2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review – 4th Generation Version Is Bigger and Better

2.0 Boxer diesel engine is a good ‘un, highly capable off-road, safe, comfortable and roomy, good level of practicality

Outdated stereo, bad bluetooth connectivity, brakes still spongy

2014 Subaru Forester?

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC review 4th generation

The Subaru Forester is now onto its 4th generation, and finally it’s been improved to the point where I really like it. Admittedly, the last 3rd generation Subaru Forester I reviewed wasn’t exactly terrible, and it had a lot going for it, but what let it down amongst other things was its poor, wallowy on-road handling, an interior that was ridiculously out-dated with cheap-feeling and looking plastic trim, and the fact its rivals had better cars for less money. So, what’s better about this new version? We were sent the 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC to review, so let’s have a look.

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

2014 Subaru Forester review off road car 2.0D XC front bumper grille headlight

I actually quite liked the 3rd gen. Forester’s looks, but there was a bit of a battle going on with its appearance. Was it an SUV, or simply a big estate car? This new version makes no bones about the fact that it’s an SUV though. The old version’s rounded front has gone, making way for an aggressive, angular and square-jawed face.

In white, it’s reminiscent of a Storm Trooper’s helmet, with big lights, and vertical cuts each side of the lower part of the bumper that act as air intakes. Two big grilles sit proud, with a huge and prominent Subaru badge on the upper one. Chrome-edged lower fog lamps finish the front off nicely.

2014 Subaru Forester review 2.0D XC side view in white

This new Forester is a bigger car all-round, and physically looks it too. While a 2mm height difference isn’t anything to shout about, it’s now longer by 35mm, wider by 15mm and the wheelbase is lengthened by 25mm. The side and rear of this 4th generation car have also been improved, and are now more angular and modern, with a roofline that slopes back to rear window, lowering the drag coefficient (0.33 over the previous 0.37) and improving fuel economy in the process.

Overall, the 2014 Subaru Forester’s exterior is now bang up to date, and while it’s still a unique-looking car, it has well and truly caught up with its rivals in the design department.

2014 Subaru Forester review 2.0D XC Review ground clearance.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

I had a real dig at the last Forester’s cabin. Even the top model we had on test was well outdated against its rivals, with horrible cheapo plastic trim everywhere, and I stated that if I’d have paid my own cash for it, I would have been sorely disappointed.

Thankfully, Subaru have finally improved the interior on this 4th generation Forester, enough to catch up with the competition. Any plastic trim inside is much nicer both visually and to feel. There’s more of an air of quality about it, and overall the parts are better put together too. Subaru have even included some pieces of faux brushed aluminium trim, which both brighten up the cabin, and make the car feel more modern and refined.

Subaru Forester 2014 2.0D review XC front seats, centre console, steering wheel and dials

The seats on the last generation Forester were comfortable, and I had no problem with them, and again this 2014 model is comfortable both front and rear, the lengthened wheelbase and interior giving the passengers even more legroom than before. The XC we were sent had the fabric seats, but these were absolutely fine, and with the fronts being two-stage heated, made them great for wintertime.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review front driver passenger seat

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review rear passenger back seats 1

The rear seats can be dropped almost flat with the simple press of a button each side of the boot. This seems like a small point, but it makes things so much easier if the weather’s bad and you just want to chuck a load of camping gear or whatever into the boot, without having to get soaked opening the side doors to pull a lever. Cargo space on the new Forester is now 12% larger than the previous version with 505 litres seats up, and  to 1,592 litres with the rear seats folded down. Or, as Subaru fairly put it, enough room to store a mountain bike without removing the front wheel. Another handy feature is the new electric tailgate on the top spec XT.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review boot trunk space

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review boot space with seats dropped down.

