, there's no denying this is a more sorted vehicle than its predecessors. Make no mistake, the 2014 Forester is keen to carve out a larger chunk of the ever-plumping CUV market for itself, and for the first time in its history, it has the muscle to do so.
The 2014 Subaru Forester is larger in every direction compared to the 2013 model, but familiar proportions help keep the new generation from looking engorged. Taken on its own, the Japanese CUV looks fairly compact, but with its tall ride height and more capacious greenhouse, the model can't help but appear beefier than competitors like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. Both the base Forester and the XT now feature more squared-off styling front and rear, and the result is a more masculine mini SUV.

 2014 Subaru Forester XT side view2014 Subaru Forester XT front view2014 Subaru Forester XT rear view

Subaru wanted to help separate the turbocharged XT model from its naturally aspirated littermates aesthetically, which helps explain the Gundam lower fascia up front. There's no calling the machine's lower maw subtle, but the look is more subdued in the flesh. Longtime XT fans will spot the unfortunate omission of the model's trademark hood scoop – a casualty in the quest for greater fuel efficiency through reduced drag. While the forced-induction four-cylinder still makes use of a top-mount intercooler, the heat exchanger is now fed through a bit of clever duct work snugged to the underside of the hood that draws air from the grille opening.

Longtime XT fans will spot the unfortunate omission of the model's trademark hood scoop.

Combined with a new teardrop roofline, the scoop delete helps return a drag coefficient of just .33. The number is one of the best in the segment and marks a 10.8-percent improvement over the 2013 model, but we still miss the option of vacuuming up squirrels, birds, small children and other foolhardy varmints.

If the Forester shows its new girth anywhere, it's in profile. The new generation is 1.5 inches longer than the outgoing model, complete with an extra inch of wheelbase. There's also an additional 1.4 inches of total height, thanks in part to a larger greenhouse. Designers shifted the A-pillar forward slightly for greater visibility and larger door openings, and under a close eye, the CUV can't help but appear a bit bubble-headed. We appreciate the new roof-to-belly doors that cover the vehicle's sills, however. Anyone who's come away from a previous-generation Forester with mud or snowy slush on their pant legs will agree the design change is a good one.

2014 Subaru Forester XT headlight2014 Subaru Forester XT grille2014 Subaru Forester XT wheel2014 Subaru Forester XT taillight

Subaru has worked to make the 2014 Forester more kid friendly than its old counterpart.

Inside, the 2014 Forester doesn't exactly offer buyers any great leap forward in comfort or convenience, though a number of small changes help make the cabin a nicer place to spend time. Those start with larger door openings all around, which help make jumping behind the wheel or wrangling children into the back seat easier. Up front, designers have ditched the old square cup holders for round units, and the seat warmer controls have finally migrated to a usable position on the center console. We can't say thank you enough for that last maneuver. With an extra 0.4 inches of vehicle width and redesigned, scalloped door panels, occupants get an extra 1.3 inches of shoulder room, too, which helps make the Forester feel larger inside than it actually is.

But it's the back seat that's received the most attention. Subaru has worked to make the 2014 Forester more kid friendly than its old counterpart, with tricks like a transmission tunnel that's nearly three inches lower than before. Likewise, the center console has been shortened by four inches to afford the center seat more legroom, and the back cupholders have moved from the bench seat itself to the fold-down armrest. The change allows children in car seats to easily reach cups or toys and makes the center seat itself more livable. Most importantly, the 2014 model delivers an extra 3.7 inches of rear legroom over the 2013 Forester, effectively making the back seat genuinely usable for adults and children alike for the first time in the model's history.

2014 Subaru Forester XT interior2014 Subaru Forester XT front seats2014 Subaru Forester XT rear seats2014 Subaru Forester XT rear cargo area

The forced-induction mill is based on the same platform as the engine that propels the company's BRZ.

Engineers spent plenty of time tweaking the vehicle's drivetrain as well. While lower trims make use of the same 2.5-liter dual-overhead cam boxer four-cylinder engine that debuted on the 2013 model, the XT now benefits from a turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter flat four. The forced-induction mill is based on the same platform as the engine that propels the company's BRZ, but engineers assure us the setup won't fit into the rear-wheel-drive coupe's engine bay. Clearly, they've never handled a reciprocating saw.

The base engine continues to deliver 170 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 174 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm, but the new beating heart behind the XT puts out 250 horses from 5,600 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque from a foolishly low 2,000 rpm. That's a jump of 26 hp and 32 lb-ft of torque over the outgoing turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. While the base 2014 Forester gets to enjoy an all-new six-speed manual transmission, as well as a new continuously variable transmission option, the XT rides with an all-new high-torque CVT of its own. The new transmissions translate into some impressive fuel economy figures, with the base model returning 24 miles per gallon city and 32 mpg highway by Subaru estimations (the EPA has yet to officially weigh in). The XT, meanwhile, now meets the 2013 base model's numbers with 23 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, and the turbo no longer requires premium fuel. Those are impressive numbers considering the Forester comes standard with all-wheel drive.

