2014 Subaru Forester Full Test

2014 Subaru Forester Full Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (2)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2014 Subaru Forester SUV

(2.0L 4-cyl. Turbo AWD CVT Automatic)

Wicked Quick, Weird-Looking and Wisely Utilitarian

Apart from the fact that the 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT's styling is undeniably derivative of the Colonial Viper spacecraft from the Battlestar Galactica television series, this bizarre and eccentric SUV is also blindingly rapid.

As in 6.3 seconds to 60 mph rapid. That's light-years quicker to freeway speeds than its nearest rival.

Now we're not saying we don't appreciate the speed (oh, we do) but whether it matters in a segment driven as much by fuel economy as by utility is the real question. Toyota doesn't think so. It discontinued the V6 in its RAV4. Does Subaru know something its Japanese rival doesn't?

The Defiant Starfighter
Toyota isn't all-knowing, and when it makes a move, smaller companies like Subaru don't always follow. The 2014 Subaru Forester's defiance begins with a turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-4 cranking out 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque from a lowly 2,000 rpm. The engine is coupled exclusively to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that's the defining feature in the Forester's mixed persona. And though it's certainly the most entertaining, this isn't the only powertrain available.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT

Alternatively, a 170-hp naturally aspirated 2.5-liter flat-4 can be had with either the CVT or a six-speed manual transmission. Opting for the lesser engine means you'll also forgo the Battlestar Galactica-themed nose, 18-inch wheels and dual exhaust, so consider your powertrains carefully. Our tester was fitted with the more powerful engine, making it both fast and weird.

Subaru isn't the only company that still believes in horsepower as a selling point in this segment. Ford and Hyundai will sell you small SUVs with powerful turbocharged engines, too. But both are considerably slower than this Subaru and both — as a benefit of their power and conventional automatic transmissions — feature 3,500-pound tow ratings. The Forester is rated to tow 1,500 pounds.

Who, then, is Subaru's turbocharged SUV for?

The Enlightened Customer
Answering that question with a straight face, a Subaru representative noted that it's for the "enlightened customer" who wants the power of a V6 in a small SUV: possibly someone who lives at elevation where the turbocharged engine won't suffer in the thin air. "They want all the off-road capability and safety of a Forester but are...more interested in getting to trails, carrying gear and all-weather capability than towing."

And in these arenas the 2014 Subaru Forester acquits itself well. But it's daily commuting, child hauling and grocery getting that dominate the use spectrum of all small SUVs. So before the Forester proves its off-road mettle, it needs to show that it can handle the routine tasks the segment demands.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT

It's here that the CVT plays a key role in defining the Forester's driving character. Abundant low-rpm torque prevents the droning so common when less powerful engines are paired with a CVT. In this regard, the pairing is a success. Small throttle openings and little planning are required in normal driving. Passing is effortless, particularly when using the wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The CVT's Drawbacks
But like most CVTs, this one prevents drivers from enjoying a consistent interface with the Forester's powertrain. It lacks the direct connection between wheel speed and engine speed you'd have in a manual gearbox or a modern automatic. Yes, there's a simulated manual-shift option along with Subaru's Intelligent Drive, which provides three modes: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. Sport produces six simulated gears and Sport Sharp yields eight.

Mercifully, the power solves the CVT's biggest problem but the transmission still leaves us cold. Downshifts are only half-heartedly rev-matched, and despite sharpened throttle response in the performance modes, there's always a pause between input and response.

So, the 2014 Subaru Forester isn't all that sporty, yet many will be satisfied by what its transmission can do. Many more won't even notice.

In the Boonies
We pitted the car-based SUV against a trail known to challenge dedicated off-roaders and were impressed with its abilities. Though it struggled in aggressive wheel-lift scenarios, it never stopped pulling itself through frame-twisting holes that would strand many of its competitors. Its X mode (activated via a dash-mounted button) provides genuinely useful hill descent control and makes the engine's otherwise instant torque more manageable in low-grip surroundings.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT

We pushed it hard, nearly rolling it onto its lid in one slow, off-camber mess of trail, yet the all-wheel-drive system kept finding solutions — aided in part by 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

The entire adventure was accompanied by a dash display of lights and arrows representing torque distribution among all four wheels, which was more distracting than useful. But in the end, the Forester proved that its grip on physics is substantial. And its off-road abilities likely exceed the needs of any normal owner.

