2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT first drive review Page 2

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Meanwhile, the new 2014 Forester—even in high-performance XT form—hasn't given up any ruggedness. It still boasts approach and departure angles that are better than some other vehicles with a more rugged image, and it has 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Plus, with a new feature called X-Mode—essentially using electronics at low speed to manage torque from left to right, with the stability control system, while the all-wheel drive system manages it front to back—the Forester is more confident than ever in places with very limited traction. Subaru says that it actually targeted the Toyota Land Cruiser this time, and engineered the system to handle an uphill start on loose gravel, with a 30-percent slope.

From Rocky Road and Mud Pie, all the way to Mocha Buzz

For the first time, Subaru has given the Forester Turbo some serious chassis differences compared to the other Forester models. All versions get new pillow-ball joint mounts that help improve handling while filtering out coarseness, but the key to the Turbo's sharper handling is that its springs are 10 percent stiffer in front and 20 percent stiffer in back; different bushings, rebound springs in front, and stiffer anti-roll bars all contribute to what we considered superb body control for a crossover, out on the challenging and technical road course at Inde Motorsports Ranch in Wilcox, Arizona.

Steering and responsiveness on the road is great, too. Strong, cold winds persisted through the day we drove the Forester, but its new electric power steering system tracked well; the steering feels just a little dull on center, as you might like in such a vehicle anyhow, then just off center you get good feedback from the road.

All said, it's impressive how well the Forester XT rides, and how much quieter the interior is in the new models, even considering the better control. What we would have preferred, in this performance-oriented version of the Forester especially, were better front seats. The ones that are installed across the Forester lineup are essentially the same style, albeit with perforated leather in top models, and while they're reasonably comfortable at first it becomes apparent after even an hour that they lack the contouring for long-distance comfort, as well as side bolstering for curvy roads or track use. Let's hope a sport-seat option is on the way.

Over about 130 miles of driving a 2.0XT quite quickly, we averaged nearly 24 mpg—about meeting the 25-mpg EPA Combined figure for this new direct-injected engine and powertrain.

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