Introducing the all-new 2014 Forester.
Subaru Forester has always embodied the right-sized power, control and versatility that owners love. Now, it also represents a green-minded, fuel-efficient small SUV, as the 2014 Subaru Forester is a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle and built in a zero-landfill plant. Combine that with more cargo room, available power rear gate and up to 32 mpg highway, and you've got a vehicle that can take every day to task. Of course, the redesigned Forester comes with road-gripping Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and the balance and power of the legendary SUBARU BOXER® engine.We're deep inside Subaru's Tochigi Proving Grounds north of Tokyo, and our test driver is getting rowdy in a turbocharged prototype of the all-new 2014 Subaru Forester. Rocks are furiously pinging off of Subie's new crossover as he whips it into a gravel rut and gracefully executes a four-wheel drift as the 2.0-liter FA20 turbo wails away. So, yeah, seems capable enough. The new Forester is a hugely important vehicle for Subaru, and while flinging it around off-road is fun and all, the brand's execs/engineers/designers/PR flaks -- heck, even the security guards at Tochigi's main gate -- know full well that its fourth-generation crossover, which accounts for roughly a quarter of Subaru's sales, must perform at its American dealerships. Translation: Make it bigger, quieter, more efficient, and more capable. At Tochigi, we had a chance to get an up close and personal look at the new Forester, including a few high-speed hot laps around the facility's massively banked, 2-mile parabolic oval and infield track, and from what we can make of it so far, Subaru has achieved its goals of improving the weak points of its outgoing model without messing too much with the formula that scored it our 2009 Sport/Utility of the Year title.
Designers always get to mess with a new-generation vehicle, and while the 2014 Forester's basic footprint remains roughly the same (every major exterior dimension is within an inch or so of the outgoing model), there are some noticeable changes, chief among them no more hood scoop for the turbo, as Subaru says it's aiming for a more mature, refined look. The XT does get its own mug to distinguish it from non-turbo models, including blade-cut look flourishes, unique foglamps, and HID lighting, and it also gets bigger brakes and rim/tire packages. The Forester's front and rear fascias have also been updated, with new head and taillight treatments and foglamp housings, and an updated grille. The rear spoiler has been re-engineered to aid with aerodynamics; there's a slightly more sloped rear roofline; there are 8.7-inches of ground clearance, and the A-pillar has been moved forward to help grow overall room and improve vehicle access. The interior changes are more dramatic. The curved front dash of the outgoing model has been reshaped for a more horizontal feel. Engineers worked extremely hard on improving ingress and egress for shorter folks in front and children in the rear, and rear-seat legroom has been improved. Soft-touch points are more prominent, and the instrument panel and center stack have also been modernized. One-touch fold-down second-row 60/40 seats open up to a slightly bigger cargo area, and the rear tailgate now has an available power option. Subaru has also upped its game in the telematics/entertainment departments. The Forester will be available with Subaru's EyeSight suite of safety tech, harman/kardon audio (we cranked it up and it sounds tight), and enhanced navigation and smartphone integration features, including Aha Radio.
Motivating the new Forester are two engine combinations, one new and one well-worn. All 2.5i models get Subaru's 2.5-liter naturally aspirated flat-four with 170 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, which is essentially unchanged, but both transmissions are new -- a six-speed manual and Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission, replacing the ancient four-speed auto and five-speed manual. Subaru is quoting 0-60 mph times in the low 9-second range for the 2.5 models. The XT comes in one combo only, a turbocharged, direct-injected (Subaru's own system, NOT Toyota's DI unit from the BRZ/FR-S) version of Subaru's new 2.0-liter (no, the turbo won't fit in the BRZ) rated at a maximum 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft, paired with an optimized version of the CVT (no, the XT won't have a manual). What you will get with the "high torque" Si drive CVT for the turbocharged XT are two sets of "manual" modes in both six- and eight-speed flavors. Neither mode will get you to Subaru's claimed 0-to-60 mph time of 6.2-seconds for the XT any faster than if you just matted the gas and let the CVT take it to redline and wail away, but the mapped-out ratios will help keep the turbo in the power band in certain situations -- and it's always cooler to pop the paddles and impress your friends, anyway. Fuel economy for each is an estimated max of 24/32 city/highway mpg for the 2.5i and 23/28 for the XT, well above the outgoing models and right there with the best in the segment, front- or all-wheel drive. The turbo also is capable of running on regular gas right up to 93 octane, although performance will vary depending on the type of dino juice added.
We had a brief stint in each new Forester flavor (CVT only) around Tochigi's imposing oval and a one-lap blast around the facility's handling course back-to-back with the previous-gen base model, and the differences were patently obvious. Both new-gen Foresters were much quieter at speed and under high revs, and were far more adept around the handling course, where playing with the sport paddles proved most beneficial. Subaru engineers spent considerable time improving chassis rigidity, response, and stability, with a goal of reducing the dreaded pitch and wobble. One lap around the handling loop confirmed that the engineers did their jobs well. Gold stars all around.
After our laps we also had an opportunity to sample Subaru's new low-speed traction system, dubbed X-Mode (maybe the X-Men had a hand its development?), which reduces wheelspin dramatically to whatever wheel needs it most when the going gets slippery. The system can be activated at speeds below 13 mph and disengages after 25 mph. X-Mode's hill-climbing control demonstration centered on a Forester getting its two left-side wheels stopped on a set of rollers on an incline. In X-Mode it easily moved off the rollers with little effort. Let's just say the Hyundai Tucson and Toyota Rav4 all-wheel-drive models also on hand for the demo did not fare nearly as well. Hill decent control is also part of the X-Mode package, which takes Subaru's all-wheel drive prowess to the next level of sophistication. We'll have to get more time in actual production versions of the new 2014 Forester to form more robust and informed opinions, but it doesn't take a Subaru engineer to tell us that the new Forester indeed stays true what made the present model a success, while bolstering areas where it needed it the most. And if you want to rip around in a gravel pit when it goes on sale early next year, it can do that, too.
|2014 Subaru Forester|
|Base price||$22,000-$31,000 (MT est)|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engines||2.0L/250-hp/258-lb-ft DOHC 20-valve F-4, 2.5L/170-hp/174-lb-ft DOHC 20-valve F-4|
|Transmissions||6-speed manual, CVT|
|Curb weight||3300-3650 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||180.9 x 70.7 x 66.4 in|
|0-60 mph||6.2-9.3 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||23-24/28-32 mpg (est)|
|Energy cons, city/hwy||147/120-140/105 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 emissions||0.78-0.72 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||Spring 2013|