For those who don't already know, the Subaru Forester has a loyalist following matched only by Corvette and Porsche.
I mean these folks, often outdoorsy types, have a website where they chronicle their Forester's life in text and pictures as they modify or customize their Subarus over the years. They post and boast more than I did with my son and daughter.
You Subie owners know of what I speak.
Here's the good news: The 2014 Forester, the fourth generation of this all-wheel-driver, hasn't abandoned its roots. It has and does everything Forester is famous for – it just does most of it even better this year.
It is bigger in nearly every dimension, is better sculpted in front and rear, offers even greater ground clearance – at 8.7 inches – for better dirt-road drives to the hiking trails and kayaking spots. And it even has more room inside for the paddles, backpacks and tents.
Plus, you can get to the lakes and mountains cheaper with Forester's improved fuel economy – credit a new continuously variable transmission, or CVT, that replaces the aging 4-speed automatic.
Forester's restyled interior is perhaps the greatest improvement. First off, it's easier to get in there, with bigger and wider-opening doors. But it's also quieter, prettier and more comfortable with redesigned seats that are more supportive and positioned to offer better views of the outdoors.
The rear-seat area is roomier this year so it's easy to take along another adult couple or friends on your adventure. Legroom back there has been extended more than 3 inches and the rear floor is flat so there's no driveshaft bulge to rob back-seaters of foot space.
Fold the back seats down and cargo space expands from 34 to 74.7 cubic feet, about 6 cubic feet more than last year.
Getting the gear – or groceries – back there is easier, too, with a larger liftgate, which is power activated on the upscale models.
Slightly wider, taller and longer, the new Forester posts a more striking stance. Even sharper looking is the 2.0XT which gets a bolder front, rear spoiler and 18-inch wheels.
Forester's power comes in two flavors – both of them 4-cylinder 'boxer' engines. The base is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that generates 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is standard this year, replacing last year's 5-speed. A CVT is optional.
But better performance is available with the 2.0-liter turbocharged version – modified from the Subaru BRZ – which is standard on the 2.0XT model. The 2.0 knocks out 250 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque. You have to go with the high-torque CVT here but you won't regret it when it comes to performance – or fuel economy: It is one of the better CTVs and is EPA-rated at 23 mpg city, 28 highway.
The turbo also offers instant gratification with better 0-60 times: Rather than the 2.5's 9.0 second, the 2.0 turbo gets you to 60 in a swift 6.3 seconds – exceptional for this crossover segment.
The 2.0 Touring and Limited trims also have an X-mode which enhances engine and tranny response, plus boosts the AWD system for improved traction on dirt or gravel roads.
You'll find the Forester also is perfectly happy and composed on drives to soccer practice or the grocery store. It is stable, handles responsibly though not exceptionally in the corners. The AWD system, offered in two versions, is effective at keeping the Forester well poised on and off the main road, and in reducing side-to-side motion.
The electrically boosted steering is less than sharp, but is competent. Braking is smooth and efficient.
Making your ride a safe experience starts with Subaru's EyeSight system, which looks out for the guy in front of you (adaptive cruise warning), hits the brakes if it senses an imminent collision, and warns when you drift into the adjacent lane. This system is offered only on the Touring model.
Every Subaru gets antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front-side air bags, side curtain and even driver's knee air bag. Rear-view camera is standard in every trim but the base 2.5i.
But don't diss the 2.5i – it's rather well equipped with lots of power, AC, cruise control gadgets on the steering wheel and variable windshield wipers.
It's one of six trims, however, which add significant enhancements. The 2.5i Premium adds a rear-view camera and panoramic moon roof. The 2.5i Limited gets a CVT, leather inside and power liftgate.
The Touring includes a navigation system, nice instrumentation and eight-speaker sound system.
Then the 2.0XT Premium gets all the Premium stuff plus the 2.0-liter turbo engine, 18-inch wheels and a spoiler. And the 2.0 Touring gets a tech package, too, with the EyeSight feature.
You non-Subie types looking for a compact crossover might want to toss this Forester on your shopping list. As for the Subie loyalists, there is nothing to fear in this fourth-gen Forester. Subaru just took everything you liked – its functionality and practicality – and made it just a bit better.
And then it added a dash of style and economy. Nicely done.
2014 SUBARU FORESTER
–Base price: $22,820
–Price as tested: $32,995
Prices include destination charge.
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