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Subaru Forester XT

By Jim Bray
August 8, 2013

If the temperature falls in a Forester, and no one's there to feel it, does it still get cold? It's a question for the ages.

Ages three to five undoubtedly – or maybe IQ's in that range – but if nothing else a unique way to get into a review of the 2014 Subaru Forester, the Japanese marque's entry into the "cute ute" segment of the market.

For 2014, the Forester is supposedly all new from the ground up and the company says the new version is "ready to put even more distance between itself and the competition." Subaru wasn't specific on the point, but they undoubtedly mean more distance ahead of the competition. So does it leave such worthy competitors as the Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, VW Tiguan et al in its dust?

Well, no. But it's a pretty nice entry in this class, with plenty of things to like, including Subaru's famous symmetrical all wheel drive that until recently was found on all the company's offerings.

Subaru claims the new Forester achieves best-in-class fuel efficiency "among similar full-time AWD SUV's" (which certainly narrows the field because some of its competitors are part time AWD), and ups the ante with "an unbeatable combination of all-road/all-weather capability, bullet-proof reliability, top-notch safety, exceptional value and sheer driving enjoyment."

And yet it still can't cure cancer!

You can choose from two four cylinder boxer engines for the Forester, a 2.5 liter DOHC version rated at 170 horses and 174 lb.-ft. of torque and a turbocharged, direct injected two liter version Subaru says pumps out a nifty 250 horses and 258 pound feet.  Prices range from a base of about $26,000 to a high of $38,000 Canadian.

Subaru Canada's test sample was a fully tricked out 2.0 liter XT "Limited Package with EyeSight & Multimedia option, which means it had about everything stuffed into it that Subaru will stuff. It's a pretty neat vehicle and even though it came with the kind of continuously variable transmission that usually manages to suck most the enjoyment out of the driving experience, Subaru has managed to do a pretty nice job with it here. It isn't as noisy as some and it also comes with a paddle shifter manual mode you can use to pretend it's a clutchless six speed manual.

Something called X-Mode comes standard with all CVT-equipped models, which Subaru says "allows the vehicle to control the brakes, throttle and other engine components to ensure improved traction in difficult driving conditions."

If a CVT still rubs you the wrong way, Subaru does offer a six speed manual with a hill holder system to prevent it from rolling back into the person who stopped too closely behind you.

The new Forester continues Subaru's strategy of positioning the vehicle more as an SUV than earlier models, which were more like tall wagons compared to the current Forester's mien that's clearly meant to compete with the type of cute utes (whether they're cute or not) mentioned above.

The 2.0XT version of the Forester comes with a more aggressive look than before, too, thanks to stuff like a sporty-looking front bumper that helps differentiate the higher end Forester from its more pedestrian relatives. The higher end model also gets 18 inch aluminum alloy wheels as standard equipment.

All models now get auto headlights, which is a very good thing.

The interior is larger than before and the view outside – always a great thing about the Forester – seems even more expansive.

A small color multi-function LCD can show you fuel data, the eco-guide, clock, outside temperate and a maintenance reminder. The rest of the instrumentation is straightforward.    

The LCD for the audio system works fine, but it's small with tiny virtual buttons and a not-the-most-intuitive interface. That means you have to take your eyes off the road more to use it, though it would probably become less of an issue once you've used the system for a while.

The Multimedia package includes a voice-activated, in dash navigation system that also uses the 6.1 touch screen. The Harman Kardon audio system is quite good and you can stream to it from your smart device with the Bluetooth feature (which also offers hands free phone operation, of course). There are also USB and auxiliary inputs and a rear view camera.

Subaru's sample also had a power tailgate.

The rear seats have been raised and the seat backs moved slightly to make it a tad nicer to sit back there. It's still best for two rather than three, but so's most of the competition.  

Overall, the Forester is pretty fun to drive. The driving position is fine, as is the power from the turbo engine (once the turbo spools up). Brake and steering feel are also good.

The EyeSight system echoes similar ones from other manufacturers, and you'll see more of them in the future. This incarnation mounts a couple of cameras onto the ceiling inside the cabin, straddling the inside rear view mirror, which monitor the road ahead in much the same way lasers and radar do in some vehicles. Subaru says they went the camera route to help ensure less expensive repairs.

EyeSight works with the adaptive cruise control, which keeps your vehicle a pre-programmed distance behind the vehicle in front, and also includes pre-collision braking and collision mitigation (the vehicle will not only warn you audibly if you're approaching the rear of another vehicle, a concrete wall or whatever, it'll also apply the brakes if you continue to cruise along obliviously). It also includes a lane sway warning, yet another annoying example of lane departure control, and more.

The system is part of what Subaru calls its "Safety Triad," which consists of passive safety (a "ring-shaped" reinforcement frame), active safety (the all wheel drive coupled with stability control and ABS) and the new "preventative safety" (EyeSight). 

Subaru's EyeSight system appears to work fine, though of course there's no substitute for being an aware, responsible driver.

In all, the new Forester is a pretty nice ride. It's roomy and, at least in the two liter turbo version, pretty entertaining to drive as well, even with the CVT.

Copyright 2013 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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