The reliably quirky “sensible shoes” of the CUV world has taken a mildly genre-bending step in its fourth generation, producing a Subaru Forester that’s more upright, more modern and fitted with more fancy bits.
But it’s still the Forester, a boxy and distinctly different machine that’s always appealed to a certain demographic — as well as dudes who don’t read the Internet, but are attracted to the car’s spacious interior, its weather-proof symmetrical all-wheel-drive and Subaru’s reputation for staying on the road forever.
While everyone else in the business seems to have gone for a rounded look in their new CUV models — witness the Escape, RAV4 and the Koreans — Forester has become decidedly straight and slab-sided, with an aggressive nose sporting way-off-the-body aerodynamic headlamps, plus a wide, broad tailgate.
Door sills reach two inches lower than before, guaranteeing less mud and snow on the boots for you and your passengers, and while the wheelbase is only an inch longer, they considerably upped the rear foot and leg room, as well as providing a seats-down rear cargo space of 74.7 cubic feet.
Inside, the furnishings are still very plain — about the only buttons you’ll find control the height of the power liftgate — with simple AC knobs and a new multi-function color display on the top of the center stack. My Touring edition was spruced up a bit with heated leather seating featuring white highlight stitching, plus the impressive but slightly hard to master harmon/kardon touchscreen navigation and audio system — as well as a big sunroof that stretches half way back into the cabin, requiring a bit of a stretch to open and close the cabin cover underneath.
Forester’s physical appeal (or lack thereof, to some observers) will definitely help set the tone for new buyers; existing Forester owners are going to love it, though they may be concerned about the car’s ever-climbing stature.
That size and shape also gave me a few issues as I rolled out across South Park last weekend. Crosswinds tended to buffet the Forester a little more than I appreciated, and when combined with the car’s occasionally bouncy ride, I did not have the smoothest experience ever, let us say. And pushing it a little too quickly into the curve at the top of Kenosha Pass, I was acutely aware of handling dynamics with a higher-than-comfortable center of gravity.
My Forester was equipped with the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine, good for 170 sea-level horsepower, and I had no problems with the boost, even as I scaled the passes. While a six-speed manual is available, mine had a rudimentary continuously variable transmission with only a very low Low, meaning it was more like a drag chute when I tried to use it to shave off my downhill highway speed.
As an option, you can upgrade to a 250-HP 2.0-liter turbo (careful on those corners, though, speedy), which can also be fitted with an upgraded CVT featuring a six- or eight-speed virtual gear range, better for downhill speed control.
Forester continues to emphasize its way-more-than-basic off-road capability, and the 2014 model is equipped with a new “X Mode” system which activates more reactive stability control and safety below 25 mph (with the tap of a small button), plus a hill descent control system. With 8.7 inches of clearance, it’ll get you to more places than you’d imagine.
That new mid-stack screen can also be toggled to a Range Rover-inspired screen demonstrating the all-wheel-drive and descent control in action on the individual wheels; the other screens all feature large, easy-to-read graphics illustrating instant fuel efficiency and more. It’s also the display for the rear-view camera, which I found just a little too small to use easily while parking.
Forester can also be outfitted with the EyeSight system, Subaru’s own variation on lane-depature, radar cruise control and collision warning/intervention technology — housed in two cameras bookending the rear-view mirror. It’s less passive than other manufacturers’ systems — you get some pretty serious warning lights when you move up too closely on stopped traffic — but I appreciated that.