Subaru is as iconic a car as can be found in New England. Now, with its improved 2014 Forester line providing increased rear seat room, a new CVT transmission, revised rear suspension, and evolutionary changes, the automaker proudly enters its fourth generation.
I remember Forester’s first iteration when it debuted at the New York Auto Show. It was called a hybrid and not a crossover as it is now. Its rear strut towers intruded into the cargo room. Still, with its tall roofline and build that matched sport utility construction standards, it became a staple of solid transportation.
“Because it was built so strongly, it’s not shocking to still see many of them on the road,’’ said Dominick Infante, a Subaru spokesman. Even during the recent recession, sales did not diminish, he noted. This past March was the best in company history. In fact, Infante said, plant capacity can’t keep up with demand.
This crossover continues its success, offering additional room all around, improved fuel economy, turn-key use, and its patented all-wheel-drive, all-the-time system.
Driving a 2.5i Premium Forester with the new continuously variable transmission or CVT, I got 25.8 mpg on the trip computer in mixed driving. The 2.5-liter, 170 hp, boxer engine was easily up to the task and issued nary a complaint under hard acceleration. Poor impressions about the lag of a CVT from the past are best left there. This transmission is responsive enough for those who will use the car commuting or running on the highway to the ski slopes. The lesser trims get a manual mixer, which may coax enough performance from the mill to satisfy anyone who craves interaction.
The additional rear seat room, pegged at 47.1 inches and equal to that of larger vehicles, means you can ride in comfort and not in a compartment. Shortening the front center console by 4 inches and dropping the driveshaft tunnel 2.5 inches increased comfort as well. Scooping out the back of the front seats treats knee more kindly, too. Headroom is a bit less as the roof begins its downward slide toward the back, but up front it’s fine.
Cargo room, with the removal of the rear struts of yesteryear, is generous and augmented by the split-folding rear seats. A jack and the gear needed to change a flat are are neatly stored under the cargo floor along with a mini-spare.
Folding the rear seats boosts interior cargo room from 34.4 to 74.7 cubic feet.
A benefit of the Forester has always been its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, enhanced by a small differential that’s no larger than a softball and tucked neatly underneath.
This lets Forester easily go off-road, where a trek along some power lines and deep sand did little to deter it. With the AC running, Forester had no trouble with its footing along the beaten path and a small adventure off it, where it easily crossed small, downed tree limbs.
For 2014, Forester’s Active All-Wheel Drive system has been enhanced by taking input from the steering wheel angle and works with the Vehicle Dynamics System to respond to the vehicle’s slip angle when turning.
My test got the interest of a neighbor who just traded his Nissan Versa for a Forester and what he termed “better winter road-holding.’’ Like many of the customers who first subscribed to Subaru’s all-wheel-drive all-the-time to get out when the getting gets nasty, my neighbor leaves for work at an early hour and wants to be sure he gets there.
On the this spring’s wet and bumpy roads, Forester’s four-wheel independent suspension absorbed and muted the bumps without disturbing the cabin. Steering feel was neutral—but who really looks for F1 handling in what is really an SUV on a car platform?
A huge sunroof opens to let the sun shine in and toast everyone inside if desired.
The controls are simple, intuitive dials and knobs—not the kind of touchpad that requires the kid down the street who stopped your old VCR from blinking “12:00’’ to utilize. No one should need the Geek Squad to activate the heater, AC, or tune the radio.
The same simplicity applies under the hood, where a single piston rod raises the hood overhead to reveal a real engine and not a swath of preformed plastic with the automaker’s name on it. All the key features are clad in red or yellow rubber covers and within an arm’s reach.
If you’re hoping to find a good used Subaru on a lot, forget it, Infante said, because many are kept in the family and handed down from generation to generation.
While you may lament the car’s popularity, many an auto rep has asked what the magic is with Subaru in New England. We in the Northeast know: an ability to start and get you where you’re going regardless of temperature or how deep the snow. And it does so with another Yankee trait: an eye on frugality at the pump.
The new Forester is what you should shop for, even if it’s not on your list.
2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium
Body: 4-door crossover, front-engine, all-wheel-drive. Engine: 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder boxer. Output: 170 hp. Transmission: Lineartronic CVT. Curb weight: 3,366 lbs. Wheelbase: 103.9 inches. Length: 180.9 inches. Width: 70.7 inches. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 24/32. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 25.8 mpg. Base price: $24,995. Delivery: $825. As tested: $26,320.
Builds upon tradition, plenty of models, options, improved fuel economy and interior room.
Tiny navigation screen/rear view mirror; hard to see and read.
THE BOTTOM LINE
An upgrade to a contender in the small SUV/crossover segment.