It's funny, when I break down the Forester's attributes and compare the parts to the competition, the Subaru is mediocre; however, when I look at the whole package I quite like it. The Forester is a great size -- neither too small nor too big -- with a low H-point, but a higher vantage point than a car or wagon. The 2.0-liter turbo is peppy and when put into S# (Sport Sharp) mode, the CVT acts almost like a smooth eight-speed automatic. The problems begin to mount once I stack the Forester up against its competition. The Mazda CX-5 is much more involving to drive and the Ford Escape offers more technology. And with a price tag north of $36,000, the Subaru is hardly a good value.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Mrs. Floraday happily drives a 2009 Subaru Forester. We use it to haul around our three dogs that range in size from 12 pounds to 100 pounds. They all fit in the hatch area, safely kept there by the Subaru dog guard divider. This ingenious device bolts into the LATCH tether points in the roof, so I actually believe it will restrain all 160 pounds of dog in the event of an accident.
Aside from the dog guard, we appreciate the car's AWD system, durable interior, and reliability. We have about 63,000 miles on the 2009 and we'll probably keep it for another 200k. The car does nothing exceptionally well, but there's nothing it's bad at, either. It's just reliable transportation that's a little more interesting than a Toyota. It strikes a nice balance between cargo capacity and a tidy footprint.
I was interested in the 2014 Forester XT because I frequently wish my wife had sprung for a turbo when she bought her car. I don't particularly care for the CVT, although it allows the turbo to get better fuel economy than our normally aspirated Forester does with a four-speed automatic. The rest of the car felt very familiar. If you're looking for a utility vehicle that can haul dogs, sporting goods, and a family, the Subaru Forester is a solid choice. The driving dynamics are nothing to write home about, but they remain consistent no matter the weather or how much stuff you've packed inside.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Subaru seems to have become the crossover maker for drivers who wouldn't be caught dead in a crossover. There's the Outback for those of us who would rather drive a wagon and the clumsily named XV Crosstrek for those of us who want to carry mountain bikes and dogs with a large hatchback. Oh yeah, and there's the Tribeca, for those who don't want to see themselves coming and going. I've always liked the Forester, although this new one seems larger, certainly on the inside, but also in the way it drives. Subaru has replaced its anachronistic four-speed automatic with a CVT ... no great tradeoff in my mind. Perhaps it's the seamless feel of this type of transmission that sapped any excitement from the turbo engine. I had to check the specs to make sure that big air scoop on the hood wasn't just for show; this CUV just doesn't feel very quick. There's nothing about the suspension or steering that made me want to find any limits on highway on/offramps or through roundabouts, and the ride quality and NVH seem only middling for this segment. And $36,000 seems like a lot for a crossover I've always seen as competition for the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 (although the Ford Escape is nearly as expensive). I'd skip the turbo and go with the standard engine and a manual. The interior is fine for Subarist loyalists, but does nothing to advance the cause. It's another reason why $36k seems unreasonable for this Subie. On the plus side, we were able to respond to a Craigslist ad for free, conventional-sized pallets in nearby Royal Oak. We had to make two trips for six pallets, but three per visit fit just fine.
Todd Lassa, Executive Editor
The turbo engine is great, the CVT less so, but I'm not gonna argue with 250 hp. What I will argue with, though, is a sticker price of $36K for a Forester. Wow! Somehow, the Forester occupies the spot on my mental automotive spreadsheet that's marked "$22,000-$30,000." But, hey, if you're a Subaru fan and you've got the dough, you can never go wrong with a Forester.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor