EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 1, 2013

New Subaru Forester runs to fun places

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — If there was an organization or agency that chose an Official Vehicle of New England Recreation, the group would have an easy job. Members could anoint the Subaru Forester, dust off their lapels and head on home to supper.

“We always see people drive in with a roof rack on a Forester that has something different on it, some kind of board, or boat, or ski, or something. I’m never surprised by what it might be,” stated Aaron Singer, owner of Singer Subaru in Plaistow.

“We get a lot of young people with active lifestyles who like how it handles all the things they want to put on the roof or inside the car,” he explained.

Of course, other vehicles also are adept at hauling odd-ball gear. But the Subaru Forester tackles jobs with a down-to-earth, get-it-done attitude that fits so well with rugged activities in the mountains, on lakes and rivers and at the shore. It seems just the right companion for people who want a useful transportation tool rather than a bold and flashy image enhancer.

A big part of that usefulness comes from Forester’s full-time all-wheel-drive abilities. Subaru is a specialist in four-wheel traction. It gives careful attention to issues like weight distribution and even the lengths and angles of power shafts that turn the four wheels. Subaru designs the capability into the core of its cars, rather than merely tack an all-wheel-drive option onto a model that ordinarily is two-wheel drive. That makes Forester a true four-season, all-weather vehicle. Rugged recreation junkies know that.

The 2014 Subaru Forester arrived in the spring as a re-designed, updated and improved model, representing Subaru’s fourth generation of Foresters. With a starting list price of $22,820, the four-door, five-passenger wagon is slightly larger than the version is replaces – with the added size translating into a roomier passenger cabin, noted Singer.

The new model’s body is styled for contemporary tastes, with a trimly tapering rear roof and a bold front end that features large, wrapping headlight clusters and hood creases that point forward. But the new body design also retains a kind of no-frills, nothing-fancy attitude that’s essential for a go-anywhere hauler of adventure gear. You see it in the upslope of the lower front bumper, the better for attacking ascents. Forester’s hard-at-work demeanor also shows in its upright, horizontally set sides that create a stable and poised appearance, while leaving a wide span for the roof rack above.

Of course, frills aren’t wholly absent. Singer pointed out that the new Forester provides driver aids and other technology tools that aim to make motor travel more effective, efficient, safe and enjoyable. For example, all but base models include a rear-view back-up camera and a color display screen for monitoring and controlling cabin amenities. New extra-cost options include a power rear hatch and keyless locking and starting. A forward-facing dual-camera system operates intelligent cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking and a warning for lane drift.

But probably the most popular improvements are power refinements that give the new Forester a boost in fuel economy, Singer said. The car’s primary engine – a four-cylinder “pancake” design with pistons laid out horizontally instead of vertically (the configuration also helps with traction, because it keeps more of the model’s weight lower to the ground) – now is attached to either a new, six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic transmission. With the manual, Forester earns a government fuel-economy rating of 22 miles per gallon in city driving, and 29 mpg on the highway. The CVT automatic adds $1,000 to Forester’s price, but boosts fuel-use figures to 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway.

In more expensive trim levels, you can purchase the 2014 Forester with a new, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out close to 50 percent more power than the standard engine. The quicker motor also manages good fuel-economy ratings, at 23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway.

In my evaluation model, I found the standard, 170-horsepower engine provided a nice balance between oomph and economy. At intersections it hustled me ahead of traffic when I wanted it to. During long freeway cruises, my standard-engine Forester kept pace at elevated speeds, and zipped around dodderdly drivers when necessary. The car was equipped with the automatic transmission, which I found responsive and quick to react – a good quality you can’t pin on all continuously variable automatics.

After seven days and just over 500 miles of mixed, freeway and around-town driving, my Forester averaged a tad over 32 mpg.

At Singer Subaru, the increased fuel economy of the new Forester is bringing in a wave of drivers who are trading other sport-utility crossover vehicles that don’t do as well at the gas pumps. That includes models classified as compact crossovers, like the Forester, because of their tidier size. But the trades also extend to larger SUVs that no longer can match the advantages packaged into the 2014 Forester, said Singer.

“They’re sport-utility people who now not only want good gas mileage, but also want the safety and dependability of a Subaru,” he stated.

What’s more, the car’s expanding fan list extends well beyond outdoor adventure hounds, according to Singer’s account. Capabilities that make the Forester so well adapted at mountain bike trails, kayaking creeks and ski slopes also suit it for everyday use by around-town people who just want a practical four-season transporter. He said that Forester buyers split about 50/50 between men and woman, and span all age groups.

Together they’re buying the new model faster than his dealership can stock it, Singer said. After arriving in March, the 2014 version has enjoyed a surge in popularity. In July, New England Subaru dealers sold 50 percent more Foresters than they did in the same month last year.

“We cannot keep them in stock because they’re selling so fast,” Singer said.

While demand is particularly high for the Forester, the popularity of all Subaru models is making for tight supplies. Singer points with pride to a newspaper article that first appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 21. It remains available at online.wsj.com and is making the rounds on other internet sites. Its headline is, “Subaru’s got a big problem: it’s selling too many cars.”

As the article’s opening line states, it’s a problem “any auto maker would love to have.”

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.