Test Drive: Redesigned Subaru Forester is a mountain-climbing champ

Test Drive: Redesigned Subaru Forester is a mountain-climbing champ

July 20th, 2013 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

Big windows give the 2014 Subaru Forester class-leading visibility. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

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FAST FACTS

Model: 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium

Exterior color: Burnished Bronze Metallic

Interior color: Black

Engine: 2.5 liter, four-cylinder

Horsepower: 170

Transmission: continuously variable

Fuel economy: 32 highway, 24 city

Dealer: Kelly Subaru

Price (as tested): $26,967

Ask the salesmen at the Kelly Subaru dealership where most of their customers come from and they'll tell you two ZIP codes: 37377 and 37350.

What do those places have in common? Altitude. The former is for Signal Mountain and the latter is for Lookout Mountain.

All Subaru vehicles feature symmetrical all-wheel-drive, a full-time traction system that delivers mountain-mule stability and all-season safety -- a potent combination if you live a couple of thousand feet above sea level or spend your weekends hauling kayaks to the Ocoee River.

Our test car this week is the significantly redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester, which offers up improved fuel economy, snappier styling, a new continuously variable transmission and more rear-seat and cargo room.

Right now, Subaru is selling Foresters as fast as it can turn them out, but expect inventories to grow in coming weeks. Kelly Subaru here had two copies last week, including our Bronze Metallic test car.

Long a favorite of mountain dwellers and outdoors types who do some light off-roading, the third-generation Forester builds on Subie strengths. The engine is the brand's 2.5-liter workhorse with four horizontally-opposed cylinders. The Forester's low center of gravity and superb all-wheel-drive system make it the sled dog of small SUVs.

STYLING AND FEATURES

The new Forester has updated sheet metal that gives it a sleeker, more youthful appearance. Still, the windows -- including an oversized panoramic sunroof -- are vast. Forester drivers enjoy excellent 360-degree visibility. With the sun-roof cover pushed back, you almost feel like you're under a glass dome. It's a comforting sensation after driving so many over-designed cars recently that pinch window area to accommodate styling.

The front of the Forester features an ample skidpad that undergirds the front bumper like a bulldog's lower teeth. The grill's only real bling is the classy six-star Subaru emblem. The hood ripples with character lines. Conservative five-spoke, 17-inch aluminum alloys are proportionally appropriate for the Forester, and roof rails are pleasantly unobtrusive.

Inside, our mid-trim test car had attractive cloth seats that are firm but not snug. The dash and instrument cluster are simple and uncluttered. The Forester is the first car I've driven in awhile that I didn't have to hunt for radio volume controls or the air conditioning fan-speed control.

Cargo volume in the five-passenger Forester is 31.5 cubic feet with the back seat up and 68.5 cubic feet with it down. Standard on our 2.5i Premium model are a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat and reclining rear seats which are split 60/40.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The most important new drivetrain feature on the Forester is a continuously variable transmission -- think of a bicycle chain that slides across an infinite number of gears. This improvement contributes to the Forester's improved fuel economy, now 32 miles per gallon highway. It also makes the Forester an even more desirable mountain car, as the gearbox no longer has to hunt for the perfect ratio.

The 2.5-liter four cylinder makes 170 horsepower. There is no six-cylinder option. On our test drive on U.S. Highway 127, the Forester easily accelerated to cruising speed -- albeit with a light load.

BOTTOM LINE

The new Forester is one of the most practical small SUVs on the market today. At just under $27,000 our test car represents a good value, too.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.