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Test drive: 2014 Subaru Forester

The redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester has been gathering accolades. Consumer Reports ranked it as the top small SUV, and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety gave it the only good rating  for its class in a new, difficult crash test. Since I spend most of my time driving a small SUV, I had to check out the Forester.

I set out from New York City for a weekend on Long Island -- a good mix of city, highway and suburban driving -- in a burgundy-colored 2.0XT Premium Forester. The XT comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that supplied plenty of boost from a standing start or passing cars on the highway. The easy-loading rear compartment had plenty of room for our stuff. And the Forester provided a comfortable ride at fast and slow speeds.

At a list price of $28,820 with delivery charge, this well-equipped Forester isn't the cheapest in its class. But like all Subarus, it comes with standard all-wheel drive. That can be a bargain, especially for the base model. The 2.5i Forester lists for $22,350 with automatic transmission. To get all-wheel drive in competitor Honda CR-V, you would pay about  $1,000 more.

From  supermarket and hardware errands to hauling a Christmas tree on top, the Forester proved easy to load, maneuverable and ideal for the way we use a vehicle. Here's a closer look at the specifics of my driving impressions:

Styling and roominess 

Though sleeker than the old-fashioned square-backed SUV, the redesigned Forester maintains high ground clearance for rough terrain and enough overall height to allow a roomy interior. Easy to get in and out of, the Forester boasts comfortable front seats and roomy back seats. When it comes to hauling cargo instead of people, the Forester with the back seats down offers 74.7 cubic  feet of space. That compares with 67.8 for the Ford Escape, which sports a lower, sleeker look in its current design.

Performance 

The turbocharged engine in my test car offered up the kind of lively acceleration that almost made you forget you were driving a family hauler. And other reviewers found that the less-powerful standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine when paired with a new continuously variable transmission delivers better acceleration than past models. Forester's handling more than held its own taking a quick pace through hilly, curving roads.

Gas mileage 

To get that turbo acceleration, you pay a fuel efficiency penalty, with a ranking of 23 MPG in city driving and 28 MPG on the highway. The trip to Long Island, with about 90 percent highway driving, recorded 25.3 MPG -- almost exactly the combined rating for the turbo version. But the standard 2.5-liter engine is ranked for 24 MPG city and 32 MPG highway -- a favorable comparison with competitors despite all-wheel drive, which usually penalizes mileage.

Safety 

The Forester earned five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests and a similar Top Safety Pick Plus from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. I am happy to take their word for the crash part, but impressive braking and steering responses seemed likely to help avoid accidents in the first place.

For drivers like me with a regular mix of highway cruising, city driving and suburban errands, the new 2014 Forester deserves to be on the short list of small SUVs for space, comfort and value.

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