The Fastest Subaru?
We've already mentioned the Forester's accelerative abilities, but it should be noted that its run to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds (6.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as at a drag strip) is a half-second quicker than Subaru's dedicated sports car, the BRZ. There's mild irony in that, sure. But the fact that the Forester (on its Bridgestone Dueler all-season rubber) stops shorter from 60 mph than the BRZ (119 feet vs. 122 feet) is just silly.

Whether these stats beg for a true performance version of the BRZ or serve only to highlight the absurdity of small, powerful SUVs depends on where in the automotive world your allegiance lies. Whatever the case, this is a small SUV that runs a 14.6-second quarter-mile at 96.1 mph. That's between 0.9 and 2.2 seconds quicker than its direct competitors. No contest.

But wait. There's the downside. During more than 900 miles of mixed driving we recorded 21.6 mpg, which is the second worst fuel economy we've measured in any small SUV in recent memory, trailing only Ford's 2.0-liter turbo-powered Escape. It's also well below the EPA's 25 mpg combined rating. Possibly, Toyota was on to something after all.

Handling performance is average for the class. Lateral acceleration of 0.77g and a 61.8-mph slalom speed put it on par with the Hondas and Toyotas in the segment. And on the road the Forester's 18-inch wheels didn't seem to affect its ride quality or overall temperament. It's comfortable and quick and though its limits won't amaze you, its all-wheel-drive system does allow surprising on-ramp hijinks.

Roomy Inside
With 68.5 cubes of cargo space when its rear seatbacks are folded flat, the Forester XT's total cargo area is only marginally smaller than the class leader, an unfortunate product of not being able to decouple the optional moonroof from the turbo engine. Skipping the moonroof yields class-leading cargo space in lesser models thanks to a slightly higher roof.

Rear passenger space is ample. Six-footers can sit behind tall front passengers with comfort. Reclining seatbacks help, though there's plenty of headroom despite the moonroof. Front seats are flat with little bolstering, but are comfortable on long hauls.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT

Subaru's three-knob, multi-button HVAC system is simple and effective for managing two climate zones, but its touchscreen navigation system lacks the interface elegance and resolution of the best infotainment systems from the competition. Above the nav screen is another display, which is driver-configurable to show six different screens, three of which are ironically dedicated to monitoring fuel consumption.

The Final Tally
Our test car is the most expensive trim level Forester available: the 2.0XT Touring. Outfitted with one option (the $2,400 Keyless Access and Start, Eyesight and HID package) it tallied $36,220.

At that price, our 2014 Subaru Forester costs a few hundred dollars less than a fully loaded 2013 Ford Escape, but about $4,300 more than a slower, more efficient but similarly configured 2013 Toyota RAV4.

The bottom line with the Forester XT is two-fold. First, only those who truly need the added power will be able to justify its cost. Any small SUV that approaches the $40,000 milestone makes us think seriously about a bigger SUV with more cargo capacity. Second, nothing in this class or the next can match either the Forester's outright speed or its weirdness.

And none of them look as if they belong in the hands of a Colonial Pilot.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.



  • She really boogies! 14.6 @ 96.1 is no joke! The 2011 STI trapped at 97.4 for comparison. http://www.edmunds.com/subaru/impreza/2011/road-test.html Well done Subaru. You'll have my $28k for a white XT premium later this year!

  • Interesting MPG: My '14 XT Touring's logged 28 - 29 MPG on most mixed trips, superior to the '09 XT. However, short trips, stop-go traffic and/or enthusiastic turbo acceleration will produce MPG closer to yours. Also, don't automatics with torque converters deny the direct engine-wheel drive train connection enthusiasts crave? Tech note: '14 XT's turbo's beneath its engine, possibly a reason why a metal skid plate's standard. Also, that engine won't fit the BRZ - yet.