The heating controls remain similar, but with big buttons and rubberised grips on the dials it makes them perfect for gloved hands. The stereo on the XC is a simple affair, but unfortunately it still looks overdue for a transplant, as it’s not exactly good looking, and things like the bluetooth connectivity on it was dodgy at times, and the fact it won’t connect to your phone once you’ve set off driving (even though it’s a matter of pressing a button to do so) should you have forgotten to do so beforehand, makes it a ridiculous, silly system and badly thought out. Get it sorted Subaru!

2014 Subaru Forester review 2.0D XC radio, screen, dials, heated seats bluetooth vents

Something we quickly noticed was that the front and rear doors open to almost a 90˚ angle, making it even easier to get in and out of. Sitting inside, the cabin feels light and airy too, and straight away you do get that pleasantly-familiar Subaru feeling from it; tough, safe (improved front, side and curtain airbags are standard) and supremely practical, you feel you could take the Forester on the most arduous journey, and come out the other side comfortably without even breaking a sweat. At last then, Subaru have finally brought this new Forester’s interior up to scratch, easily rivalling offerings from other manufacturers. And you know what, it’s made me like the Forester even more, to the point I’d happily pay my own cash for one.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC sunroof and interiorEngine and gearbox

We had the 2.0 litre turbo-diesel engine and 6-speed manual gearbox on this 2014 Subaru Forester, and the engine is exactly the same as the previous generation’s, and therefore truly excellent! So, in the section I’ll quote what I wrote about the last version here.

This is a superb Boxer diesel engine, and has to be one of the best smaller diesel engines available today. I previously reviewed the Subaru XV with the same unit, and it was one of the defining features on that car, and it’s the same case here.

2014 Subaru Forester review 2.0D XC boxer engine diesel

The engine is a two-litre, 16 valve, double-overhead cam with direct injection. The tried-and-tested Boxer (flat-four) formation means it’s smooth and has Subaru’s legendary reliability, while a variable geometry turbo (VGT) bolted on gives good power (145 hp) and big torque (258 lb.ft/350 Nm). Subaru have done a proper job right here. If you ever get chance to try a Subaru Boxer turbo-diesel (you guys State-side need them there asap), it will go into the battle in your mind, mercilessly slaying old memories of underpowered, smokey, farm-quality diesels with a lust quenched only by a thoroughly good road-test.

Official UK miles per gallon stats are; 38.7 urban, 54.3 extra urban, and 47.9 combined. On a decently-long motorway journey, I averaged somewhere around the 45 mpg mark at those speeds, which is better than before thanks to the improved aerodynamics. As the speed dropped due to the dreaded average speed sections, the economy went up though, sometimes into the low-to-mid 50 mpg area, which is absolutely acceptable in my book. CO2 emissions are rated at 156 g/km, so you’ll be paying £175 per year UK car tax (Feb .’14).

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review-1285

I stated in my review of the previous Forester that the 6-speed manual gearbox was cumbersome, heavy and I found myself grinding the gears at times. It was a frustrating thing, and spoiled the effect of the excellent Boxer diesel. I was spot-on saying that, as Subaru have now added low-friction bearings in the transmission, making gear changes both smoother and easier, and it’s a massive improvement over the old ‘box, and a far more pleasurable experience overall.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

Fire up the turbocharged Boxer diesel engine, and you’ll note it’s a smooth and fairly quiet affair. This is because the flat-four ‘Boxer’ configuration means less vibration and noise than a standard in-line 4-cylinder engine. Setting off, the power and torque comes on quickly and strongly. 0 – 62 mph is done in 10.2 seconds, and it’ll go onto a maximum speed of 118 mph. While the zero to sixty-two miles-per-hour time isn’t anything amazing, the Forester’s acceleration once rolling is respectable, offering a hefty dollop of forward thrust throughout the rev range.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC driving on tarmac down a country road.

