2014 Subaru Forester XT HD Video Review

Live anywhere with rough roads or significant snowfall and the Subaru Forester is a common site.  Forester has been the sensible shoes of the automotive world since it’s US debut in 1998. The faithful will spot the completely redone 2014 model, others will probably be oblivious to the familiar but refined silhouette.  What’s most obvious here is that Subaru isn’t messing with success.

022_2014ForesterXTIt is larger now, 1.4 inches longer, .6 inches wider to be exact.  2.0 XT models can be spotted by the more aggressive front fascia (the hood scoop is gone).  Subaru boasts that they’ve carved out more interior space this time around.

What It Costs-  Base model Foresters are powered by a normally aspirated 2.5-liter Boxer four-cylinder that makes 174 horsepower.  Equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, it starts at a reasonable $22,820. Remember that Subaru’s unique Boxer engine lays deep in the engine bay for a low center of gravity. Do I even have to mention Symmetrical all-wheel drive is standard?

127_2014ForesterXTI’m testing the XT Premium model (MSRP $28,820 including destination), which is the basic trim grade of the higher-performance Forester (got that?).  XT signifies a torquey 250 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo engine does the grunt work.  It’s direct injected now.  That and a standard continuously variable transmission boosts fuel economy to an EPA rated 23 city, 28 highway.  I drove briskly this week for a 22 mpg average.  Subaru specifies premium grade fuel for the 2.0T engine.

Playing In The Dirt-  Forester has a good reputation when it comes to rugged duty so I’ve brought it to the famed DirtFish rally school in Snoqualmie, WA to spend some quality time with dirt roads, mud and undulations. This is a driver’s playground with all sort of conditions and instructors so good, they teach new skills to established stunt drivers.

Subaru Forester FeaturedForester doesn’t disappoint.  With 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the 2014 model can crawl over all sorts of terrain with little drama.  CVT equipped Foresters get an active torque split all-wheel drive system that distributes power to the wheels with grip.

A new X-Mode optimizes the all-wheel drive system for more confidence and engages hill-decent control.  I spent an hour or so on Dirt Fish’s back 40 motoring through soft dirt, deep puddles, moderate whoop de dos, and long muddy patches without breaking a sweat.  It’s the kind of stuff Subie owners do and why they have a fiercely loyal following.

123_2014ForesterXTThat said, I begin searching for DirtFish’s tougher stuff, and find it in a series of deep undulations partially filled with water.  FYI, they’re more impressive in person than on video.  Yes, Forester can handle them but with some slight rubbing, it’s about as rough as you’ll want to go.  I scuffed up the underside of the front and rear fascias, the kind of thing most cars get running into those concrete blocks found in parking lots.  I suspect these will be badges of honor for Subaru owners.  Forester is not a Jeep Wrangler and not meant to be one, but it should do what most sane owners will ask of it, and probably more.

Fun On Road Too-  Most miles will be on pavement and despite the squarish shape there’s not much wind noise at highway speeds.  It’s also noticeably quieter than Subarus of the past.  Visibility is excellent.   All tires get grip and XT’s turbo launches Forester briskly and securely.

030_2014ForesterXT0-60 spools up in under 6.5 seconds. Don’t let the practical box look fool you, Forester XT is surprisingly fun to drive.  It’s closest rival being Mazda’s slightly smaller CX-5.  Electric power steering doesn’t offer gobs of feedback but feels better than most.

Forester’s suspension (revised in the rear) is set on the soft side of firm, appreciated when traveling on rough roads.  The new XT gets a sportier suspension tuning than standard non-turbo models but it remains comfortable.

Subaru’s continuously variable transmission has simulated gearshifts. “Si Drive” buttons on the steering wheel do a decent impression of six and eight-speed transmission feels (plus it alters throttle response).  It does keep some of the rubbery dynamic that CVTs are known for. Also, like many modern gearboxes, it’s programmed to quickly search out higher ratios for better fuel economy.  Occasionally it sounds bogged down a little, again, like others.

