Car Reviews

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D-S Review

Isaac Bober’s 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D-S review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

Here in Australia, Subaru’s success story has been inextricably linked to the Forester. It’s the brand’s best-selling model in its 40-year history with more than 170,000 units sold here since its launch back in 1997. Spun off the Impreza platform, the Forester was, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than an all-wheel drive wagon.

That all changed with the third-generation Subaru Forester which stood right up on its tippy-toes thanks to a 110mm jump in ride height, giving the car 210mm of ground clearance. Given all that, it became a proper medium SUV.This all-new, fourth-generation Forester, and I’m testing the Forester 2.0D-S here, capitalises on that move and adds a softening of its predecessor’s hard-edges.

Indeed, this new Forester borrows heavily (in terms of styling cues inside and out) from its sibling the Subaru XV (they share the same platform). From its swept-back, hawk-like headlights, mesh grille and rear spoiler, the new Forester offers more room in both front and back seats, better vision right around, and a range of new and improved engines (both in terms of output and fuel consumption).

There’s been plenty of talk from Subaru about its new X-Mode which is designed to enhance the Forester’s ability on rough roads (it works at speeds up to 40km/h), however it’s only available on automatic gearbox CVT-equipped Foresters. The Subaru Forester 2.0D-S I’m testing was fitted with a six-speed manual transmission.

Editor's Rating

How we rated the 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D 8.5
The new Subaru Forester is a welcome sight in a sea of pretender SUVs. Impressive ground clearance and 50:50 torque split mean the Forester is actually quite capable (but not Tanami Track capable, so don’t misread us). It looks more purposeful on the outside, is roomier on the inside and the dash layout and quality of materials is better than ever, although it still has a little way to go before it’s the class leader. The diesel engine is strong, but it’s let down by the manual gearbox which seems geared for fuel efficiency rather than outright performance. The ride and handling is good, indeed the Forester is easily one of the best driving medium-SUVs on the market. It’s certainly the best in terms of all-round ability. But, despite significant improvements the Forester 2.0D still has some way to go in terms of ultimate sophistication, even though it’s got an impressive level of equipment and the pricing is good. It’s the vehicle’s honesty and breadth of ability that’ll appeal to most, as well as Subaru’s enviable reliability record.
8.5

ON THE OUTSIDE

New Forester looks more premium than its predecessor

Subaru Forester4

Still standing nice and tall, this new Subaru Forester looks wider than its predecessor and that’s thanks mainly to a slight flaring of the lower half of the body. Coupled with the new-look headlights, the higher-set bonnet (which is aluminium and helps to lower the centre of gravity), and the rear spoiler (previously only available on Forester XT), this new Forester has a more purposeful stance.

Walk around the Forester with a photograph of its predecessor and you’ll notice that whatever was square before is now smooth and rounded (all in the name of making the car slipperier and thus more fuel efficient). Similarly, the Forester’s front windscreen now sits flush with the surrounding body work. And with weight-saving to improve fuel efficiency being the name of the game, the Forester’s sunroof (standard on 2.0D-S) is 17% lighter than the one found in its predecessor.


ON THE INSIDE

New Forester offers improved vision and cabin quality

Subaru Forester8

The driver and front passenger now sit 20mm higher than they did in the previous-generation Forester, which helps to improve forward vision, and rear seat passengers have got plenty of room. Indeed, clever attention to detail includes the rear passenger side sills being made as wide as possible, with a grippy finish to help prevent slipping, especially for children.

Speaking of children, child-seat anchor points have been moved from the roof to the seat backs which improves the driver’s rearwards vision.The Forester’s wheelbase has been stretched by 25mm, which among other things allows for 15mm of improved elbow and shoulder room.

The side sills are 50mm lower while the front doors open an extra 135mm for ease of entry and exit.An auto tailgate with a memory function and the ability to reverse its motion if you’ve accidentally opened it and it touches you, hides 422 litres of bootspace.


SPACE

New Forester offers more room in the cabin and the boot than its predecessor

Subaru has made minor tweaks to the Forester for major impact. The A-pillar has been moved forward (by 200mm), the back-end of the roof has been lowered, the wheelbase is bigger by 25mm, the door openings are bigger, and the doors open wider, and the front seats are 20mm higher than in the previous-generation Forester.

With the back seat in place there’s 422 litres of space, fold it forward and it grows to 1457 litres. That seat-up boot space isn’t huge, but the shape is practical and allows for bulky items like prams to be loaded easily. Unlike a lot of its competitors, this new Forester offers a full-sized spare wheel and a reversing camera right across the range.Simpler and bigger are the key take-outs when you climb in behind the wheel.

The dash straight off looks a whole lot less cluttered than the previous-generation Forester.Subaru has lowered the top of the instrument panel by 50-80mm (depending on the part of the dash you’re looking at). This not only offers improved forward vision over its predecessor (the rear blind spot has also been reduced by one-degree) but it makes the cabin feel lighter and airier.