Long 5th and 6th gear ratios mean this Forester is a good cruising car, although I did find that any hilly sections at motorway speeds would need it to be dropped sometimes even to 4th to save it from bogging down. Should the need to overtake at those higher speeds occur, again, 4th is needed in order to get any sort of decent acceleration. A major positive of the Forester is its absolutely amazing AWD system. This thing is an absolute monster of a car when the bad weather closes in, ramming its way through standing water with very little to tell you you’re doing so, the all-wheel-drive system making it drive unbelievably stable in even the heaviest rain.

The ride and handling have been improved further over the outgoing model’s, and I’m glad as while I recognise that the Forester has got to tackle tough off-road terrain as well as the usual tarmac, but it just felt too soft and wallowy on the last generation. For this 2014 Forester, Subaru have strengthened the suspension and body, and fettled with the independent suspension at the front and rear, improving grip, sharpening the steering for more feel, reducing body roll and even replacing parts to lessen the chance of wheel alignment being put out whilst off-roading. Oh, the old spongey braking has got slightly better too, due to brake hose changes.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC screen, rev counter and speedometer

So, does the new Forester really handle better on-road after all that new stuff? Yes, it’s certainly been improved, for sure, but it’s never going to be something meant for chucking around bends at heady speeds. At its core, the Forester is an off-roader – a very good one at that – and as the majority of its buyers will likely use it for that very application, that suspension has to be soft enough to cope with terrain that’d rip a normal car to pieces, so I believe the handling is adequate in this case. However, I still believe the brakes aren’t responsive enough, and they felt spongy in comparison with other SUV’s I’ve driven.

Features I particularly liked or think are useful are the hill start assist, which holds the brakes on when the car is even at a slight angle, giving you enough time to select a gear without the car rolling backwards. A superb thing, that. If you need to tow trailers or caravans, there’s a bit of peace of mind with Subaru’s Trailer Stability Control (or Towing VDC), which ‘improves safety during towing, activating braking control and engine torque control to enhance stability if the system detects a change in yaw angle from an attached trailer.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review-2035

All in all, the ride and handling have definitely improved since the last Forester, and while it’ll never be exactly sporty on the road, it’s good enough for the car, but I still don’t like the braking system, which needs further improvement. I’ll talk more about the Forester’s off-road prowess in the next section, but I still maintain that Subaru’s are one of the most stable, proficient and reassuring cars to drive on road should awful conditions close in. In that area, Subaru’s are very high up in a short list of cars I can drive confidently in almost any weather.

AWD and off-road. Stuck or superb?

2014 Subaru Forester review 2.0D XC ground clearance muddy track countryside

The previous 3rd generation Forester was really rather excellent off road. And with the update, it’s now even better! For starters, there’s extra ground clearance, taking it from an already-good 215mm to 220mm (8.46 to 8.66 inches). Down a farmer’s track that had deep wheel delves with the centre of the track protruding upwards, I felt sure the Forester would bottom out, but it surprised me by sitting high enough off the raised middle section to drive down the lane with zero interference.

In fact, to put the clearance in perspective, it hands-down beats the Toyota RAV4‘s 187mm (7.36″) clearance, the Honda CR-V with its 165mm (6.49″), and the Chevrolet Captiva‘s 197mm (7.75″). It also matches both the Mitsubishi Shogun and Range Rover Evoque‘s undercarriage height – although for both of those, 220mm is their minimum clearance. Still though, it shows that the Subaru Forester is a highly capable and serious off-road machine, and not some weedy soft-roader.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review driving through water and mud

The 4th generation manual transmission Forester has Subaru Symmetrical All Wheel Drive with a viscous centre differential AWD the same system as the last Forester. Nothing bad about that though. The AWD system also uses Subaru Vehicle Dynamics Control which detects slip or understeer and oversteer, and corrects it appropriately by braking individual wheels and slowing down the engine rpm. All very clever and very effective.

