Photo By: courtesy of Subaru
In Los Altos we see plenty of family vehicles on the streets, from SUVs to station wagons to minivans. Most were purchased to transport family members to and from school, sports practices and weekend trips, as well running errands that include shopping for bulk items that take up a lot of space.
We recently drove two vehicles – the Nissan Quest, redesigned in 2013, and the all-new 2014 Subaru Forester – that would be excellent for active families but are vastly different from one another in design and function.
The Quest is designed primarily for the family that spends most of its time in local urban settings, with trips taken primarily on freeways. For example, it’s perfect for getting six soccer players to practice and taking the family on road trips to places like Hearst Castle and Disneyland. The surprising advantage of this van is that the seats fold down to form a flat floor like that of a large SUV, so that a load of gardening equipment or a kit to build a playhouse can easily be fitted into the back.
By contrast, the Forester is all about the outdoors. Standard all-wheel drive, high ground clearance and good cargo space make it perfect for a trip to a campsite in the high country with a side trip down dirt roads to the ghost town of Bodie on the far side of the Sierra Nevada. The surprise here is that this crossover SUV has good highway power and returns excellent fuel economy.
There’s no mistaking the Quest for any other car in the school pickup line. This is one big van, only a few inches shorter in length, height and width than a full-size SUV like its big brother, the Nissan Armada. In addition – to address that guy-thing about minivans – the styling is swoopy and aggressive inside and out, with its appearance more inspired by a sports car than a school bus.
Notable features of the Quest include a super-comfortable interior, though Nissan has elected to provide only separate captains’ chairs in the second row, rather than bench seating, which means no more than seven passengers. Trim and accessories are luxurious, with entertainment options available to make a daylong expedition just another day on the couch in front of the DVD player and game console.
Despite its length and weight – which make the vehicle a bit of a handful on curving highways – the Quest has a terrific turning radius. This makes parking-garage maneuvering no problem, especially with the 360-degree camera. The car is also wide, but the powered sliding side doors – that great minivan feature – make it easy to load and unload in any standard parking place.
On the road, the solid suspension, continuously variable transmission (CVT), and 260 horsepower engine make highway travel a dream. The major downside is that with more than 4,000 pounds of curb weight, highway mileage is no better than 25 mpg, and overall fuel efficiency is only 21 mpg.
With all that luxury and power, the vehicle is priced accordingly. Our 3.5 LE model with navigation, DVD players in front and back, Bluetooth and 360 degree cameras, stickered at $43,675.
The Subaru Forester is a contrast to the Quest in almost every respect, but the family that prefers spending time outdoors in a kayak or on skis instead of in a theme park or on a soccer field will think it’s just about perfect. Anything up to moderate off-road adventuring – unpaved and muddy trails, crawling up and down hill to a remote campsite and traversing snow-covered roads without stopping to put on chains – are the types of terrain and travel for which the Forester was designed.
Since the Forester is all about practicality and function, consideration will probably start with price and fuel efficiency: our 2.5i touring, second highest in the Forester model lineup, was priced at $33,220 and included all the basics of GPS, satellite radio, smart-phone integration and heated front seats. However, in contrast to the Quest, there’s nothing fancy in this interior. This car is definitely not pretending to be anything it’s not.
But surprisingly, our test also had the recently introduced Subaru EyeSight option package at a very reasonable $2,400. EyeSight provides a level of safety technology just now being introduced in Mercedes and BMW top-of-the-line vehicles. With front-facing cameras mounted on either side of the rear-view mirror, this system uses the same principles as human eyesight to measure distances to objects in front of the car and estimate their speed and direction.
Using this sensor capability in conjunction with its computers and brake system, the vehicle can maintain safe speeds and distances from other vehicles in highway traffic, and slow and even stop at low speeds to avoid colliding with cars ahead that stop unexpectedly. It can also warn the driver of vehicles coming into the blind spots, that the car is drifting out of its lane, that vehicles ahead are slowing down or that the road has started to curve and requires steering correction.
Basic highway handling and power is more than adequate, with the turbocharged flat-four cylinder Subaru engine putting out 250 horsepower, not much less than the Quest. But with only 3,600 pounds to move around, the benefit is fuel efficiency of 24 city, 32 highway and 27 combined mpg.
No need to worry about the kids taking the car for a joyride. The built-in safety systems designed to keep the car stable at high speeds and safe on curves and in traffic make it virtually impossible to drive the Forester like a hot rod.
The bottom line is that both of these vehicles should make their respective families happy. Practical outdoor campers will enjoy the Forester, while traveling sports team families will look forward to away games in the Quest.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.