Labor Day Weekend is nigh, and I'm not thinking of union parades. Instead, it's back to school for my teenagers, one to high school and the other to college. The older one attends university in Washington, D.C., so that means it's time for the annual road trip of some 250 or 300 miles. My daughter and my money go to George Washington University.
In her wisdom, she still hasn't packed, but I've an approximation of how much stuff we need to move. I have one key job in the enterprise, which is lining up transportation that can get us down there. A Suburban or Excursion might be best, but I don't own an oil well so I looked for something smaller. Here's a perfect fit — a 2014 Subaru Forester. Not only does it have great cargo space, but it also has two other great features — all wheel drive and a partial-zero emissions rating (PZEV).
Car and Driver usually scoots around in two-seat Ferraris, but it deigned to take a look at the 2014 Forester, citing "the occasional need for something suitably demure to take the golden retrievers to a quilters' convention or retrieve a Victorian-era Ottoman for an installment of Antiques Roadshow." They must live on another planet.
Subaru sells 80,000 Foresters a year in the U.S., and (like Hyundai) actually has a problem with too much demand. Both companies have to build more capacity, and that makes them nervous.
The new model is almost an inch longer in the wheelbase, and cargo space is up 12 percent. That I'm going to appreciate come load-up time. My test car has the holdover 170-horsepower 2.5-liter boxer engine (with an available six-speed manual), but a new two-liter engine from the BRZ is also available (no manual option). A continuously variable transmission (CVT) on the tester enables a rating of 27 mpg combined (24 city/32 highway). That's a significant increase, up from 23 mpg combined on the 2013 model.
The feds haven't yet crash-tested the 2014 Forester. The 2013 model got four stars all around. Our 2.5i Touring model is priced at $33,220, including a $2,400 safety package — pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, and pre-collision throttle management.
Speaking of safety, the test car also includes EyeSight, which is a nifty system I'd expect to see on more expensive cars. It uses a pair of cameras mounted in the car to look forward for potential dangers, then controls the throttle and brakes to avoid them. Coupled with the adaptive cruise, the system can actually stop the car from 87 mph.
I've tested this kind of crash avoidance system before — it's on mostly upscale vehicles — but here it is on a car all-in for $33,000. Finally, a word about PZEV. This is the cleanest emissions you can get short of a Prius's AT-PZEV or a Nissan Leaf's ZEV. This isn't the most fuel-efficient car you can buy, but it's got one of the most environmentally friendly tailpipes.