2014 Subaru Forester XT engine

One of the most significant changes is the addition of Subaru's SI-Drive system.

Still not sold on that CVT? While it's true Subaru doesn't exactly have the best track record when it comes to building enjoyable pulley-filled transmissions, the new CVT options are almost painless. In the XT, the transmission is all but unobtrusive, offering quiet operation and helping to put the engine where you need it in the rev band with a fraction of the rubber-band feeling we're used to from the company's CVTs. That said, the transmission does dull the turbo four-cylinder's punch somewhat, culminating in a much tamer driveline than the XT models of old despite a substantial jump in power. Likewise, quickly changing from Park to Drive or Drive to Reverse still results in a delay that's noticeably longer than a traditional automatic. Get onto the accelerator before the transmission is ready to party, and you'll receive an unpleasant jolt as the internals get up to speed.

The XT also offers stiffer spring rates, revised dampers and larger brakes than its naturally aspirated counterparts, but one of the most significant changes is the addition of Subaru's SI-Drive system. First shown on the 2007 Legacy GT spec.B, the tech allows the driver to select between Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp modes to alter throttle mapping and transmission parameters. We found Intelligent mode to be a bit muddy, preferring instead to leave the XT in Sport mode. Doing so allows the driver to click through six simulated gears in the transmission via wheel-mounted paddle shifters, while Sport Sharp offers up eight simulated gears.

2014 Subaru Forester XT shifter

On the road, the Forester XT has lost even more of the second generation's tweaker personality.

The move to a CVT has also allowed Subaru to refine its already impressive all-wheel-drive system by using the Vehicle Dynamics Control system to manage a continuously variable transfer clutch. The system takes into account data like the steering angle, vehicle yaw and lateral acceleration to more accurately put power to wheels with the most traction. What's more, the driver can now actuate X-Mode via a button on the center console. Available at speeds below 25 mph, X-Mode further moderates throttle inputs while controlling the transmission logic, front-to-rear all-wheel drive power split and brakes to provide as much grip as possible. It also offers an automatic hill-descent control for low-traction surfaces.

Unfortunately, on the road, the Forester XT has lost even more of the second generation's tweaker personality. While the third gen softened up considerably, the CUV's fourth iteration is almost generic in its power delivery and mannerisms. You'd be forgiven for thinking there were a laid-back V6 under the hood instead of a small-displacement four-cylinder singing its heart out, thanks in part to that CVT. Acceleration is freakishly linear, and while Subaru says it takes the new Forester just 6.2 seconds to get to 60 mph, the five door doesn't necessarily feel that quick, swapping neck-snapping punch for a confident swell.

2014 Subaru Forester XT rear 3/4 view

The Forester XT has grown up in all the right ways.

Likewise, the vehicle's 3,622-pound curb weight and 8.7-inches of ground clearance yield plenty of tip and sway, even with the stiffer springs of the XT. The good news is that once you push through the tilt, the XT breaks away gradually with a confidence-inspiring forgiveness. Kiss the brakes, go full bore with the throttle and the Forester XT will rotate just like a portly version of the much-loved WRX. That old track-fiend in grocery getter clothing is still under there somewhere, you just have to lift more skirt to find it.

