In the five minutes it took to complete a quick 2-mile jaunt on the main boulevard in Big Bear Lake, California, I counted four last-gen Subaru Foresters. That shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, considering the crossover is the automaker's second-best selling model after the Outback (76347 Foresters were sold in 2012), but for some reason, I was amazed at how many I saw in such a short amount of time. It's safe to say people enjoy their Subies, and the good news is there's even more to love for the 2014 model year, as the Forester has gotten an optional turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and CVT. For those who don't care for CVTs and refuse to convert, there's even better news: The Japanese automaker has also replaced the five-speed manual with a new six-speed, and it's pretty darn good.

The 2014 Forester is available in six trim levels. A manual comes standard in the entry-level 2.5i and 2.5i Premium. Both can be had with a CVT for $1000 and $1500 more, respectively. Selecting the Premium model means it gets outfitted with standard roof rails, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, backup camera, HD radio, and halogen headlights in addition to Bluetooth, power windows, and a tilt and telescoping wheel. Equipped with the All Weather Package, our Jasmine Green Metallic tester was further blessed with heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer. While we don't mind the shift-it-yourself version, it appears others do -- Subaru expects a very low take rate on the manual-equipped Forester, which is a shame. After a weekend mixed with soft-roading, city, mountain, and highway driving, I can safely say they're missing out.

The buttery six-speed manual is what gives the new Forester soul, as it delivers the 2.5-liter Boxer-four's 170-hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to all four-wheels via Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. Shifts come with smooth, longish throws and easy-going clutch pedal. Although the Forester isn't necessarily sporty, the manual did give it a little kick in the pants.

On the track, it went 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, 1.5 seconds faster than the CVT-equipped 2.5i Limited, which lugs around a bit more excess baggage (2500 pounds). The quarter-mile time tells the same story, as the manual got there in 15.8 seconds at 85.5 mph, versus the Limited's 16.9 seconds at 83.9 mph. It also fared better in the figure eight, finishing in 27.9 seconds at 0.62 g average. Off the track and on mountain roads, the engine whinnied as it delivered OK midrange power before falling flat on steeper inclines. While it's certainly not as fast as its turbocharged counterpart (0-60 mph in XX seconds), it's more rewarding to drive. It's comfortable, too. Despite its tallish dimensions and high ground clearance, the Forester didn't rock from side to side around curves.

The soft suspension was excellent on- and off-road, most likely a result of the Forester's revised rear suspension that's been outfitted with pillow ball joint mounts for the lateral link. During a (mild) off-roading session on a dirt trail that meanders through the San Bernardino Mountains, the suspension softened the blow of ruts that normally would've made me wince. Foresters equipped with the manual gearbox use a viscous-coupling locking center differential that distributes power evenly, transferring more power to the wheels with the best traction. Passengers in the back were also impressed at how well the Forester absorbed the bumps, and immediately took a liking to the 41.7 inches of legroom in the back, which bests the top-selling trio that consists of the Ford Escape (36.8 inches), Honda CR-V (38.3 inches), and Chevrolet Equinox (39.9 inches). Old and new Subies look about the same size, as a family friend's 2010 Forester sat parked in front our tester, making it hard to tell it had a 0.9-inch-longer wheelbase that increased vehicle length by 1.4 inches and width by 0.6 inch.

Inside, the multifunction display is more seamlessly integrated in the dash, and gives useful information such as fuel economy. HD radio dials are within reach, and I actually preferred them over Subaru's tiny touch screen. Visibility is great all around, but even when it's not in some cases, the rear camera's resolution was sharp and exposed things that weren't visible on the rearview or side mirrors. A high wind advisory didn't faze the Forester, as there was no need to turn the radio up louder to drown out wind noise.

Ringing in at $24,320, the Premium 2.5i has everything you need and nothing more. You instantly feel at home in it, making it hard to find anything negative. Subaru has a special way of getting owners to fall in love, and we've come under that spell.


2014 Subaru Forester AWD PZEV
BASE PRICE $24,320
PRICE AS TESTED $24,320
ENGINE 2.5L/170-hp/174-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve F-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3263 lb (56/44%)
WHEELBASE 103.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 180.9 x 70.7 x 68.2 in
0-60 MPH 7.5 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.8 sec @ 85.5 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 118 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.81 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.9 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 22/29 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 153/116 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.79 lb/mile