Since its debut in the U.S. market in 1998, the Subaru Forester has been a favorite of those who appreciate all-wheel-drive versatility in a tidy, practical compact SUV package, but didn't want to settle for the usual, mainstream choices of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, or Ford Escape. We're fans of the Forester as well, having bestowed it our 2009 SUV of the Year award, despite much more lavish and prestigious competitors that year.

Ahead of its official public unveiling at the 2012 Los Angeles auto show later this month, Subaru has released photos of the 2014 Forester. After going for a soft, anonymous look with the 2009 model in an attempt to appeal to more mainstream buyers, the 2014 model has a bolder appearance, more in line with previous Foresters, as well as the current Impreza and XV Crosstrek. No photos of the interior of the new Forester have yet been released, but Subaru promises it will offer more room and ample tech and convenience features, including smartphone integration, backup camera, navigation, and available premium audio.

But of greater interest to gearheads will be the 2014 Forester's powertrain upgrades. The base engine carries over, being the same DOHC 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder that debuted on the 2011 model, making 170 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. But the big change comes behind the engine, in the form of a standard six-speed manual transmission, and an available Lineartronic CVT transmission.

The 2014 turbo model's engine shrinks by a half-liter, but fear not, horsepower and torque both increase substantially, with the new 2.0-liter direct-injected boxer four producing 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, increases of 26 hp and 32 lb-ft of torque, respectively. We're slightly less enthusiastic about the mandatory transmission with the turbo, also a CVT, but with six or eight-"speed" manual modes. But we know Subaru has a credible history of performance, so we're reserving final judgment until we can get behind the wheel.

Dimensionally, the 2014 Forester is within an inch or two of its predecessor, with the wheelbase going up 0.9 inch, overall length increasing 1.4 inches, height increasing 1.3 inches, and width going up 0.6 inch. No word yet on weight, but considering the overall automotive industry's fanatical focus on weight reduction, it's likely it will stay about the same, or decrease slightly over the current model. The Forester is already one of the lighter compact SUVs on the market.

Could the 2014 model repeat the success of its predecessor five years later in our annual contest? We can't wait to find out!

Source: Subaru