Test drove the 2014 Forester 2.5S

Today I had a good long test drive of the new Gen4 2014 Forester. I got to test drive the 2.5S naturally aspirated (NA) version.

The 2.5S is the top end ‘luxury’ version of the 2.5 Forester. As proof of this it has leather seats (which I don’t like), a moon/sun roof (which I don’t like), and motor-adjustable seats.

I ‘made’ them bring the car to me up in the hills because there were five things I particularly wanted to test:

  1. The braking effect of the CVT going down Kalamunda hill.
  2. To see if the CVT produced ‘CVT belt whine’ at speed.
  3. To see if the road noise was noticeably lower than the Gen3 Forester (which is renowned for excessive road noise).
  4. To check the amount of road feel—compared to the horribly soft, boat like, ride in the Gen3 Forester.
  5. See how the car performed going back up Kalamunda hill.

My test drive lasted a solid 45 minutes. Down Kalamunda Road, onto Roe Highway, onto Tonkin Highway, then up Welshpool Road and along Lesmurdie Road and back to base.

So. Firstly. The braking effect of the CVT going down Kalamunda Hill was not as effective as I expected. It was only marginally better than a normal automatic with a torque converter. This was a little disappointing.

The CVT in the Subaru effectively has two over-drives with 5th being 1:0.825 and 6th being 1:0738. Fourth is 1:1.029 so this makes 4th the effective ‘final drive’ ratio with 5th and 6th being over-drives. So going down the hill I pulled the transmission back through two gears so I got it to ‘final drive’. I was hoping it was going to be more like the braking effect of a manual transmission because this is what the experts tell you to expect from a CVT—engine braking similar to a manual transmission.

But, to my experience, the engine braking was nothing like a manual. It was better than an automatic, but not as good as a manual by far. So for me this was a bit of a fail.

Next to see if there was any noticeable CVT whine at 100 kph on Roe Highway. On this test I feel I can report that Subaru’s CVT, unlike most other CVTs in other model cars, does not product any noticeable belt whine at speed. So this was a pass.

The third check was for road noise. As reported from most of the other test drives you will find on the Web it would seem Subaru have done a lot of work on reducing the road noise coming into the cabin. There is noticeably less road noise in the Gen4 cabin than there is in my Gen2 MY05 Forester. So this means it must be much quieter than the Gen3 because the Gen3 was was reported to be worse than the Gen2.

However, even though it is quieter, I must say that there is still more road noise than I expected. So this is sort of a half pass. Not a fail, but not a solid pass either.

Road feel—this is a big one for me. I like to have road feel. I hate spongy suspension and handling. Lack of road feel was the main reason I never upgraded to a Gen3 Forester. I test drove two of them and then went and bought another Gen2 Forester instead.

I can report that the Gen4 2.5S has improved road feel. The road feel is not as good as my Gen2 unit, but it is a huge improvement over the rolly polly ‘boat in a bath’ road feel of the Gen3 Forester.

My final test was how did the CVT transmission and engine perform coming back up the hill up Welshpool road? They did very well. Much better then my previous Gen2 2.5 NA Forester. There was no trouble holding 80 kph and it was effortless kicking it up to 90 kph.

There were a few other things I noticed in my test drive:

  • The brakes are much better than the Gen2 or the Gen3.
  • Compared to my Gen2 XT the accelerator is much heavier. By this I mean it takes more effort to depress it.
  • There is very little corner roll. Cornering in the 2.5S is as flat as it is in my Gen2 XT. This was quite surprising.
  • Initial acceleration up to about 35 kph is surprisingly quick. After that the acceleration flattens off. Obviously Subaru have done something with the CVT ratios to counter previous complaints with the Gen3 Forester about tardy take-off acceleration with the 2.5 litre engine.

So, bottom line: Better than the Gen3 for sure but not good enough to make me ‘want’ to rush out and change over into one. Maybe I need to test drive the XT. It has different suspension and it had the high-torque 8 speed CVT. Maybe that works better with down-hill braking! But then the XT is another $10,000.