Expect the 2014 Forester to start at $21,995 for the base 2.5i, plus an $825 destination fee. Stepping up to XT trim will cost you $27,995 for Premium trim. That's a jump of $700 over last year for the turbocharged model, though given the improvements present in the fourth generation, we can't help but think that's fair. The Forester XT has grown up in all the right ways, and while we miss the old machine's wild hair tendencies, it's clear more buyers will find more to love in the newest version.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 123 Comments
      dinobot666
      • 1 Year Ago
      Those of you lamenting the loss of a proper manual transmission mated to the turbo unit, obviously didn't buy a Forester XT the last time it was offered with one in the US, because nobody bought them! They sat on lots forever. If people were buying manual transmission equipped turbocharged cars, Subaru would continue to offer them, but nobody did. It's your own fault people!
        Zach Bowman
        • 1 Year Ago
        @dinobot666
        Sad but true. The take rate on previous XT manuals was less than five percent. Hard to build a business case on those numbers.
        Robdaemon
        • 1 Year Ago
        @dinobot666
        Some of us *do* buy manuals, just not enough. Sad, really.
      mikeybyte1
      • 1 Year Ago
      One thing I have always admired about the Forester, and which continues here, is the greenhouse. Kudos to Subaru designers for keeping a lot of glass up top. No narrow gun-slit windows. No trendy up-swept D-pillar. Just lots of big windows all of the way around. No blindspots here. Bravo!
      G
      • 1 Year Ago
      When is Subaru gonna make cars for those who have out grown the WRX?? Here is a person already accustomed to row his own gears and having a turbo engine with AWD. What other car can they realistically get into if they wanted to stay with a Subaru?? None!! This my problem I guess or else they would have already addressed it, but I guess Toyota and selling cars in volume has something to do with it.
        Sean
        • 1 Year Ago
        @G
        I hear ya G. I was in the same boat as you. I went and purchased a used 2005 XT with the 5mt. Not quite as refined as the new one and you def wont get nearly as good MPG's. But the 04-08 XT is the Foz closest to the performance found in the WRX. Plus all of the 04-07 WRX parts fit so the modifications towards WRX level performance are readily available.
        Yoshi
        • 1 Year Ago
        @G
        M/Ts just do not sell in volume in this segment. Perhaps it's a lack of availability, but it's more likely due to a demographic shift and legacy buyers are going to be left behind. At least the A/T offers manual modes for some sense of control. It's the best of both worlds IMO.
        Delta5
        • 1 Year Ago
        @G
        Amen! There's a whole generation - my generation - who eagerly anticipated, bought , & loved the WRX when it was introduced in 2002. We're 11 years older now. We have families, careers, and desire something with a slightly softer edge than a WRX STi, but with the performance & amenities that come with a $35K-$40K car. Subaru has nothing in their portfolio for someone who wants Subaru magic but in a "grown-up" car. Basically, the only other company with an AWD system that rivals Subaru is Audi. Guess what many of us who want a "grown-up WRX" are driving these days?
      Graham
      • 1 Year Ago
      "engineers and designers found themselves in the unenviable position of being asked to fix what ain't broke" Not sure I agree with the comment. There were two very easy fixes for Subaru to make, and to their credit they made both fixes. 1) Get rid of the 4-speed auto and 2) improve gas mileage. Every review written about the previous gen Forester had these two complaints at the top of the list. Also, improved interior is greatly appreciated. The previous Forester was quite good but this really is a vast improvement in a package that is almost the same. I predict very good things for the Forester in the coming years. Hopefully they will shift some of the production to the US as well.
      GN
      • 1 Year Ago
      I just love it. I don't know why but I really like the design. Best in its segment for sure.
      Coopwrx
      • 1 Year Ago
      I was looking to get back into a Subaru, this would have been a great car for me. The kicker is the CVT transmission, I just really don't like those. If I could special order this one with the 6mt that would be great. I get not making ones with manuals for the lot, but allowing those that would like to special order one would be nice.
        wrxfrk16
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Coopwrx
        Just get a WRX 5-door. You're getting the same basic platform, more power, tighter suspension, and nearly as much storage space. And you can have a proper 5-speed, for roughly the same price as a Forester XT.
          Coopwrx
          • 1 Year Ago
          @wrxfrk16
          I have had three WRXs, one being a STI. I love them, but the Forester looked damn good and would have gotten it if they put a manual. I prefer the 6 speed transmission over the 5 speed though.
      YaSo
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Clearly, they've never handled a reciprocating saw." Nice!
      Pishabh Badmaash
      • 1 Year Ago
      Road noise, that's the biggest issue I've had with the Forester. Any idea if that has improved in this new edition?
        Zach Bowman
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Pishabh Badmaash
        It is quieter than the previous generation, but do expect some noise. While the engine and transmission racket is kept out of the cabin fairly well, there's more than a little wind noise.
          Zach Bowman
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Zach Bowman
          We owned an '04 as well, and I can tell you that compared to that thing, the new Forester is quiet as a tomb.
          telm12345
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Zach Bowman
          That\'s always been my issue with my ex\'s \'04. I tried everything, including adding the plastic tubing to the insolation and it was terrible. My dad rode in it a few times and when I hit 45, he thought we were going about 70. Other than that and that things seemed to start getting loose after a while (lots of squeaks and rattles) it was a great car for New England winters.
