The 2014 Subaru Forester enters its 4th generation with more of everything that's helped make it a mainstay of the automaker's lineup since being introduced here in 1998. Significant improvements to the Forester's handling, powertrain efficiency and passenger/cargo space, plus sophisticated new creature features, promise to keep this compact all-wheel-drive SUV a high-profile player in its ultra-competitive market segment.

Available in several naturally aspirated (2.5i) and turbocharged (2.0XT ) trim grades, each with standard all-wheel drive, the 5-passenger Forester is ready to play ball against key rivals like the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4 -- and it does so at an outstanding price point.

Still unmistakably Subaru, the Gen IV remake endows the 2014 Forester with a more contemporary character. Slightly longer, wider and taller than the 2013 Forester, this latest iteration also has a more planted appearance thanks to wider track dimensions and nearly an inch more wheelbase. All models also provide an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

          Also: First review of the all-new Toyota RAV4, also available with AWD

Impressively expanded, well-finished and well-appointed, the Forester's restyled passenger cabin is quieter and more comfortable than ever with lots more soft-touch surfaces as well as redesigned seats that offer improved support. Larger, wider-opening doors ease access/egress for people and legroom in the 60/40 rear bench has been increased by a huge 3.1 inches. When cargo takes precedence, the backs now fold even flatter to stretch stow space from 34.4 to 74.7 cubic feet. The larger liftgate, which aids loading and unloading, is power-activated on Limited and Touring models.

Progressing through its model hierarchy richens the Forester's equipment mix, but even the 2.5i features a full array of power assists, air conditioning, cruise control, multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth and variable wipers. Access to standard features like a rear-view camera, panoramic power moonroof and a 440-watt harman/kardon audio system come as you climb the ladder to the higher-end versions. Optional treats like a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), Subaru's Driver Assist Technology Package, and a host of infotainment tech -- including touch-screen navigation, HD radio and satellite radio -- are all offered at various stages of trim as well.

But that's a lot of what the 2014 Subaru Forester is like to sit in -- what's it like to drive? Boasting a stronger, more rigid central structure, wider track dimensions, a longer wheelbase and a retuned suspension to complement Subaru's signature Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, the 2014 Forester deports itself most impressively and predictably on or off road. Two 4-cylinder "boxer" engines comprise the power choices. At the first tier, Subaru's PZEV-clean 170-horsepower 2.5-liter can be backed by a new 6-speed manual transmission or a new efficiency-boosting Lineartronic CVT automatic from the Impreza. At the top of the line, Forester 2.0XT models get a new turbocharged, direct-injected engine derived from the flat-4 used in the Subaru BRZ. Here, it develops 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, a significant boost over the 2013 Forester and one that makes the 2.0XT models the real performers in the 2014 Forester family. Sole transmission for the turbocharged engine is a new High-Torque Lineartronic CVT with multi-mode SI-Drive that can emulate six or eight virtual gear ratios. All versions of the 2014 Forester boast significant fuel-economy gains over 2013 models and have a 1,500-pound tow rating.

Going on sale in March, the 2014 Subaru Forester starts just under $23,000 for an entry-level 2.5i variant with a top-line naturally-aspirated 2.5i Touring model opening just over $30,800. The turbocharged side of the family sees the Forester 2.0XT Premium starting around $28,900 and the range-topping 2.0XT Touring commencing closer to $33,900.


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