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Should I buy a new or used Subaru Forester?

Consumer Reports News
Should I buy a new or used Subaru Forester?

We just finished testing the redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium, and the overall test score for the popular small SUV shows it did not disappoint. In fact, it outscored the previous Forester 2.5X Premium by eight points. But, is buying used the smarter move?

Subaru focused on the fundamentals for 2014, with a space-efficient design, large windows, and big square doors. The Forester has the easiest access among its peers, along with the best view out of almost any vehicle, and one of the roomiest rear seats in the class, with copious head and leg room. Plus, the 2014 Subaru Forester is the first small SUV to ace the tough new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash test.

By adapting various fuel-efficient technologies, like replacing the antiquated four-speed automatic for a continuously-variable-transmission (CVT), the new Forester now delivers 26 mpg overall and 35 mpg on the highway. That's a big jump over the previous generation's 22 mpg overall rating, giving it exceptional efficiency for a non-hybrid SUV. We also like that our mid-trim Forester 2.5i Premium has a power seat and a backup camera--handy features that some similarly priced competitors lack.

Not all changes were improvements. The ride used to be calm and cushy, but it is now rather firm and jittery. Handling is responsive and secure but it is not as agile as the Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, or Toyota RAV4. (Read: "Should I buy a new or used Toyota RAV4?")

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Regardless how the brochure may read, this Subaru remains behind the curve for infotainment, especially in areas of wireless Bluetooth phone pairing and audio streaming. Voice commands with Bluetooth are cumbersome and unintuitive, and the optional navigation system's touch-screen controls are small, fussy, and downright cryptic.

Despite these gripes, when it comes to functionality and fuel-efficiency, the new Forester is hard to beat. Not that the previous-generation (2009-2013) Forester was outmatched; it shined in the competitive segment, proving eminently practical with better-than-average reliability.

So, which one should you buy? Looking at the chart below, you can save some money going used, but strong resale means it may only be worth it if you buy a model earlier than 2010. (Going before 2009 means skipping standard stability control, so stick to the newer cars.) Better safety, savings from better fuel economy, and improved performance and refinement from the new CVT may make the 2014 model worth it.

The wild-card option would be to consider a close-out deal on a 2013 model. With new 2014 models arriving by the truckload, dealerships should be eager to negotiate on remaining inventory, and Subaru is offering zero-percent financing through May 31st, sweetening the deal.

There is much to consider.

New model MSRP Invoice price Average price paid
2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium $26,120 $24,891 $25,107
2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i $24,120 $23,068 $23,185
2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited $29,120 $27,566 $27,989
2013 Subaru Forester 2.5x Premium $25,890 $24,676 $24,185
Used year/model Mileage Average retail price  
2012 Subaru Forester X Premium AWD 22,000 $22,000  
2011 Subaru Forester X Premium AWD 40,000 $20,500  
2010 Subaru Forester X Premium AWD 51,000 $18,250  
2009 Subaru Forester X Premium AWD 66,000 $16,525  

For shoppers looking to hold on to a vehicle for many years, starting new with the most-efficient example is probably the smart, long-term investment. Get the 2014. For those who crave a Forester, but need to watch the budget closer and may not be looking for a decade-long traveling companion, the out-going Forester is still a good all-round small SUV and a solid choice.

—Liza Barth

More from Consumer Reports:
2013 New Car Preview
Best and worst used cars
Complete Ratings for 200 cars and trucks

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