      carguy1701
      • 1 Year Ago
      Call me when it gets a real transmission.
        scion_tc
        • 1 Year Ago
        @carguy1701
        Didn't you state on here you don't know how to drive a real transmission. Don't you drive an automatic.
          carguy1701
          • 1 Year Ago
          @scion_tc
          Real transmission=anything other than a CVT as far as I'm concerned, and its a known fact that CVTs suck. Punch 'Nissan CVT problems' and 'Nissan CVT lawsuit' in Google and see what comes up (different brands, yes, but seeing as they're the only ones who have gone 'all in' with the CVT and still haven't worked the basic problems out after 20 years, according to them, it doesn't paint a very rosy picture for Subaru). And yes, I worked at a Nissan dealer for a while. One of the first things I asked my coworkers was if the CVT failure reports were true, and they confirmed what I had heard.
          foxtrot685
          • 1 Year Ago
          @scion_tc
          He doesn't want a CVT. Next, hes going to comment how his best friend, lover, babys mama, or someone he knows worked at Nissan for upteen years and had to replace x amount of Xtronic CVT's and how that person says they are a waste of time, blah blah blah. Which is neither here nor there for multiple reasons. Just dont get him started, please!
          foxtrot685
          • 1 Year Ago
          @scion_tc
          Its the same thing EVERYTIME AB posts about a car with a CVT
          carguy1701
          • 1 Year Ago
          @scion_tc
          I'm not the one suing them, and again, the fact they haven't been able to fix the basic problems does not bode well for anyone else making them, even if the designs are different. The fact that no improvement in reliability has been made over 20 years is pretty sad. This isn't a rotary engine.
      BB79826
      • 1 Year Ago
      "The Forester XT has grown up in all the right ways." No, it has not. It still makes 250hp from a relatively inefficient engine, which is now paired to a crappy Subaru CVT. Pass.
        KaiserWilhelm
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BB79826
        It's a brand new engine you twit.
        1454
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BB79826
        You're an idiot. Other than the CVT remark, you couldn't be more wrong. (even then you are still wrong, I just don't understand why Subaru won't pair the DI turbo with a manual in addition to the CVT.) The DI 2.0 turbo in the Japanese legacy makes 296 HP and 290 TQ from the factory. Name me some more that have nearly 150 HP/liter and tell this engine is inefficient. Idiot.
        A W
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BB79826
        You're just another dumbass who has no idea what Subaru's high-torque CVT can do. And you're judging it before you've even driven the car. People like you are a dying breed thankfully to natural selection. Thankfully ignorance like yours isn't contagious.
        vince
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BB79826
        The CVT is a downer, but the engine is not inefficient. For comparison, a similar sized CRV gets 22/30 mpg with ~180hp and AWD that only kicks in when it predicts slip may occur, or measures that it has occurred. This gets 23/28 mpg and it is running AWD full time and has a lot more power. Only concern is that the good mpg is from the CVT keeping the engine out of the boost on the test conditions, which could hurt real world figures. I would like to see this engine in a next generation WRX, regular fuel and 23 mpg city is good for me.
        RedRaiderGuy08
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BB79826
        Please list off other engines in this class range that make over 125 hp per liter... Once you do your research you will find that kind of EFFICIENCY is right up there with the best offerings from Ferrari, Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche... In fact, I cannot think of another engine being made that makes 125 hp per liter on REGULAR gas... Now I will agree with you on the CVT transmission, I’ve drive a few and they have all been terrible.
        jonnybimmer
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BB79826
        "a crappy Subaru CVT" Clearly you have not experienced Subaru's current standard automatic transmission, unless you like jerky shifting transmissions that feel like they're from the 90s.
      Bienvennue Rob!
      • 1 Year Ago
      Also screw that CVT. They are not the future!
        EChid
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Bienvennue Rob!
        I'm afraid they quite likely are.
        wrxfrk16
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Bienvennue Rob!
        Actually they really are. They're proven in a lot of machinery, and now they've been refined enough to work in cars. They make sense, keeping the gearing right in the sweet spot so the motor never has to rev hard or pull too hard under normal driving. Really, conventional automatics are probably going to end up largely phased out in favor of CVT's or those stupid flappy paddle gearboxes soon enough.
      wrxfrk16
      • 1 Year Ago
      Whoever got rid of the hood scoop needs to be beaten with a stick, savagely and repeatedly.
        Brandon Allen
        • 1 Year Ago
        @wrxfrk16
        No, the forester doesn't need it. just don't take it off of the WRX/STI. Frankly, Subaru should switch to a FMIC for the Legacy GT model.
          Generic
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Brandon Allen
          It's possible to have a more sleeper intake/internal scoop with a intake that isn't as tall as the scoop from a WRX/STI. The hood likely does have a intake from the front of the car, but with hood and engine temps heating up the air along the way, I'm not sure its enough. It's a pretty bold statement to say that they don't "need" them. How could you possible know that? Is it just me, or does the IC look smaller then the WRX? Between the IC intake and IC size, this thing gives me heat soak anxiety. Sad, cause its the only thing wrong I see with the car.