Subaru has always kind of done its own thing. Their vehicles look a little different, they don’t follow the same rules as everyone else, they have an enviable safety test record, and as a result Subaru has a pretty loyal following.
I recently tested a 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring, and I’m back to see just how this unique small crossover SUV offering stacks up against the competition.
The 2014 Subaru Forester gets a complete overhaul from the previous edition, and the results are impressive. The look is definitely unique from its competitors, focusing not so much on sleekness and moreso on being utilitarian.
One of my favorite things about the look are the large windshield in front and back so you have an extra clear view of the road on all sides.
The vehicle gets a little larger, so the inside also gets a healthy revamp, and the boost in roominess will be appreciated by those shopping for a small crossover SUV who want decent leg room in the back plus cargo space when needed (the back seats fold down for a healthy-sized storage space).
ENGINE, RIDE QUALITY, MPG
There are good and bad elements to driving a 2014 Forester.
On the plus side, my test vehicle with its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine was exceptionally punchy, getting up to speed faster than any other SUV I have driven in the recent past. The 250 horsepower it produced can take the credit for that.
If you go with lower trim levels, you’ll get a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with about 170 horsepower -- a noticeable difference, but the price is much lower.
It also handled very well in all types of weather, another testament to Subaru’s general position as a safety leader in the industry. I was never worried about what the weather was like when I was driving this car, as I knew it could handle it.
On the negative side of things, the ride can be called a bit stiff, and the handling is occasionally a bit jerky and less smooth than I’ve experienced on other small crossovers on the market.
Getting back to the plus side, all-wheel drive is standard -- something that not all vehicles in this segment can claim. This lends creedence to the Forester’s claim as a vehicle capable of being both a grocery getter and a modest off-roader (thought I would probably go the Jeep route if I were a true off-roader type).
The fuel mileage on the 2014 Forester is greatly improved for 2014 due to the updated CVT transmision. The manual transmission, available on some trim levels, is now six-speed instead of five-speed and mpg numbers improve there too.
Official MPG numbers on my test vehicle were 23 city/28 highway and 25 combined -- and my experience generally reflected these numbers, which are competitive in this small crossover segment. On the base engine, numbers are even better at 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined.
Subaru does a decent job keeping up with technology upgrades inside the vehicle, though the use of its in-car interface isn’t quite as smooth as what other brands are currently offering.
But as usual the tech area where Subaru shines the most is safety.
The 2014 Forester has done superbly on safety tests across the board, and that’s no surprise since this brand is generally associated with being one of the safest on the market. It’s even done better than previous Forester models on some tests, so the redesign has had another positive effect.
The hallmark of the Subaru safety lineup is the optional Eyesight Driver-Assist System, which uses cameras to keep you safe in almost any situation that may come up on the road. it features pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control (one of my favorite features, slowing down your car if someone jumps in front you while you are on cruise control), lane departure and lane sway warnings, and pre-collision throttle management. The cameras in this system are mounted on the sides of the rearview mirror to detect whatever might be in front of you and helps the car react as quickly as possible -- including braking for you.
As I mentioned before, the all-wheel drive helps a lot in slippery conditions, as does the very effective anti-lock braking system.
You get seven air bags standard, and the vehicle is designed to take any damage from an accident in its frame, not the passenger area.
In short, a lot of thought went into making this vehicle a very safe one to drive.
There are a variety of trim levels offered on the 2014 Subaru Forester: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited and 2.5i Touring; plus 2.0XT Premium and 2.0XT Touring.
I had the top-level 2.0XT Touring vehicle, which has a base price of $32,995 and came to a total of $36,220 once it added the Option package -- which included the EyeSight system and keyless access and start.
Base models start as low as $21,995. Even on the base, you’ll still get 17-inch steel wheels, power doors/windows, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, and an iPod/USB audio interface. Other features (rearview camera, heated seats, navigation, etc.) are included as you move up the ladder in terms of trim level.
While there are other small crossover SUVs on the market with an overall smoother ride, it’s hard to argue with the fact that Subaru’s Forester is probably the safest small SUV on the market. I love the visibility it provides, the overall performance even in bad weather and the standard all-wheel drive.
Combining the safety accolades with the the interior size improvements makes the Forester a strong option for families.
It’s not meant to be the most beautiful ride on the market, and it’s not pretending to be that.
This segment is crowded of course, and the Jeep Cherokee, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V are among the other apealing offerings on the market. They are all worth a test drive, and potential customers will have to weigh the value of safety features vs. overall ride quality and see what is most important to them when deciding which small SUV works best for them.
Despite the competition being pretty stiff, Subaru has definitely improved its ability to compete in this segment with the 2014 redesign of its Forester, which takes the key successes of past Subarus and adds to them with new improvements.