Forester Review | 2014 Subaru Forester XT

2014 Subaru Forester  Review
By Mark Richardson, Toronto Star
Fresh off the little plane at Nanaimo airport, I threw my bag into the back of the waiting Subaru and sped away across Vancouver Island.
The SUV was very speedy, too. Its throttle was sensitive and the steering light. Nobody had said much about the vehicle – just handed me the key and suggested I follow the GPS directions to the hotel a couple of hours away on the island’s Pacific coast.
It was late and the sun was setting, so I pressed on along the highway. Whenever traffic eased up, I’d take a look around the cabin at the various features inside the vehicle. But there was nothing really to write home about, which is why I’m here, after all: to write home about the new 2014 Subaru Forester.
Comfortable seats: check. Soft-touch plastic and brushed metal finishes: check. High visibility with door glass right to the A-pillar: check. Easy to read instrument cluster and gauges: check. Powerful little engine with a turbocharger: Felt like it. Pretty much like all the other new-and-improved SUVs on the market these days.
The last light faded in the middle of the island at Port Alberni and I followed a set of tail lights leading the way on the winding road. That driver wasn’t wasting any time and I let him or her stay far ahead, but somewhere along the way, it was clear that the Forester was having no problem keeping up.
I flicked some buttons on the steering wheel and the display seemed to switch from sixth gear to eighth. Eighth? How did that happen? In a Subaru? And isn’t this a CVT transmission?
There were paddle shifters behind the wheel at my fingertips so I started flicking them back and forth and the tail lights ahead grew closer. The car wasn’t driving any more slowly, though – I was speeding up. I backed off and eventually arrived at the hotel a little sooner than expected.
The next day, when Subaru engineers and designers gathered to explain the new SUV, all became clear: the totally redesigned 2014 Forester now has a highly-advanced Continuously Variable Transmission instead of the old overstretched four-speed automatic, and a six-speed manual to replace the previous five-speed stick.
Highly advanced? Get this: with the more powerful 250 hp turbo engine that comes with the XT model, which starts at $32,495, there are a couple of buttons on the steering wheel that let you choose the response of the CVT. It can act in Intelligent mode, which shifts the CVT ratios early to avoid revving the engine and use as little fuel as possible, or Sport mode to let the engine rev higher between shifts and provide more power, or even “Sport Sharp” mode, which changes the CVT from six ratios to an even more peppy eight.
There’s no other car on the market that lets you vary the number of gear ratios with the press of a button. This CVT has come a long way from the whining originals of just a few years back. And every Forester with the CVT option also has the paddle shifters, just in case you want to drop up or down a couple of gears without letting go of the wheel.
That includes the less-powerful but perhaps more practical 2.5L naturally-aspirated (read: not a turbo) four cylinder version, known as the 2.5i, which starts at $27,295 for the CVT version. The six-speed stick shift is cheaper, starting at $25,995, but Subaru expects most buyers will opt for the automatic. The turbo only comes with the CVT.
Aside from smooth operation, the main advantage of a CVT is that it’s frugal on gas, and the 2.5L Forester returns a claimed Highway fuel consumption of 6.2 L/100 km. This compares very well to its competition and is especially noteworthy because Subaru is one of the few makers to build a permanent all-wheel drive car.
Most other makers use systems that activate the second pair of wheels when they sense slippage, which is barely noticeable but saves fuel; the Forester varies its torque between a 60/40 front/rear split on dry highway, and a 50/50 split when things get slippery.
I drove the 2.5i for the rest of the next day and found its engine to be quite adequate for hauling two people up and down the hills of Vancouver Island, with no hunting around in the transmission for the best range. The electric power-assisted steering was light without being numb, and apparently helps save more fuel.
On an off-road course, the Forester demonstrated its hill-descent control that kept everything orderly on a 30 per cent downhill grade, and its X-Mode feature that effectively divides power between the individual wheels, so that spinning tires on one side don’t restrict the grip of the tires on the other side.
Forester owners just might take their vehicles off-road, too. Sales tripled with the introduction of the previous, third generation, which was styled to be more of an SUV and less of a wagon.
They’re bought by people who don’t want to get stuck in winter snow or summer mud, and who tend to be realistic about what they actually need. That includes an optional powered rear liftgate, wider than usual door openings, and one of the tallest ground clearances on the market, at 220 mm.
This fourth generation is a little larger on the inside without adding much at all to the size of the outside. It was comfortable in the back seat with plenty of space for my six-foot frame, though I’d still recommend loading up on Gravol before allowing your driver upfront to hurl the car around Vancouver Island’s twisting curves.
All but the cheapest model have a rearview camera as part of their dash display, though the screen’s not very large. And if you want the extra nanny protection of Subaru’s EyeSight system, which uses twin cameras to sense lane departure and the need to brake for anything ahead, that’s now available as part of the most expensive packages for both the 2.5i (at $35,795) and the turbo XT (at $37,995)
Is it all worth it? Lots of Forester owners will probably think so. Subaru’s banking on lots of other drivers agreeing with them, too.

PRICE: (base) 2.5i – $25,995; XT- $32,495
ENGINE: 2.5L four-cylinder naturally aspirated; 2.0L four-cylinder turbo
POWER/TORQUE: (hp/lbs.-ft.) 2.5i – 170/174; XT – 250/258
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual or CVT
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (claimed City/Hwy.) 2.5i MT – 9.5/7.0; 2.5i Auto – 8.3/6.2; XT – 8.9/7.2
COMPETITION: Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage
WHAT’S BEST: Switchable-ratio CVT, premium interior, capable AWD
WHAT’S WORST: Small dash display screen, fewer dealerships, can get pricey.
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Subaru’s sold more than 2 million Foresters globally in the last 15 years.