You probably don’t remember when October was new-car month in America: Next year’s models were delivered in the dark of night and dealers covered up their showroom windows until the big reveal. Come in for coffee and doughnuts and see the new ‘63s! And we did. It was a big moment.
That was then. This is now—late February 2013, and a 2014-model-year Subaru sits in my drive. Do they care about making me feel prematurely older? Of course not; Subaru wants to impress us with its new technology. Such as its Driver Assist package with the EyeSight system. But that debuted last year, way back in 2013. Wait a minute . . . OK, you see the problem. Last year is really this year.
Whatever the calendar says, this new, fourth-generation Forester measures improvement by inches and degrees. As it did with the new Impreza, Subaru has gone over the Forester very carefully, massaging everything for safety and efficiency. The changes amount to evolution, not revolution, but no need to fix something that wasn’t broken.
The Forester has outgrown the compact class and it’s now a midsize crossover. Even so, it’s astonishingly roomy inside, nearly the volume of a biggish SUV without the mass and bulk. Our $33,220 Forester 2.5i Touring is also loaded—it’s got most of the features of a luxury car without the decadent interior or price. That’s not to say the cabin is low-rent; the Forester is comfortable—the seats get better all the time—yet pleasantly utilitarian. It is a Subaru, after all, and by reputation Subies have always been practical, thrifty and long-lived.
Equally to the point, they are probably the least-expensive and least fuelish all-wheel-drive vehicles around. Forester prices begin at about $22,000; all models are rated for 23 or 24 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 32 on the highway. This particular one has a 2.5-liter flat-4 motor connected to Subaru’s Symmetric all-wheel drive through a CVT, a stepless (no gears) continuously variable transmission. The default mode is front-wheel drive, but as soon as any loss of traction is detected an electronic clutch automatically shunts some torque to the back wheels.
The 170-horsepower 2.5i engine is gutsy enough, but the CVT occasionally makes it sound as though it’s straining harder than it really is. Forester 2.0XT models get a turbocharged motor good for 250 horsepower. BTW, if you are one of the few Americans who still want a clutch pedal, a 6-speed manual gearbox is available on Forester 2.5i and 2.5i Premium models.
About that EyeSight system: The “eyes” are a pair of cameras, one on each side of the rearview mirror, that look through the windshield in binocular vision. They scan the road ahead, noting other cars, bridge abutments, pedestrians, deer and even lane dividers. The information is fed into a busy little computer that supervises the Subaru’s every move and then intervenes to keep it from running into things. (In the days before smart phones and cupholders, drivers used to do this.) Eyesight also manages the adaptive cruise control and the hey-you’re-wandering-out-of-your-lane alert.
There’s satnav, a rear-vision camera, voice-activated controls, a Bluetooth link and lots of things to do with iPods, iPhones, iTunes, USB, SMS, MP3s and all that, plus a Harmon-Kardon sound system with way more speakers than I have at home. Plus a power liftgate, tire-pressure monitors, high-intensity headlights and, well, space is limited and we do need to talk about driving the car.
Thanks to a hair-trigger throttle, fairly quick steering and a suspension set just on the bouncy side of comfortable, the Forester drives as though it’s perpetually on its tippy-toes. Even the cabin seems to trying to keep us aware. The information screen’s graphics are large, bright and crisp. The various chimes are loud. Slide open the shade on the 40-acre sunroof and crank the driver’s seat up to harvester-combine height, and you’ll feel like you’re sitting in a greenhouse—an unusually light-filled greenhouse, at that. Altogether, it’s as though someone back at Subaru HQ said, “Right, let’s wake our customers up!”
OK, we’re paying attention. Now keep up the good work.