TUCSON, Ariz. -- Sandstone slabs stepping up a rutted trail in the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson cannot retard the forward progress of a 2014 rendition of Forester, the go-anywhere crossover utility vehicle by Subaru of Japan.
Subaru recasts the all-wheel-drive Forester with 2014 issues and the result is a bigger and stronger wagon with enhanced engine performance, improved fuel economy, better cabin comforts and more personal space.
The 2014 models represent a fourth generation for Forester built on a new unit-body platform with 0.9-inch longer wheelbase length and a wider wheel track. Overall vehicle length increases by 1.4 inches and the body width grows by 0.6-inch, adding 5.5 cubic feet of room to the cabin. The additional cabin space is particularly notable in the rear seat, where legroom expands to 41.7 inches, and in the aft cargo bay now with 34.4 cubic feet of stow space with the 60/40 split rear seatbacks raised and 74.7 cubic feet with rear seatbacks lowered.
We spend time in the driver's seat of a 2014 Forester 2.0XT Touring and notice the potent engine performance plus the vehicle's improved agility due to a stiffer structure and retuned independent suspension with larger wheels and tires and a new rack-mounted steering system with electric power assistance.
Forester actually makes a driver's job easy because all mechanical aspects are direct and simple and efficient. The easy-to-operate simplicity of Forester has been a primary factor driving sales since the wagon first appeared in Subaru's line as a 1998 model.
Subaru developed Forester as a different kind of sport utility which eliminates the harsh ride and ungainly handling of a truck-based SUV by borrowing the chassis of a passenger car.
Subaru's engines, with four cylinders opposed horizontally and set perpendicular to the drive line, employ equal-length drive shafts and function like boxers jabbing directly at one another so there's little vibration or residual torque steer.
Power from the engine moves directly through an intelligent transfer case for distribution to all of the wheels, with scant loss of energy in the process.
Because Subaru's AWD system is so efficient, there's only a modest sacrifice in fuel economy figures to use it.
Forester 2014 has six trim grades: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, 2.0XT Premium, 2.5XT Touring.
All 2.5i models carry a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder boxer-style engine with aluminum block and cylinder heads, double overhead camshafts (DOHC) and the Subaru Active Valve Control System (AVCS). This plant produces 170 hp at 5800 rpm with torque reaching to 174 lb-ft at 4100 rpm.
The 2.5-liter engine ties to a 6-speed manual transmission with Incline Start Assist (ISA) or an optional Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
This powertrain scores well in the thrifty fuel department, with EPA estimate numbers climbing to 32 mpg.
Subaru also forges two souped-up Foresters -- the 2.5XT Premium and 2.5XT Touring -- packing a turbo-charged and inter-cooled DOHC 2.0-liter boxer 4-pack with Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) and AVCS. Output climbs to 250 hp at 5600 rpm and torque zips to 258 lb-ft between 2800-4800 rpm.
Sole transmission for 2.0XT models is the Lineartronic CVT with manual shift modes and paddle shifters.
2.0XT models employ the Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE) device for selecting from three driving modes: Intelligent (relaxed throttle response), Sport (quicker throttle response and 6-speed ratios for the manual shift mode), or Sport Sharp (even quicker throttle response and 8-speed manual mode ratios).
Forester's full-time AWD system has different versions for manual and CVT shifters. For the manual, a viscous-coupling device locks the center differential, while an electronically managed continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch works with the CVT -- Subaru labels this system Active All-Wheel Drive.
Safety gear for 2014 Foresters includes frontal and seat-mounted side air bags for the front row plus driver's knee air bag, curtain-style air bags above outboard seats on first and second rows, and new anti-whiplash front seats. Four-wheel disc brakes tie to an Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Brake Assist (EBA) plus a stability system labeled Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC).
Subaru's EyeSight driver-assist system, optional on 2.5i Touring and 2.0XT Touring models, uses a stereo camera system to integrate Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking and Vehicle Lane Departure Warning systems.
MSRP figures for the 2014 Forester begin with entry issue Forester 2.5X listing for $21,995. Top trim Forester 2.0XT Touring tallies to $32,995.