132_2014ForesterPremiumThe Great Indoors-  Inside Subaru has stepped up its game with soft touch materials for the instrument panel.  Silver painted trim keeps the ambience conservative and sensible.   The door panels get brushed aluminum accents with perforated panels that look richer than the dashboard.  Cloth and leatherette seats are comfortable, generously bolstered and have whiplash protection.

A small screen on the top of the IP houses a back up camera, turbo boost and throttle position info, driving efficiency graphics, and a readout that shows which wheels are getting power plus the steering angle of the front wheels.

161_2014ForesterThe large glass roof is the next best thing to having a convertible.  I’m not too crazy about the nav and sound system’s user interface with its small buttons and icons.  The sound is fine for NPR listeners, audiophiles will want more.  On the positive side, hook up a smartphone and there’s Aha radio to stream music, podcasts and more.

Hip To Be Square- Forester’s boxy shape allows for generous room in the back seat and Subaru engineers managed to lower the profile of the driveshaft tunnel a few inches.  There’s plenty of leg, knee, foot and headroom for six-footers. There’s storage in the doors and a handy dandy armrest with cupholders.  No power port or adjustable vents though.

162_2014ForesterCargo space?  The champion in this class is the Honda CR-V that somehow swallows up 12 packs in the TP trunk test. Foresters squared off dimensions offers up a lot of space- nearly 62 cubic feet with the seats down- but it still can’t match the Honda.  With the rear seat usable, the Subie fills up with 10 packs of the two-ply (not 9 as the video says) but understand that there’s a good amount of room for a medium sized dog to lounge (do I know my Subaru demographic or what).  There’s storage for small stuff under the load floor and a spare tire beneath that.  There are also the expected tie-downs, bag hooks and power port.

003_2014ForesterXTShow restraint with the option boxes and the Subaru Forester XT is a frisky friend that will go nearly anyplace you want.  Loaded with keyless ignition, leather interior and Subaru’s EyeSight system (that integrates adaptive cruise, pre-collision braking and lane departure) and the price zooms up past 35 grand.  That’ll buy a lot of gorp and hiking boots.  Forester’s familiar design might not get your attention but the capability and refinements will.

21 Comments

  1. GregD says:

    Mr Voelk

    Based on your review and what I read in Consumer Reports I recently traded in my 13 year old Audi A6 for a Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring. I LOVE the Subaru and the eyesight system is amazing. I recently drove home from work without ever touching the gas or the brake, once I had the eyesight cruise control set. What makes this more amazing is that I did this in Washington D.C. traffic. The seats are comfortable the interior is sparse but spacious and everything is very simple to operate. In fact it is much better than the interface in the current Audi’s.

    Thanks for these reviews and this fabulous website.
    Sincerely
    GregD

    • TV says:

      I’ll disagree with you on the interface. Haven’t tried the Eyesight system though, thanks for sharing! TV

  2. Facepalm says:

    Good review, Tom. Funny how you keep getting that metallic crimson color on your Subaru press cars. I like how Subaru has these funky wheel designs now, too. The new Outback’s wheels look better than the CrossTrek’s, in my opinion.

  3. CalgaryGuy says:

    I demand a recount on the TP trunk test!

    If you play it back slowly you see it actually takes 10 packs of Costco’s most valued product, not nine. Ten packs is identical to the Mazda CX-5. Interesting how two such competitive vehicles can have such different priorities.

    • TV says:

      You Canadians, always trying to be so accurate. Thanks for pointing out my bad math skills. A fix is on the way.

  4. Jack in Jax says:

    Good matching of the venue with the car to be reviewed, Tom. Puts a ‘best foot forward’ for the Subie since, in typical suburban driving & moderate weather, one has purchased more car features than one is using.

    One suggestion: Can’t we do away with the (seems to me) cheesy Vroom-Vroom camera shot of each car’s tailpipe? Almost without exception, the sound underwhelms, the purpose of showing condensation spit perplexes, and most cars you review aren’t designed to sound interesting anyway. Multiple views of the instrument panel’s displays, for example, would be more informative & relevant.