Lineartronic CVT (automatic) Forester’s get Subaru’s new X-Mode, which has further traction improvement over the old Lineartronic system, and as that was already an impressive AWD set-up (which was on a 2012 Subaru Outback we tested), it will be interesting to see just how much better it is.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review mud off road driving

So, a bit of a real-life experience driving the Forester in the place it’s most adept – off the road. Spying a very muddy, boggy and waterlogged farm track, we decided it’d be a good place to test the Subaru’s AWD system. I’ve already mentioned above about the deep ruts, and I was hesitant to go down it for that reason. Slowly, I edged over the first section of track, but noticing the Forester’s excellent ground clearance gave just enough get down it without a problem, we set off. The ground was slippery under the tyres, but the Subaru’s  Symmetrical All Wheel Drive did a truly outstanding job of keeping the car going, and straight too, not wondering all over the place scrabbling for grip.

A section of deeper water lay at the base of a acutely steep section of the track, and as the water warranted going through slowly to test the depth, it then meant zero run-up to tackle the sharply-angled and mud-slick course. However, instead of struggling and weaving around as we drove up, the Forester calmly tackled the track, and seemed to barely be trying. In doing that, the Subaru shows just how good its all-wheel-drive system is. We were, as always, highly impressed with the Forester’s off-road ability.

Price

The Subaru Forester ranges from £25,495 to £30,995 for the petrol models, and £24,995 to £28,995 for the diesel versions. The Forester 2.0D XC we had sits in the middle at £26,995, and while I thought the last version we tested was over-priced, this 4th generation Forester makes the grade in that department, and physically feels much more like it’s worth the cash thanks to the improved interior, chassis modifications and the new more attractive exterior design.

Subaru Forester 2.0D XC verdict & score

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Review driving through water and mud

With this 4th generation Forester, I was actually glad at how much Subaru have done to improve things since the last version. I wanted to like the old model, but simply couldn’t for the reasons I’ve mentioned in the review. Now though, this Forester is one I’d really want to own personally, and while there’s still the body roll – admittedly lessened since the last one – and spongy brakes to content with, this is a great vehicle, and a superb all-rounder.

The diesel engine is really rather good, the ride comfortable, the level of practicality high and its off-road capability is exceptional. This is a car that makes you feel safe as either a driver or passenger, and it’ll monster its way through almost any weather condition you can throw at it. It seems the tougher the going gets, the more the 2014 Subaru Forester likes it, and for that reason, this car should be high up on your list, should you be looking to purchase a mid-sized SUV.

Do you own a 4th generation Subaru Forester? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  7.5
Interior  6.5
Engine  8
Gearbox (man.)  7.5
Price  7.5
AWD & off-road ability  9
Drive  7
Overall Score  7.5 / 10 

  Specs

Model (as tested)  2014 Subaru Forester 2.0D XC manual
Spec includes Subaru Symmetrical All Wheel Drive, Subaru Vehicle Dynamics Control (AWD), trailer stability control, hill-start assist, front, side, curtain and knee SRS airbags, dual-zone climate control, reverse camera, Bluetooth for phone & music + USB & AUX-in, auto HID headlights, two-stage heated front seats, 17″ alloy wheels See website for more info
Options you should spec  N/A
The Competition  Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Suzuki SX4 S-Cross, Land Rover Freelander 2, Mitsubishi Outlander
Price  (Feb. ’14) £24.995 to £30,995. This model: £26,995
Engine  Diesel 2.0 litre flat-four (Boxer), variable-geometry turbo, 16 valve, DOHC with direct injection
Power, Torque, CO2   145 bhp @ 3,600 rpm, 258 lb.ft (350 Nm) torque @ 1,600 – 2,400 rpm | CO2: 156 g/km
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Subaru Symmetrical All Wheel Drive | 6-speed manual
Ground clearance  220 mm
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed (ltd): 118 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 10.2 seconds | 5-star Euro NCAP rating
Fuel economy (UK mpg)  Urban: 38.7, Extra urban: 54.3, Combined: 47.9
Weight (kerb)  1,556 kg’s (3,430 lbs)
Websites  Subaru UK, Subaru USA, Subaru global

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Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

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