PERFORMANCE

Perky diesel engine offers plenty of grunt and is thrifty at the bowser

Subaru Forester3

Powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Boxer diesel engine which makes 108kW at 3600rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1600-2400rpm, the Forester 2.0D is only available with a long-throw and notchy six-speed manual. Fuel consumption is a claimed 5.9L/100km (combined) and in our week of testing (more than 900km) I averaged very close to that at 6.1L/100km.

While the diesel-toting Forester will be the one that country buyers focus on first, if you’ve looked at the numbers you’ll notice torque is equal to its petrol siblings. But the Forester 2.0D offers its grunt earlier in the rev range, allowing for lazier driving and easier towing.Like the Subaru Outback 2.0D, the Forester 2.0D is a little coarse sounding at idle but smooths out once you’re up and running and while overseas markets get access to an optional CVT, we don’t. UPDATE : An auto Forester will launch this month (February).

The long-throw and tall gearing of the manual (geared for fuel economy) means you’re constantly shifting gears to maintain momentum. That means around town you always tend to be in a higher gear to ensure you don’t get caught out. A CVT would fix that.Indeed, fitting a CVT to the Outback 2.0D has transformed that car and we can only imagine it would be on Subaru Australia’s wish list given the popularity of auto-equipped SUVs here in Australia. And, if it isn’t, well, it should be.


GOOD TO DRIVE

The Subaru Forester is better to drive than many of its competitors

Subaru Forester5

The steering, as we’ve noted in other Forester drives, is light and precise, which makes it easy to manoeuvre at parking speed, but more weight in the wheel would instil even greater confidence on turn-in. That said, the Forester is certainly more willing to change direction than the vast majority of its sloppy-handling competitors.

The Forester’s wagon-style body and its inherent low-centre of gravity offered by the low-mounted Boxer engine, gives the Forester agility and stability on wet or dry, bitumen or gravel.Tweaks to the suspension (the addition of rebound springs and a thicker stabiliser bar) have firmed up the ride, but they haven’t taken away from its ability to smother bumps or deal with those all-of-a-sudden potholes you didn’t see until it was too late. The tall-ish sidewall on the tyres helps here too.

The Forester, like the bulk of all-wheel drives on the market, is prone to mild understeer but, a little lift of the right foot is all that’s needed to tuck the nose back in. And the stability control works so well you won’t even notice it. With a 50:50 torque split (via a centre differential) and a rear limited-slip differential, the Forester offers impressive grip and safe handling.

Anyone going from, say, a Mazda CX-5 to the new Forester will notice the benefits of decent suspension and attention to detail in suspension mounts. Smaller bumps are barely noticeable in the Forester (they sound like a grenade going off in the Mazda) and even the tyre noise (don’t forget it runs aggressive-ish 60/40 rubber) on coarser surfaces is muted.

While we didn’t get a chance to tow with the Subaru Forester 2.0D it would definitely be the one to use. It’s got a braked towing capacity of 1800kg (the highest in the Forester range). Those planning to tow a small camper trailer behind the Forester 2.0D will like the addition of Trailer Sway Control (TSC) too.


QUALITY

The Forester offers a much improved cabin with good quality and hard wearing materials

Dominated by the three central heating and air-con dials (the same as the Impreza and XV) the dash features soft-touch and some beautifully finished plastics but the doors feature hard scratchy plastic which take the shine off what is an impressive step up in quality. There are plenty of handy little storage pockets for bottles, phones and wallets.While Subaru has clearly tried very hard to up the quality of its interior, and has largely succeeded, it’s not what you’d call a plush or sumptuous place to be but given its intended role as a family car it’s practical, sturdy and functional finish is probably right on the money. That said, I still think Subaru should look around at the multi-media/sat-nav units in some of its competitors, because Subaru’s touch-screen buttons are small and fiddly and the maps look scratchy.


EQUIPMENT & PRICE

The Forester is well priced and well kitted out for the money

Subaru Forester6

Priced from $35,490 (+ORC) the Subaru Forester 2.0D gets things like dual-zone climate and cruise control, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, immobiliser, three 12V/120W outlets, remote fuel flap release, auto stop-start, 17-inch alloys (and a full-size spare), steering wheel mounted audio controls, and roof rails.

The Forester 2.0D-L ($37,490+ORC) gets all of the above and adds colour-coded door mirrors with indicators, front fog lights, privacy glass for rear doors and tail-gate, and an upgraded instrument cluster.

The Forester 2.0D-S ($43,490+ORC) we’ve tested here adds an auto tail-gate, leather interior, electric sunroof, powered driver and front passenger seats, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, smart-key and push button start, sat-nav and 18-inch alloys.


SAFETY

The Subaru Forester gets a five-star ANCAP rating

The Forester receives a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating and has seven airbags including dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee bags. And, in a clever development, the passenger’s airbag actually features a groove, reducing pressure on the neck in the event of an accident. This is enhanced by a spring mat within the front seat backs that, in the event of a heavy rear collision, disconnects allowing the occupant’s torso to move backwards, so reducing transferred energy and making the head restraints more effective in reducing whiplash. In addition, the Forester range also includes a reversing camera, safety pedals (shock absorbing brake and clutch pedals), seatbelt indicator lights, ABS, and Vehicle Dynamics Control.


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober