You probably dont remember when October was new-car month in America: Next years models were delivered in the dark of night and dealers covered up their showroom windows until the big reveal. Come in for coffee and doughnuts and see the new 63s! And we did. It was a big moment.

That was then. This is nowlate February 2013, and a 2014-model-year Subaru sits in my drive. Do they care about making me feel prematurely older? Of course not; Subaru wants to impress us with its new technology. Such as its Driver Assist package with the EyeSight system. But that debuted last year, way back in 2013. Wait a minute . . . OK, you see the problem. Last year is really this year.

Whatever the calendar says, this new, fourth-generation Forester measures improvement by inches and degrees. As it did with the new Impreza, Subaru has gone over the Forester very carefully, massaging everything for safety and efficiency. The changes amount to evolution, not revolution, but no need to fix something that wasnt broken.

The Forester has outgrown the compact class and its now a midsize crossover. Even so, its astonishingly roomy inside, nearly the volume of a biggish SUV without the mass and bulk. Our $33,220 Forester 2.5i Touring is also loadedits got most of the features of a luxury car without the decadent interior or price. Thats not to say the cabin is low-rent; the Forester is comfortablethe seats get better all the timeyet pleasantly utilitarian. It is a Subaru, after all, and by reputation Subies have always been practical, thrifty and long-lived.

Equally to the point, they are probably the least-expensive and least fuelish all-wheel-drive vehicles around. Forester prices begin at about $22,000; all models are rated for 23 or 24 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 32 on the highway. This particular one has a 2.5-liter flat-4 motor connected to Subarus Symmetric all-wheel drive through a CVT, a stepless (no gears) continuously variable transmission. The default mode is a 60/40 torque split between the front and rear wheels, which can change to 50/50 as needed.

The 170-horsepower 2.5i engine is gutsy enough, but the CVT occasionally makes it sound as though its straining harder than it really is. Forester 2.0XT models get a turbocharged motor good for 250 horsepower. BTW, if you are one of the few Americans who still want a clutch pedal, a 6-speed manual gearbox is available on Forester 2.5i and 2.5i Premium models.

About that EyeSight system: The eyes are a pair of cameras, one on each side of the rearview mirror, that look through the windshield in binocular vision. They scan the road ahead, noting other cars, bridge abutments, pedestrians, deer and even lane dividers. The information is fed into a busy little computer that supervises the Subarus every move and then intervenes to keep it from running into things. (In the days before smart phones and cupholders, drivers used to do this.) Eyesight also manages the adaptive cruise control and the hey-youre-wandering-out-of-your-lane alert.

Theres satnav, a rear-vision camera, voice-activated controls, a Bluetooth link and lots of things to do with iPods, iPhones, iTunes, USB, SMS, MP3s and all that, plus a Harmon-Kardon sound system with more speakers than I have at home. Plus a power liftgate, tire-pressure monitors, high-intensity headlights and, well, space is limited and we do need to talk about driving the car.

Thanks to a hair-trigger throttle, fairly quick steering and a suspension set just on the bouncy side of comfortable, the Forester drives as though its perpetually on its tippy-toes. Even the cabin seems to trying to keep us aware. The information screens graphics are large, bright and crisp. The various chimes are loud. Slide open the shade on the 40-acre sunroof and crank the drivers seat up to harvester-combine height, and youll feel like youre sitting in a greenhousean unusually light-filled greenhouse, at that. Altogether, its as though someone back at Subaru HQ said, Right, lets wake our customers up!

OK, were paying attention. Now keep up the good work.

Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at