2014 Subaru Forester

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Date Posted: December 28, 2013
By Zack Spencer

The Forster might look similar but there have been plenty of small changes to make it much better.

Subaru has done a fantastic job of defining their brand. The go-anywhere attitude that their all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicles portray is just the ticket for Canadians that see themselves as outdoor minded or just like the added safety that AWD provides in winter conditions. Yes, other makers have AWD vehicles but Subaru has been at it longer than most and they add in what I call the ''Outback'' approach. Back in the 1990s they took the Legacy station wagon, a rather basic car, and added a bit more ground clearance, extra body cladding and rugged wheels to make the Subaru Outback. Really the same car, at its core, but the image was a hit with the public. Subaru has taken this winning formula to other vehicles in their lineup and been rewarded with record sale month after month here in Canada.

The Forster started out as a tall station wagon with the same ''Outback'' approach, and then, in the last generation, they moved the styling to be more like a traditional small SUV. This, along with the rugged styling was a hit; the Forester had carved a solid niche for itself in the Canadian market. For 2014 Subaru has taken the Forester to a new level of refinement and practicality that makes it a compelling buy for anyone in the small SUV market.

Styling of this new Forester is similar to the last model but on closer inspection only 5% of the parts from the 2013 model are carried over to this 2014 model. It's the small changes that can make a big difference. For example, the doors are wider and the front windshield has been moved forward to provide much more glass in the doors. The side mirrors have also been moved from the window to the door, which also amplifies the glass surface. The doors have also been redesigned to include the rocker panels, which means the door opening is covered and kept clean on muddy or snowy days. In addition the rear doors open to almost 90 degrees for easy access and the doorsill has a small plate for children to step on when getting in the back. On the $31,296 Touring model and above is an available power lift gate that can be operated from the key fob, the door handle of inside the cabin.

The interior of this new 2014 model isn't glitzy but it is a big improvement over the rather dull previous model. Soft-touch materials cover the dash, which has been moved forward for more interior room. The base model starts at $25,995 and includes heated seats, Bluetooth, air conditioning and music streaming. On all but the base model, a backup camera is integrated into the high, centre mounted screen, which doubles as a multi-level information display. Overall the interior is large, easy to enter and exit, the dash is improved and the cargo area has a large rather square opening for easy loading. The one weak area is the stereo, which I found hard to configure and pair with my smartphone. Items like this improve with familiarity but the lack of a large screen and better integration is something Subaru could work on.

On the road, there is a Forester for different kinds of buyers. Thankfully the base 2.5L 4-cylinder with 170hp is still available with a manual transmission for buyers looking for that option. Most will buy the automatic model but this Forester is fitted with a continually variable transmission (CVT) instead of a conventional five or 6-speed autobox. What this does is provide a wider range of gear ratios for buyers who are looking for drivability but also fuel economy. The Forester is rated at 8.3L/100km in the city and 6.3L on the highway, which is better than the manual transmission at 9.4L and 7.1L/100km respectively. Buying the automatic version also gets the owner a better distribution of power with the AWD system, being able to vary the power from the front to rear axel and also side to side, depending on the wheels that have grip. In comparison, the manual transmission splits the power 50/50 front to back with no ability to vary the torque. In addition, all AWD models come with a standard low-speed X-Mode setting that uses sensors and splits the torque to individual wheels allowing the Forester to perform well in very slippery conditions. There is a higher horsepower option too with an all-new direct injection 2.0L turbocharged engine with 250hp and a more sophisticated high-torque CVT. This transmission mimics either 6 or 8 gears when the Sport or Sport Sharp settings are chosen. The Forester, with this engine can make a run to 100km/h in only 6.2 seconds. The virtual gear ratios will hold when cornering, plus the up and downshifts are lighting quick, making this CVT the best I have driven to date.

Pricing for this new Forester is also designed to appeal to a wide range of buyers from value to luxury. The 2.5L 170hp models start at $25,995 and run to $35,795 depending on features like leather seats, power tailgate, moon roof and navigation. The XT 2.0L turbo models start at $32,495 and top out at $37,995.

This new Forester is a wonderful machine; the small changes make a big difference in the owner's day-to-day life, like bigger doors and more windows. The power is sufficient in the base 2.5L models and outstanding in the turbo. Add in the accessible price tag, which makes this new Forester a solid choice for anyone shopping in the compact SUV market.

Power: 2.5L 4-cylinder with 170hp or 2.0L turbo with 250hp

Economy: 9.4L/7.1L/100km (city/highway)

Sticker price: $25,995-$37,995

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