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    The Subaru rep's quip about "the enlightened customer" is eye roll worthy. Maybe the Japanese don't get the type of American who WOULD buy this car: A driver who has to contend with heavy snow and/or occasional offroad trips but values the additional on-road performance afforded by a car body (not a truck) powered by a turbo engine. That's actually pretty similar to me, except that my occasional offroad adventure is more than I think a Forester could handle, so I've got an Xterra Pro/4X. BTW, what offroad trail did you evaluate the Forester on? It didn't look too challenging to me.

  • wizard__ wizard__ Posts:

    Question. At this price, and size, wouldn't an Acura RDX be a competitor. Think I'd rather spend that much dough on the RDX.

  • csubowtie csubowtie Posts:

    This isn't that weird of a vehicle. Subaru owners are very loyal to the brand, myself included. But with the birth of my first kid, and the rediculous size of rear facing car seats mandated untill retirement age, our WRX can now only fit three people. I need something bigger but that doesn't mean I want less sport. With the death of the Legacy GT, and the enormity of the Outback, that leaves the Forrester. What gets me is why couple the enthusiast engine to the least enthusiastic transimission? BTW, I miss the first gen WRC Rally Blue Forester XT Sport.

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    I'm going to dismiss your gas mileage number due to the IL habit of gunning a quick car at EVERY opportunity. However, I take bigger issue with IL getting on Subaru's case for thinking outside the box and producing this vehicle. It's like when I go looking at vehicles and some smart-[non-permissible content removed] tries to tell me "You can't cross-shop those vehicles". When it's my money I'll cross-shop WTF I want. Likewise, if Subaru can sell the XT, it's not IL's (or anybody else's) business to gripe it does not fit the formula.

  • fortstring fortstring Posts:


  • fortstring fortstring Posts:


  • maxx18 maxx18 Posts:

    Given that it accelerates and brakes faster than the BR-Z, I believe the Forester with a decent set of tires may actually beat the BR-Z around a road course. That is just plain sad.

  • major_zero_ major_zero_ Posts:

    We just got the '14 Limited non-turbo. It's our first Subaru and I really like it. We live in Oregon and it's the perfect car for my wife; I don't have to worry when we get our version of "snow" that is just deep enough to be slippery. If I wasn't 6'4", 400 lbs, I'd love to have the XT version. In case there's any tall-n-portly brothers out there wondering; I fit in the passenger seat pretty well but I can't stretch my legs all the way out. The back seat is super roomy with plenty of knee room. With the sunroof, there's still plenty of headroom both front and rear except the side of my head bumps the side of the roof panel in the front occasionally. Haven't been in the driver seat, so I don't know what that's like (she's only had it less than a week).

  • I really dig this new Forester, and totally almost bought one. I'm sure that with some light mods it would really haul. Still I was surprised that a recent video review I just watched showed the 2014 XT running to 60 after multiple runs in a best of 7.53 seconds, rather than the 6.3 from this test. Of course the guy in the video possibly doesn't know how to drive to get the best out of the Subie. Anyways here's the link to the review video, and the 0-60 time runs are at around the 8:30 mark. http://blip.tv/tflcarcom/2014-subaru-forester-and-xt-turbo-0-60-mph-first-drive-review-6520744

  • joy88 joy88 Posts:

    Approaches the $40,000 milestone makes us think seriously about a bigger SUV with more cargo capacity? Why people need bigger SUV? Bigger SUVs have much lower MPG!, not everyone like bigger! Looking for my next SUV, forester 2014 is the best one for me, right size! roomy, big moonroof, EYESIGHT!!!!!!, safest compact SUV in this segment (only one of 13 compact crossovers and S.U.V.’s to earn the highest rating in a new, more severe front crash test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), excellent visibility, AWD SUV MPG better then some FWD SUVs, comfort seating in side, low gravity boxer engine, CVT/SI/S# (hate manual, 99% driver don't like manual), 250 Horsepower at 25 MPG combined!! btw, 2.0 xt is quieter and smoother than i2.5. What else you expecting? can you find another SUV like this? Those reviewers are not normal person like most of drivers in the world.

  • thejavagod thejavagod Posts:

    I like the vehicle but am disappointed with two aspects: the Navigation system and infotainment system is pretty antiquated and the second miscue is the lack of decent towing... at least 2500 lbs would've been good for occasional light towing use. While 1500 lbs may be fine for the RAV4 and RDX which are just glorified cars I think the Forester appeals to a slightly different segment that would value a better tow rating.

