Cars

Subaru’s 2014 Forester joins the pack

The new Subaru Forester. (Bill Griffith)
The new Subaru Forester. (Bill Griffith)Credit:

WILLCOX, AZ — For starters, my idea of a giant cactus always has been the large neon sign outside the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Mass.

Seeing Subarus buzz past that landmark on busy Route 1 is simply normal.We joke about the Subaru as being the state car of Colorado, Maine, and Vermont, but Massachusetts is also Subaru country. So something felt intrinsically wrong when a group of journalists convened to drive the all-new 2014 Subaru Forester on a private racetrack in the desert here east of Tucson.

To get here—the Inde Motorsports Ranch—we’ve driven for a short while over scenic highways and then bumped for hours over dirt roads weaving through cacti, mesquite, tumbleweeds, scrub trees, and backcountry ranches.

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The fourth-generation Foresters—some normally aspirated, others the turbocharged XT version—were a pleasure to drive over this varied terrain. They proved to be capable performers both on the track and over a special off-road course set up on a hill adjacent to the track.

It is only at the end of the day’s driving, when the Foresters are covered in a layer of Southwestern dust, that they look “right” in this context. That’s because it is easy to envision the dust as a coating of New England salt and road slop, making them look like they’ve just survived a long drive during a northeaster.

“It would have been nice to do the Forester introduction in Maine or Vermont,”says Subaru’s Dominick Infante,“but you run the risk of bad weather preventing people from getting there. Besides, the desert is a nice variation for Subaru drivers. You know New Englanders are going to find this a terrific snow car.”

Indeed, the new Forester is an extremely nice crossover SUV, bringing improved performance, better fuel economy, more interior space, and comfort to the Subaru showroom. In fact, the biggest drawback we saw was its overall similarity to the new Subaru Crosstrek XV SUV. Either should suit those looking for an AWD crossover or compact SUV.

Some of the key points for the new Forester:

• Up to 32 miles per gallon in highway driving.

• An available 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter Boxer engine available in the XT version.

• A new CVT (continuously variable transmission) with six-speed and eight-speed manual shift modes for the turbo vehicles.

The base Forester engine is a larger, naturally aspirated 2.5-liter fourcylinder boxer engine that achieves EPA fuel economy estimates of 24 mpg in city driving, 32 on the highway, and 27 overall. Subaru rightly is enthusiastic about those numbers, which compare favorably to Forester’s FWD-only rivals.

That 2.5-liter engine is available in Base, Premium, Limited, and Touring versions, while the turbo 2.0XT is offered only in Premium and Touring trim.

The new Forester comes with an upgraded version of Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheeldrive system. In addition, the Limited and Touring trim levels with the base 2.5 engine and all turbos also include hill descent control and an X Mode AWD function (switch on the console) for added control on slippery roads at slow speeds (up to 13 mph). That, combined with the standard 8.7 inches of ground clearance, gives the Forester added off-road competency.

Forester has a low center of gravity for an SUV, thanks to an even-lower placement of the boxer-style engine.That contributes to added stability and avoidance maneuverability in the new design, traits we confirmed on the track.

Subaru’s new EyeSight driver-assist technology, first introduced on the 2013 Legacys and Outbacks, now is available as an option on the Forester. The system integrates adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warning tied into a wide-angle stereo camera system.

Forester’s prices range from $22,820 (including the $825 destination charge) for a base 2.5-liter with a six-speed manual transmission to $33,820 for the decidedly upscale 2.0XTTouring model. Major available options include a $500 all-weather package, $1,100 for Navigation and $2,400 for a package that includes keyless entry/start, the EyeSight system, and HID lighting.

XT models (the turbos) can switch among three engine management systems—Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp—at the touch of a button on the steering wheel, changing the driving response from normal to more aggressive. Todd Hill, Subaru car line manager, talked about the redesign of the Forester’s interior. While exterior dimensions grew slightly, the A pillar slid forward 4.7 inches, improving visibility and front and rear legroom.The driver’s seat gets great adjustment range and the doors overlap the sills, helping keep pants and skirts from road slop when entering and leaving.

Subaru notes that Forester sales more than doubled after the third generation, which became more SUV-like, was introduced in 2008. The company has high hopes for the new Forester as it continues to support a growth trend that saw overall Subaru sales almost double over a six-year span, to 336,441 in 2012.

A new power tailgate has memory settings so you can open it in your garage without hitting the roof or keep it within reach for shorter drivers.

But, to show the total consideration of the Forester’s Japanese design team, the cup holders in the drop-down rear console are within reach of a youngster in a car seat wanting hot chocolate in New England, cold water in Arizona.

Bill Griffith can be reached at WGriffith@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.

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