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Monday, April 22, 2013

Subaru Forester

The Subaru Forester is the Japanese automaker's smaller all-wheel-drive crossover. A tall wagon with good ground clearance and a pragmatic take on styling and utility, the Forester is new for the 2014 model year. The new fourth-generation Forester joins the bigger Outback and the seven-seat Tribeca in rounding out Subaru's crossover-wagon lineup, and it competes with vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Chevy Equinox.

Since its launch in 1998, all Forester models have been essentially taller wagons built on the underpinnings of the compact Impreza sedan and hatchback. As the Forester gained in volume and reputation over its first decade, it entirely replaced the five-door Impreza wagon once that compact-car line was redesigned for 2008.

The first-generation Forester ran from 1998 through 2003, followed by a second generation that spannedmodel years 2004 to 2008. That second Forester was significantly restyled halfway through its life, with a new front end, tailgate, and rear lights added in the 2006 model year. The current model was launched in 2009, and the 2013 Forester will be the last year of its tenure.

Although it launched just as the recession arrived, the 2009 Forester shattered sales records by hitting just the right spot in the highly competitive compact crossover market. New buyers were lured to the brand by a sticker price that started just around $20,000, along with high perceived value, and of course Subaru's standard all-wheel drive--which won't be found on any competitors.

For the outgoing generation, the Forester 2.5X model produced 170 horsepower from its 2.5-liter engine, with either a five-speed manual gearbox or an old four-speed automatic transmission.  The 2.5XT turbo version, a significant upgrade, boosted power output to 224 hp.

While base Forester models have been practical but spartan, they've had a lengthy list of trim levels and options that easily pushed the top-level turbo model to the $30,000 mark. Those features have included a navigation system, along with a leather 10-way powered and heated driver's seat, and a moonroof, among other luxury options.

At long last, for the 2013 model year, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and audio streaming became standard, along with a USB port and iPod capability. Steering-wheel audio controls were made standard as well, and a new Value Package bundled the popular All-Weather Package (heated seats and mirrors, plus wiper de-icer) with a display audio system and fog lights.

One unusual and laudable option on the Forester is Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicle, or P-ZEV, certification, available for $300 in those states that have not adopted California’s stricter emissions limits. It's not available on the turbo model, but it adds better control of evaporative emissions and lower tailpipe emissions, along with leaf-logo badges to highlight the P-ZEV version’s green credentials.

For the newest 2014 Forester, Subaru is mainstreaming to some degree, though it's not growing the overall package. The Forester is now about the same size as the outgoing 2013 model, but it manages to offer more rear-seat and cargo space, improved infotainment, and a sportier exterior. Its EPA gas-mileage ratings are as high as 32 mpg on the highway, which is a respectable number for any tall crossover vehicle with all-wheel drive (standard on Subarus, but optional on its all of its competition). There are two powertrains: a 170-hp, 2.5-liter flat four for the 2.5i, and a 2.0-liter direct-injection turbo four in the 2.0XT. Subaru's continuously variable-transmission (CVT) offers a special Sport manual mode on the XT model that simulates eight distinct 'gears'.

In a First Drive of the 2014 Subaru Forester, which begins reaching dealerships in February of 2013, we found it to be roomier and more refined than ever--yet still surprisingly rugged. 

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