  • innovand innovand Posts:

    My partner had an Outback with the 170-hp engine. The thing could barely go up the hill. It was hell to drive that thing

  • I suspect you folks were driving the XT hard, hence the disappointing MPG. My '14 XT easily gets 30 mpg for a mixed trip. Work its turbo hard, though, and the MPG can plummet. Also, the XT works fine without the expensive Eyesight, HID and Keyless Start options, at much lower cost. Does that "similarly configured" RAV4 offer Eyesight?

  • mjoy mjoy Posts:

    I really do not get it. Everywhere I researched, including your site, showed mileage at 24 City. Some sites even claimed 26. Since I do 90% city driving, this was important. I really wanted the electric or 40 mpg competitors, but they did not fit my short stature. So, I was pleased to see some decent numbers for this car that fit me just nicely. So, I purchased a 2014 Subaru Forester (Limited CVT). After one month of ownership, I am appalled to be seeing only 19 city. I am a pretty steady driver. I'll be taking it this week to the dealership to see if I'm missing some sort of eco mode driving. However, NOW reading your note about test driving for 900 miles and only getting 91 makes me wonder what your gas mileage calculator site is doing. It showed 24 city for 2.5i Limited (automatic). However, I do love driving this car. Just miffed about the mileage. Suggestions anyone?

  • mjoy mjoy Posts:

    Correction on my recent post. Your article reported getting 21 in town after 900 miles of test driving.

  • myth1_ myth1_ Posts:

    I read a lot of reviews of this vehicle that it's approaching the $40,000 mark and that you have to start considering bigger SUV's at that price. I would argue that the Forester doesn't need to be close to $40,000. And regarding larger SUV's, I have a large SUV now and personally, I wouldn't mind moving to a vehicle less lumbering and easy to drive fast. The 2.0XT Touring seems like a good deal to me. 6.3 sec. 0-60, 25 mixed mpg's, leather seating, sunroof, 18 inch rims, power rear gate, Harman Kardon stereo and NAV. Comfortable, easy to see out of and fast! If you pass on the Eyesight system, looking at $32,995 MSRP. Want to be a little more frugal? Go for the 2.0XT Premium for $27,995. Looks just as good as the touring, I heard the standard stereo the Premium comes with, and it's decent, definitely old school but easy to use. (Amazingly knobs on stereos for volume control and finding a station are easy to use. Who would have thought?) The seats in the Premium are cloth but sporty, and look durable. Something fun and fast that can go off road, and carry boxes and groceries too. Whether you look at the Touring or the Premium, what else in the same class can you get for that price to beat it?

  • advice1 advice1 Posts:

    It is interesting to me that the review makes the case that this model is overpriced for the segment and that Subaru might have a had time selling it, and yet their is no review of the models that are more inline with the segment in terms of mpg and utility and price point. Edmunds needs to do reviews of those models that are most sought after in real purchases and do them BEFORE those readers would be less interested in. We are interested in the 2.5i models (Premium, Limited, Touring), but they are not reviewed even though they are bigger sellers. Come on Edmunds…. how about reviewing the other models that more buyers are interested in?

  • advice1 advice1 Posts:

    Another observation: the 2014 Subaru Forester Safety web page is not current. NHTSA rated it 5* except for one passenger front 4* and the 4* Rollover that all SUVs I've seen get. The IIHS rated it Good in every category except I believe an Acceptable in the Structural crash results. Why doesn't Edmunds keep this kind of critical decision making data current? Anyway, the Forest and others Subarus rate high in safety. We don't have one because I still have some hesitation points, but it is on our shortlist.

  • My MPG experience with the '14 XT is you can get 30 mpg, especially on the highway. However, drive like a hoon, or do many short trips with a cold engine and MPG'll plummet to what's reported here, or worse. Also, XT's don't respond well to stomp-the-gas acceleration, but do respond well if the accelerator is "rolled". Still, the '14 XT's proved superior to the earlier '09 XT in every way. Am looking forward to its handling the upcoming snow!

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