2014 Subaru Forester: Up Close

When the first photos of the redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester leaked, my colleagues, in typical fashion, didn't hesitate to deem it ugly. (We are unfamiliar with the "people in glass houses" proverb.) I think I perceived it as unexciting, but I don't really expect excitement in a compact SUV. The best-sellers in this class are typically modestly styled such as the Honda CR-V and the redesigned 2014 Toyota RAV4 released at this very show.

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In person, the 2014 Forester doesn't look bad at all.

I checked out a loaded 2.0XT model — the one with the new turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. (We expect to see a regular Forester by the end of the day.) The XT has a different front bumper and a more aggressive mesh grille as well as slick-looking 18-inch alloy wheels in place of the standard 17s. The LED running lights are distinctive ... to the extent they can be, considering how common the design has become. Elements like the body-colored side mirrors and rear spoiler on the blue-colored showcar come on the higher trim levels, starting with the Premium. This one's a Touring trim, the top of the charts.

The 2014 Forester is within an inch of the previous generation in virtually every external dimension. Inside, the seat height is a bit higher, though, and getting in couldn't be easier: a sideways slide rather than a climb or a drop.

The visibility is good overall. It doesn't hurt that the dashboard and beltline (that's the window sills, essentially) are relatively low; they're reminiscent of the Impreza with which this model shares a platform. What doesn't help, ironically, is EyeSight. Late to the party with some features — including push-button start — Subaru has piled on a bunch of active safety options under the name EyeSight driver assist. Equipped with EyeSight, this 2.0XT has forward-looking cameras in pods flanking the rearview mirror. They don't exactly block one's view, but I wonder if they'd be distracting once out on the road.

I found plenty of room and comfort in the driver's seat. Subaru didn't miss the little touches like a center armrest and head restraints that adjust forward and back. The top-trim materials didn't scream luxury or anything, but the quality is certainly passable. I could live without the silver-gray plastic, which many automakers have eliminated or downplayed.

The steering wheel is festooned with buttons for controlling the various tech; it borders on overload. The optional navigation system's touch-screen is pretty small by today's standards.

The backseat is nice and roomy, with a lower center floor hump than the previous generation — just a few inches high. At 6 feet tall, my knees weren't touching the driver's seatback, though they were raised a bit. A canvas strap on the outboard seatbacks allows one click of recline in higher trim levels, and the optional panoramic moonroof makes the seat feel even roomier.

The XT had a power liftgate, which is good, but it didn't go up as high as I'd like. The spring-loaded rear seats folded down at the pull of a switch on either side of the cargo area — nice, quick motion, though the folded seats are then higher than the cargo floor behind them.

My first impression of this redesign is pretty positive. We look forward to driving it — especially the 2.0XT — as soon as possible.

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