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May 31, 2013

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium

by Mark Savage

Subaru adds some macho to its 2014 Forester 

Simply put, I have a new favorite small sport-utility vehicle, the 2014 Subaru Forester.

While the rest of the small ute world is going toward crossover status and swoopy designs, the Forester, one of the early crossover/utes with AWD, is going away from that. It’s going all macho angular and edgy.

A black pre-production Forester reflects its Darth Vader looks.

A black pre-production Forester, shown in this Motor Trend photo, reflects its Darth Vader looks.

I like it, particularly the sparkling black test ute’s Darth Vader look to its nose and accented with sexy black and chrome five-spoke wheels.But looks are only sheet metal deep and for love to blossom (and Subaru tells us their vehicles are all about love), there has to be a deeper connection. There was in the tested mid-level 2.0XT Premium model.

This isn’t your base Forester, the one with a mild 170-horse 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine. Oh, that would be fine, but No, this XT baby comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection Boxer 4-cylinder. And get this, it bangs out 250 horsepower, that’s 26 more horses than in the comparable turbo model previously.

The funny thing is you don’t notice that power right off. You can drive this around town like it’s a regular Forester, just cruising from stoplight to stoplight and getting decent gas mileage, considering its an all-wheel-drive ute. But Subaru has created an absolutely delicious CVT (continuously variable transmission).SavageOnWheels.com, car reviews, Subaru, Subaru ForesterUsually these are nothing to email home about, but the SI-DRIVE performance control system changes all that. The system is activated via two buttons on the steering wheel hub and they allow the CVT to act as if it has either a 6- or 8-speed transmission and also allows manual shifting via paddle shifters behind the wheel. I am not exaggerating to say that in Sport Sharp mode, shown as Sport # on the wheel, the Forester becomes an aggressive road rocket. Think WRX, but boxier looking.

The production Forester retains a more macho look than many small utes and crossovers.

The production Forester retains a more macho look than many small utes and crossovers.

I was shocked, and that doesn’t happen often in a car, by the amount of torque and power this Forester had. I loved it. There, I said it. I used Sport # a couple times getting on a highway and was scanning my rearview mirror for the State Patrol as I flashed down the entry ramp and onto the freeway. Fun! No, make that da_ _ d Fun!If this new Forester was as hum drum as some past models, that would have been entertaining, but not enough to get me thinking about what my monthly payment would be if I snagged one. Yet the Forester handles well and rides well too. Its wheelbase is only 103.9 inches, a couple inches shorter than some of the competition, but its four-wheel independent suspension handles rough roads much better than the three earlier generations’ models. Subaru revised the rear suspension for this 2014 model with what it calls pillow ball join mounts for the suspension’s lateral links. This works!Handling is light and easy thanks to electronic power steering replacing a hydraulic system. More high-strength steel in the Forester also makes it feel like there’s better body control. Yes, there’s still a little lean in tight turns, but very controllable. And the AWD gives you superb traction, no matter if there’s water, slush or snow under tread.

I like the Forester's snazzy five-spoke wheels.

I like the Forester’s snazzy five-spoke wheels.

Braking too is solid with discs at all four wheels, plus traction and stability control. This model also rides on 18-inch tires, which seem perfectly mated to the 3,622-lb. Forester. Subaru also offers X-Mode, a button you can push near the center stack’s base for increased off-roading ability or more traction at low speeds.Inside, I liked nearly everything about this ute. Layout is simple and the test model had a black textured dash with matte silver trim on the door pulls, lower center stack, steering wheel hub and dash. That wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model too with radio and cruise controls on the hub.Seats here are an attractive black and blue cloth pattern, and get this, come with two heat settings. It’s rare, if ever, that you get heated seats with cloth, something many of us in chilly climes appreciate more than leather. To be fair, these had a leather or leatherette trim on the edges, but were primarily cloth. The seats are mildly contoured, so easy to get in and out of, and step-in height here is easy. The driver’s seat is powered, but the passenger’s is manual.

There’s plenty of room for four passengers, five if it’s not a long trip. Subaru lengthened the Forester 1.4 inches, so it’s two inches longer than the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V. Foot room in the back seat grew by 2.7 inches and the seats are 1.3 inches taller.

The cockpit is simple and functional.

The cockpit is simple and functional.

Main gauges are simply laid out and easy to see, plus there’s a small screen atop the dash that tells you the amount of pressure you’re putting on the accelerator, how much the turbo is engaged and your oil temp. Watching the accelerator number tends to make you ease off it when you can. That small screen also includes your back-up camera, a solid safety feature.An even better safety feature is one many of us probably forget as we get used to our vehicles with their giant A pillars and monster side mirrors. Forester has superb sightlines or visibility. The A pillars are modest and Subaru puts a sealed vent window by the pillar to increase front-to-side visibility. In fact all the windows are large with minimal window edgings so you can see 360-degrees with little obstruction.The other benefit to all this is you feel less enclosed and a little freer to enjoy your surroundings. This is a great vehicle for taking a drive in the country, made even better by its standard panoramic sunroof.

In back is an easy to use hatch, no power on this one, plus the rear seats easily flip forward to create more hauling space.

My only complaint with the Forester is some cheap looking plastic trim on the doors. Wish that could look as good as the rest of the dash and interior trim.

Gas mileage is better than you’d expect in a small AWD ute. The EPA rates this model at 23 mpg city and 28 highway. I got 21.7 mpg, but enjoyed the power in the 8-speed tranny mode, maybe a bit too much. For the record, the base model gets better highway mileage, but worse in the city, likely because this one’s CVT is more efficient than the 6-speed manual shifter in the base Forester. Yet the base model gets 5 mpg better on the highway than its predecessor. That’s a big boost.

Price? The base 2.5i model starts at $21,995 and there are five other trims, all the way up to the 2.0XT Touring, that starts at $32,995. The tested XT Premium with that terrific turbo lists at $27,995 and with a $825 delivery fee hits $28,820. This one had no options.

This is reasonably priced and yet loaded with performance and interior creature comforts, including those heated seats, backup camera and giant sunroof. The new Forester is more than a tall wagon now, it has looks and performance. Put it on your A-list if you’re in the market for a small ute. Who knows, this Could be love!

With the rear seats down the Subie offers oodles of cargo space.

With the rear seats down this 2014 Subie offers oodles of cargo space.

FAST Stats: 2013 Subaru Forester 2.0XT PremiumHits: Loaded and still reasonably priced. Like its expressive Darth Vader nose, black and chrome wheels and superb visibility. Super power and excellent 6- or 8-speed CVT, plus this handles and rides well and AWD is standard. Hatch and flip-down seats make it useful and its cloth seats even are heated. Like the giant sunroof too!

Misses: Plastic interior door trim looks cheap, but rest of interior looks fine.

Made in: Indiana/Japan

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo, DI Boxer 4, 250 hp

Transmission: 6-8-spd. CVT

Weight: 3,622 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.9 in.

Cargo: 34.4 cu.ft. (61.7 cu.ft. seats down)

MPG: 23/28

Base Price: $27,995

Dealer’s Price: $26,232

Major Options: None

Delivery: $825

Test vehicle: $28,820

Sources: Subaru, www.autos.yahoo.com

Photos: Courtesy of Subaru

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