2014 Subaru Forester, all over the map: Motoramic Drives
Because of how I pay my rent, I get a lot of people asking me what kind of car they should buy. I’ve driven a lot of really nice machines, but I rarely find myself recommending a Lexus GS hybrid, or a Range Rover Sport, or a Mercedes CLS. Very few of my acquaintances can afford luxury. To those who seem concerned about gas mileage and nothing else, I usually end up saying, “Just get a Prius.” But others want to drive something more than a fuel-efficient toaster oven. Inevitably, the conversation turns to Subaru.
A Subaru was once considered a novelty item in the industry, a vehicle with little more prestige than a jet ski, but the company has slowly and competently climbed into the top five in several major U.S. markets by making safe, unpretentious, reasonably priced cars that are relatively fuel efficient, easy to take camping, and pretty fun to drive. It seems like a logical formula, but it’s also one that’s remarkably hard to pin down.
The 2014 Subaru Forester fits the company’s profile perfectly. When the Forester debuted, it was little more than a quirky station wagon with a bulbous roof, a community-college math professor’s nerd-car, but in the last few years it’s evolved into a more standard looking compact SUV. This year’s edition has the same unfussy attitude as the 2013 model.
We drove the new Forester in southern Arizona for seven hours on a recent weekday afternoon. The people who buy the Forester are going to mostly use it to make Trader Joe’s runs, but Subaru gave us a more catholic look. First, we took a Turbo edition, jacked with speed from its 250-hp boxer four engine, and buttressed with a tight suspension. There were straight-up highway runs, windy desert side roads, and many miles of rutted dirt, which the Turbo Forester handled zippily. I’d recommend the Turbo wholeheartedly, except that it gets 20 percent worse fuel economy, and the base model runs seven grand more, than the non-Turbo edition and its 170-hp unit.
The interior was comfortable though hardly lush, the dashboard display pretty low-tech, and the steering and handling excellent. As Subaru showed us earlier, there was plenty of storage space. With the seats folded down, the Forester can handle 238 yoga mats glued together, or 241 spools of hemp twine, if you ever have use for such a thing.
I found two major flaws. First, though the car has an excellent Harman/Kardon sound system, the radio can only be controlled through a touch screen, which is hard to figure out, not to mention extremely distracting. There’s no way to change stations without taking your eye off the road; you’d almost be better off texting.