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.
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.
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.
Longtime XT fans will spot the unfortunate omission of the model's trademark hood scoop.
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.
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.
Subaru has worked to make the 2014 Forester more kid friendly than its old counterpart.
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.
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 forced-induction mill is based on the same platform as the engine that propels the company's BRZ.
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.
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.
One of the most significant changes is the addition of Subaru's SI-Drive system.
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.
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.
On the road, the Forester XT has lost even more of the second generation's tweaker personality.
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.
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.
The Forester XT has grown up in all the right ways.
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.