    • TV says:

      You might not like it but a lot of people want to know what the exhaust note sounds like, even if it is underwhelming. Hope it’s not driving you away…

  5. Lee says:

    ha. he said ‘success’. just look at the nav, its like from the 1990s and seems out of place from the center console. subaru is behind its times… the new rav4 interior and even exterior beat this in a heart beat with projector halogen comes standard to say the least. RIP subaru.

    great review as always!

    • aceani says:

      While I admit the nav system is bad, at least you can see the nav system. Have you test drove the Rav4? You can’t even see the nav screen during the day, poor design. But, to each his own.

      • Lee says:

        subaru nav’s screen is a lot, i mean a lot, worse. i test drove 2013 rav4 and its nav is magnificent and had no problem with the screen. not to mention toyota has apps based entune system. to show you i am talking about with the subaru… just watch roman’s review at 11:39… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVFY31Xy4Ko
        i dont think tom mentioned how bad the subaru nav is.

        • aceani says:

          As I said, to each his own. I believe the Rav4 has only been out for what 4-5 months? There are already complaints about the Rav4 Nav on Safercar.org. This is a great place to research any car one considers or buys. My husband and I took a test drive and the problem with not being able to see the Nav (it was about 12 noon on a sunny day) was why we decided not to buy it.

          • Lee says:

            the website you gave is a bogus site filled with links to all different sites (ads). it is not even supported by an government agency. please… the website is nothing more than an advertisement trying get some extra $$ for their own gain.

    • Facepalm says:

      I don’t usually comment on what others have posted, but with your “RIP subaru” I could not resist. RIP? Really? Dude, the past five years have seen Subie’s sales rise, not drop to abysmal rates like other, certain Japanese brand(s). Yes, their interiors are sparse and look years-old compared to the competition, and yes their navigation unit is probably at or near the bottom of the class. Their three-row vehicle is probably on its last legs and their midsize sedan isn’t a threat to the competition nor is it noteworthy save for its AWD, but Subaru has a cult following that has seen it through for a long time and their product line appeals to people living in certain regions where the climate isn’t always pleasant, such as the northwest or northeast. And, now that Suzuki, another Japanese brand that featured AWD (as an option) on just about every car they made and was relatively popular in the north, is now gone, Subaru can pick up even more sales from would-be Suzuki owners.

      And in addition to their reputable AWD system, Subaru is one of best-known Japanese brands regarding occupant-safety features. When people think of a safe car, they probably think of a Volvo, but a Subaru is probably right behind. Subies make great first cars for young drivers for this reason alone.
      Oh, and while their fuel economy might seem middle of the pack when compared to others, when you take the fact that all Subies have AWD into consideration, the numbers they can achieve are pretty impressive, assuming you’re not a lead-foot.

      Exteriors are over-rated, in my opinion. Sure, they matter a lot to enthusiasts, but the best-selling cars are not especially attractive cars. The Corolla, Camry, and Accord don’t have outstanding exteriors (in my opinion) and yet they sell like hotcakes. It must be something else, then, which is their reputation for being satisfying products (satisfying to the average, non-enthusiast person, that is), and Subaru’s reputation has a cult following, as I mentioned earlier, which not every brand can say about themselves. A brand doesn’t earn a cult for being mediocre; clearly they have been doing something right for a long while now.

      As for the nav, yes, Tom did mention in the review “I’m not too crazy about the nav and sound system’s user interface with its small buttons and icons.” Steve Hammes, another well-known auto journalist video-reviewer on YouTube, called it the worst in the business (more or less). I haven’t really heard anything positive about the navi unit, but that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me if I was shopping. It wouldn’t be impossible for Subaru to update and improve it for the 2015 model year, however. Same with the lights. If Subie gets enough complaints about it, they could change it up for next year, or failing that, an owner can search the aftermarket for superior lights.

