Previewing the Subaru Forester XT 2014

2014 Subaru Forester XT Review
By Nick Tragianis, National Post
Uclulet, B.C. – The drive from Nanaimo to Uclulet is a route seemingly appropriate for the developers behind Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo. It makes for the quintessential spirited drive, laden with kilometre after kilometre of beautiful scenery, tight bends and big hills. You would be remiss if the WRX and STI were the only cars you conjured when asked to pick a suitable Subaru to tackle the drive.
See, Subaru always had a hidden performance gem buried deep within its lineup. Ever since its introduction in 2003, the Forester XT was a sleeper – a family-sized WRX. Back then, Subaru detuned the engine found in the WRX STI. By using a smaller turbocharger with less PSI of boost, throttle response and spool-up time were actually quicker than in the STI, despite netting 215 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque.
The outgoing third-generation XT boasted a 2.5-litre turbo four derived from the WRX. It produced a low 224 horsepower and 226 lb-ft of torque, and was mated to the archaic four-speed automatic. Fast forward to 2014, and Subaru is ushering in its fourth-generation Forester.
Along with the evolution in exterior design, the latest model improves on the automaker’s Impreza-based SUV in every possible way. And that includes a turbocharged XT model that can dance as well as a WRX can.
The biggest change in the XT stems from what lies beneath the sheet metal. While the hood scoop is curiously gone in favour of ducts routing air to the intercooler, the direct-injected, turbocharged 2.0L engine is derived from the BRZ. However, key differences between the two lie within the turbocharger and the direct-injection system.
Unlike the engine found in the BRZ, the Forester’s direct injection is developed exclusively by Subaru. In fact, Fuji Heavy Industries first used it last year in the Japanese-spec Legacy 2.0GT. Dubbed Direct-Injected Turbo or DIT, the Forester XT produces 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It’s only a matter of time before this engine finds its way into the BRZ.
Compared to last year’s XT, the new mill is much more powerful and efficient. Subaru claims the DIT churns out more boost at 17 PSI and fuel economy is improved to 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres in the city, and 7.2 on the highway. It also reaches 100 kilometres an hour in 6.2 seconds. To put that figure into perspective, the Porsche Cayenne V6 is one-tenth of a second quicker and the outgoing Forester XT is slower by 1.2 seconds.
Subaru Forester XT interior
Subaru touts the 2.0XT as “more than just an engine option.” The new transmission, a beefier version of its Lineartronic CVT, is built to handle the engine’s increased torque output. The other noteworthy feature of the XT is the addition of SI-Drive, Subaru’s ECU-mapping doohickey introduced in 2007. The driver can still choose between three modes – Intelligent, most suitable for urban driving by reducing throttle input; Sport, recommended for highway cruising; and Sport Sharp, a setting perfect for spirited driving.
Where the transmission really shines is in manual mode. It boasts the obligatory preset gear ratios, but when SI-Drive is set to Sport or Sport Sharp, the number of gears drivers can choose varies. Sport offers six ratios, while Sport Sharp offers an extra two.
The result is a very smooth and surprisingly sporty drive, while the transmission doesn’t whine and complain under acceleration, unlike in other Subaru crossovers. In fact, one could hardly tell it was a CVT, unless the shift lever is in D. The suspension setup in the 2.0XT is stiffer than the 2.5i, making it tighter and more planted in tight bends. As well, 18-inch wheels hide larger brakes.
Marginally larger on the outside than the outgoing model, all Foresters benefit from clever interior packaging. Shoulder room up front is improved by 30 millimetres, and the driver is treated to a more ergonomic position, thanks to a seat that can be adjusted higher andfurther back.
The backrest is also slightly higher for better shoulder support and benefits from increased lumbar support adjustments. Meanwhile in the back, there is 20 mm more space underneath the front seats and scalloped front seatbacks give rear passengers more knee room.
Inside, materials have been vastly improved. The dashboard, nearly identical to the Impreza’s, is now soft-touch. Door panels, however, are made of hard plastic, though the fabric or leather inserts (depending on the trim level) are the saving grace.
Despite the improved materials, the Forester suffers from the same drawback the Impreza faces with the colour multi-function display sitting atop the dashboard. Of course, it keeps track of useful information, but I said it once and I’ll say it again: It looks tacked on, as though it was an afterthought.
All CVTs, regardless of engine choice, have a feature dubbed X-Mode. Press the appropriately labelled button beside the heated seat switches and the system automatically controls throttle and brake inputs, and torque split between the axles while descending steep grades or climbing slippery inclines. X-Mode is only available on Foresters equipped with the CVT.
It goes without saying the Forester boasts one of the best AWD systems in the automotive industry. Paired with X-Mode, it is unstoppable off-road and likely in adverse weather conditions. Whereas the XV Crosstrek was a mountain goat wearing studded hiking boots, the Forester is a snow leopard riding a snowmobile.
The 2.5i is powered by the outgoing model’s 2.5L boxer four. Power output remains at 170 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, but the engine can now be mated to either a six-speed manual or the CVT. However, the the 2.0XT can’t be mated to the manual. I thought Subaru said the Forester put the “sport” back in SUV.
Outside, the XT doesn’t look vastly different than the standard 2.5i. The front bumper is more aggressive, and the HID headlights are blacked-out and feature an LED strip. There is a spoiler on the rear tailgate as well and the roof rails are finished in silver.
Few crossovers, if any, are a rally car at heart. Where the outgoing, range-topping Forester was showing its age quickly under the sheet metal, the 2.0 XT’s agile ride and oh-so-sweet turbo-four let the family-sized-WRX character shine bright. It really is Subaru’s sleeper.