Subaru appears to be at the crossroads. Among executives, one faction wants to drive the company into the mainstream, with a more conventional lineup. Another believes Subaru’s niche-player status works in its favor.
Subaru’s commitment to standard all-wheel-drive and to an unorthodox engine architecture does, indeed, give the company an outsider’s standing.
Not that that’s a bad thing. Subaru was one of three automakers whose U.S. sales grew during the recession. Since early 2012, its profits have tripled and its stock value has grown fivefold, says Bloomberg.
In August, Subaru set a new U.S. sales record. Simultaneously, the redesigned, 2014 Forester crossover overtook the Outback wagon as the company’s sales leader, with year-to-date sales up an astonishing 46 percent.
It’s hard to know what to credit for the surge, but efficiency — both space and fuel — is probably the right place to start.
For 2014, wheelbase and overall length grow modestly — 0.9 inches and 1.4 inches, respectably — but rear-seat legroom is up a massive 3.7 inches and cargo room grows as well.
Forester’s base engine is a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four that, when paired with a new continuously variable transmission (CVT), yields EPA numbers of 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway/27 mpg combined.
Equipped with the six-speed manual that’s standard on 2.5i and 2.5i Premium trims, Forester is rated at 22/29/24.
An available, 250-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four powers up-level trims and earns ratings of 23/28/25.
For Subaru, which has always struggled with fuel efficiency, these gains are huge.
Forester’s content-list grows this year, as well. All but the base 2.5i trim now include a standard rearview camera and color multifunction display. New options include keyless access and ignition, a power liftgate and the EyeSight driver assist system.
EyeSight was previously introduced on the Legacy and Outback and was key to their Superior ranking in the new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Front Crash Prevention (FCP) test. EyeSight integrates adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision braking. When danger is detected ahead, it can bring the Forester to a complete stop, without driver intervention, from speeds of up to 25 mph.
X-Mode, an enhancement to Forester’s AWD system available on upper trims, tweaks engine response, transmission shift points, stability control system intervention and the AWD system to improve traction in slippery conditions.
Hill descent control is broadly available and, at 8.7 inches, ground clearance is exemplary.
The new Forester receives mild sheet metal and cabin updates. Cabin materials are improved but the design remains dated. Cartoonish graphics and impaired ease of use relegate Subaru’s navigation and infotainment systems to second-tier status.
Aside from noticeable lean in the corners, the Forester handles as well as can be expected from an affordable people-and-cargo hauler. Its sophisticate AWD system and higher-than-average ground clearance provide better-than-average off-road chops.
CVT-equipped models incorporate an continuously variable transfer clutch that distributes power to the wheels with traction.
A fair distance separates Subaru from the mainstream. The new Forester helps bridge that gulf while underscoring the company’s strengths. With more successes like this, Subaru will escape its niche role without breaking a sweat.
2014 Subaru Forester 2.5 Si Touring
Vehicle base price: $21,995
Trim level base price: $29,995
As tested: $33,220
Optional equipment included keyless entry and ignition; EyeSight; high-intensity discharge low-beam headlights.
EPA ratings: 24 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified