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Review: 2014 Subaru Forrester

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On: Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 12:21PM | By: Nick Bakewell

Review: 2014 Subaru Forrester

On a recent trip to Canada, I witnessed an egregious breakdown of common sense. Being from the south, I assumed that all northerners are hearty, hardy folk; practical people, if you will. But even in the frozen wastes of Quebec, the population is apparently dense enough to produce a few people with more money than sense. Cue the man in the AMG Mercedes who attempted to drive it backwards up a hill (and through a snow bank) to parallel park. Of course he got stuck. Of course he attracted a crowd. Of course this just made him try harder. Eventually, after almost revving the wheels off, he managed to dig through the snow bank enough to get his rears to grip up. What happened next was as deliciously inevitable as watching a derailed train buck itself (on fire) into the bottom of a river gorge. His $80,000 E63 AMG launched itself backwards into the Mazda CX-5 parked behind it. In front of a crowd of about 20 spectators. I was laughing so hard that I almost lost my balance on the icy sidewalk.

My point is, if you live in a city that you know is regularly snowbound, why would you choose, out of all the cars you own (if you can afford an AMG Merc, it’s probably not your only car), to drive that one into town? Come on, Canada! You’re supposed to have a handle on this! And yes, before you ask, it was wearing Quebec plates.

So, in light of this particular (spectacular) failure, let’s turn our attention to something a bit more practical and perhaps better suited to Northern climes: the 2014 Subaru Forrester. This is the car that my parents have chosen as their steed, their chariot to skate across the Tundra in the frozen northeast. They had an earlier model that they purchased soon after moving to Maine, but recently swapped it out for the 2014 model.

It’s… okay.

It’s hard for me to write this, because I really like Subaru, as a company and as an idea: good cars made well, without too much fuss. I respect their achievements in the World Rally Championship hugely, and I desperately, deeply, passionately desire a BRZ. But the 2014 Forrester really doesn’t do it for me.

As is the trend with all crossovers and SUVs, it’s gotten slightly bigger and squishier as time has gone on, eventually ending up as the vaguely ugly beige lump that now sits in our driveway. The problem with the design is that it clearly feels… designed, with attention given over to its various curves and flicks, but it wasn’t done well, or with much care. It would be forgivable if they had prioritized practicality over form, but they haven’t, and so it’s just an ugly car with no excuse. It’s sort of like the Toyota RAV4’s younger brother who got all the recessive genes.

The interior is… nothing to write home about; it’s unremarkable, functional. I hear that the optional satnav is useless, so I suppose it’s good that they opted away from it. My only complaint is a faint, pervasive scent of garlic, as if someone were constantly roasting some cloves on the engine. Small niggle, perhaps, but you do the best you can with what you have.

One thing that I do like about it is the traditional Subaru-ness of the way it drives. Or rather, the way it handles difficult driving. Despite the softening-down and cushioning-up, it can still tackle adverse conditions such as snow and ice with effortless aplomb. Is it a Range Rover? No. Does it work anyway? Absolutely. All through the crypt of ice that was Canada, it never missed a beat, devouring some fairly sizeable snowbanks that would have easily defeated a less capable car with ease. It’s nice to know that Subaru can still comfortably put their money where their mouth is.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this isn’t a bad car; it works just fine, does what it says on the box, etc. However, there is one thing that I need to address, one thing that is nigh unforgivable: the gearbox. Subaru offers a CVT in place of a traditional automatic, and it’s… bloody awful. I understand the rationale behind CVTs, but the ‘box in this car is so dimwitted that it doesn’t matter if it’s more economical or not. If you’ve ever learned to drive a manual, remember that awkward period before you could work it properly, when all your starts were jerky and you were constantly over-revving and it was horrible? That’s what it feels like. Adding insult to injury, Subaru has opted to fit an “efficiency gauge” just below the speedometer. This handy little instrument tells you, in essence, whether your foot is on the gas or not. If it is, then the needle shoots down towards the “0” end of the dial, silently screeching shame at you. It’s one of the most pointless things I’ve ever seen fitted to a car, and I hate it.

So: a decent car, but one that leaves me rather cold. I wouldn’t recommend against buying one, but I can’t endorse it as enthusiastically as I can other vehicles in the same class. It’ll do, and it won’t ever break. It might even have a little charisma, if you get one without that gearbox...

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