      The RAV4′s navi unit, “magnificent” it may be, doesn’t handle sunlight well, as you can see from this picture. Just sayin’. I’m not stating that you can’t like it, as you’re entitled to your opinion, but there you go.
      http://www.caranddriver.com/photos-13q1/508780/2013-toyota-rav4-xle-awd-ip-stack-photo-508842

      And speaking of opinions, you’re also entitled to think Subaru will die off soon, but we’ll just have to wait and see if that actually happens. And no, I don’t own a Subaru, and I’m not a Subie fanboy, lol.

      • Lee says:

        so subaru = the next suzuki? my point exactly.

        all y’all could say bad is the sun glare to the rav4 screen, which subaru seems to have the exact same screen glare problem (if you look at roman’s video). The refinements in terms of technology in subaru are simply not there. (something very basic like the muffled speakers, to say the least.) i mean, come on now, how hard is it to make some decent speakers, this is 2013 not 1990s.

        The above mentioned ‘best selling’ cars are either made by toyota or honda… and not subaru. no matter how you want to sugar coat subaru, its still being placed at the end or only being purchased by non-enthusiast (as you mentioned).

        • Facepalm says:

          I never said Subaru = Suzuki, I said Suzuki offered a similar product to what Subaru does. However, Suzuki didn’t have the dealer network that Subaru does, and didn’t have vehicles that had the same reputations that Subarus have. You’re jumping to conclusions over one simple comparison (that they both have AWD on all of their models). Did you not read the part where I said that they’ve improved sales each year over the past half decade? They’re not dying, dude. A brand doesn’t have to rake in as many profits as Toyota or Ford to stay in the market. Mazda doesn’t sell that much in comparison to the big shots but they’re still here, too, and aren’t likely to go bankrupt any time soon.

          I’m not entirely sure of what you mean in the second paragraph, but Subaru also has an enthusiast fanbase that, of course, always consists of fewer people than the more mainstream non-enthusiast crowd (last time I checked, non-enthusiasts don’t typically drive BRZs and WRX/STIs). So it’s not that Subies are bought “only” by non-enthusiasts, it’s just that, like with most brands, MOST of the cars are bought by the average person. Reality is not as extreme as you say it is (in this case and in the “Suzuki = Subaru” case).

          Of course Subaru isn’t going to be #1 in sales, they don’t have the supply to be top dog. Toyota/Ford/Honda produce many more vehicles than Subaru, for one thing. Subie merely hopes to sell enough to stay in the market and maintain their reputation. If they were gunning for the top, it’d be a slow process and would not happen overnight or next year or even in the next decade, maybe.

          I don’t know why you have it out for Subaru, and why you feel the need to proclaim their impending doom, but as I said earlier, you can think what you want about them. If they pack up and leave the US, I’ll be sure to acknowledge your accurate foresight.

          As for the RAV4 nav, according to MotorTrend, if you are wearing polarized sunglasses you cannot see the screen. Sounds wonderful. It’s in this four CUV comparison between the Escape, Forester, 2.5 CX-5, and the aforementioned RAV4. The Mazda won, and the Forester beat out the RAV4 for second (who woulda thunk it?). Escape came in last. The nav screen bit is under the RAV4 part. I don’t know if the polarized sunglasses complaint applies to other vehicles’ screens, but this is the first time I’ve heard it so I’m guessing it’s not. http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/suvs/1308_compact_crossover_comparison/

          Also, the Motortrend staff didn’t like the Subie’s sound system one bit, so I’ll believe you there. I don’t think a speaker (that can be replaced by a better aftermarket unit if needed) is a deal-breaker, however. And I don’t think it’s impossible for Subaru to eventually turn things around regarding their interiors and become competent there with everyone else. If brands like Hyundai and Kia can reverse their exteriors, a brand like Subaru can do the same for their interiors.

          Have a nice day.

  6. jj_accord says:

    Tom,

    Edmunds stated 87 octane could be used with the 2.0T engine, Power will be down 10% with it.

    http://www.edmunds.com/subaru/forester/2014/road-test.html

    • TV says:

      Thanks. Usually that’s the case but I like to go with what the manufacturer states in their specs.