The Crosstrek, on the other hand, is clearly a compact hatchback that's been raised and toughened--with larger wheels and tires, and some suspension modifications, but still very much in the middle of the compact size category.
The Forester has 113 cubic feet of space for people, plus 34.4 cubic feet of cargo volume; the comparable figures for the smaller Crosstrek are 97.5 and 22.3 cubic feet.
While both cars have fold-down rear seats, our comparison was somewhat skewed by the fact that South African Foresters are equipped with a full-size spare wheel and tire, meaning their load deck is higher than in North American cars with space-saver spares.
(We'll get a U.S. market 2014 Forester to test soon.)
Confident in the rough
Both the Forester and the Crosstrek cope fine with rutted dirt and gravel roads, mud, and presumably snowy roads too (though we didn't test that on either car).
Both have standard all-wheel drive, long a Subaru hallmark, and on our South African jaunt, we had several occasions to use it.
Our fleet of Foresters scurried up the famous single-lane Swartberg Pass outside Meiringspoort, pausing briefly at Die Top ("The Top") for photos.
Back on more level gravel roads, fast swerves to avoid large potholes showed the Forester to be balanced and responsive, and to retain the practical, capable versatility of its predecessors.
Our biggest disappointment with the Crosstrek was its tendency to wander at high speeds, and the Forester showed none of that.
It tracked straight, and while its electric power steering wasn't the most tactile we've ever driven (hello, Mazda), it gave sufficient feedback and was decently weighted.
Subaru has put effort into making the 2014 Forester's interior nicer than its somewhat plain predecessors, and while it's far from glamorous, it's definitely a nicer place to spend hours behind the wheel.
The Crosstrek, on the other hand, uses the same interior as the basic Impreza compact hatchback.
It uses some soft-touch materials, but there are a number of nicer interiors in competing compacts--the Ford Focus, for instance (which, admittedly, doesn't offer all-wheel drive).
On the road, Subaru has definitely improved the refinement of the latest Forester. Road noise is reduced and in particular, Subaru's weak spot--noise from the large, pratical door mirrors--has been notably cut.
The Crosstrek we tested, on the other hand, was remarkably noisy on certain types of road surfaces. Combined with its tendency to wander and susceptibility to cross-winds, we found it not that pleasant for long-distance highway use.
This is one that the new Forester wins hands down.
Comparable base prices