2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLatest in Wilderness Line
Earlier this year, Subaru introduced a rugged new Outback Wilderness — a more off-road-ready variant of the Japan-based automaker’s popular SUV. At launch Subaru reps indicated other models would also receive the Wilderness treatment; staying true to their word, today the company adds the all-new 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness. Building on the updated design of the 2022 model, the Forester Wilderness gets unique styling, rugged capability and improved performance for those seeking a little more adventure in their Subaru crossover.

© Subaru of AmericaDesign Updates 2022
In addition to the new Wilderness variant, Subaru updates the entire Forester lineup for 2022. The model has new exterior styling including a redesigned grille, a new front bumper, LED headlights, a revised lower rear bumper and new exterior trim details. The new model also gets upgraded brakes as well as the latest version of EyeSight, Subaru’s advanced safety system.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWilderness Styling
Similar to the Outback Wilderness, the Forester Wilderness incorporates the 2022 design elements but stands alone thanks to a unique bumper design, a bold hexagonal grille, larger wheel arch cladding, a front skidplate, unique hex-designed LED fog lights and a matte-black anti-glare hood decal. Copper accents add a nice splash of color, while Wilderness badges adorn the front doors and tailgate. The rugged design gets rounded out with unique 17-inch matte-black alloy wheels fitted with Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOff-Road Ready
A combination of suspension upgrades and all-terrain tires gives the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness an impressive 9.2 inches of ground clearance — a half-inch more than the standard Forester. This gets accomplished via longer coil springs as well as new shocks with longer travel and damping compression for improved performance on rough surfaces. The approach angle of the new Forester Wilderness increases to 23.5 degrees, while the departure angle increases to 25.4 degrees. The breakover angle increases to 21 degrees compared to 19.6 degrees for standard Foresters.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRoof Rack
Recognizing that buyers of this new Forester variant will likely want to carry more gear off-road, designers added an upgraded roof rack for a higher dynamic load capacity of 220 pounds, compared with the standard Forester at 176 pounds. The fixed ladder-type roof rack system provides flexibility for a variety of accessories, and an increased static load limit of 800 pounds also permits the use of large rooftop tents.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
Inside, the Wilderness theme continues with copper accents that complement the exterior styling, including anodized copper finishes on the shifter, gauge cluster and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The seats are covered with a water-repellant Subaru StarTex material that should stand up to more mess and abuse. The Wilderness moniker embossed in the front head restraints and copper-colored contrasting stitching is a nice touch, as are the all-weather floormats that include the Subaru Wilderness logo.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear Seat
Although the Forester isn’t a large vehicle, the rear seat is incredibly spacious. Passengers will enjoy the extensive legroom and headroom — even those relegated to the middle seat won’t have much to complain about. Dual USB ports help keep devices charged and rear-seat passengers happy.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCargo Area
Not only does the Forester offer a large cargo area, it also features a waterproof rear tray and waterproof material on the backs of the folding second-row seats. The liftgate incorporates an LED light for better visibility when open. Subaru also adds new hooks in the headliner for added versatility. Multiple tiedowns help keep cargo from sliding about.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUnder the Hood
Powering the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness is a 2.5-liter direct injection 4-cylinder boxer engine producing 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. The engine gets teamed with an upgraded version of Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT unique to the Wilderness. This transmission features an 8-speed manual shift mode and the final-drive ratio has been changed for improved low-end torque and climbing ability at low speeds. The Forester Wilderness also gets a transmission oil cooler which helps increase the crossover’s towing capacity to 3,000 pounds.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll-Wheel Drive
In step with all Subaru models except the rear-drive BRZ sports car, Forester Wilderness is equipped with Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. The Forester Wilderness also features Subaru’s driver-selectable dual-mode X-MODE with Snow / Dirt and Deep Snow / Mud modes. The X-MODE helps reduce individual wheelspin in a variety of conditions by optimizing engine power and CVT ratio, as well as increasing active all-wheel-drive engagement and adjusting the vehicle dynamics control with the traction control system.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUpgraded X-MODE
To improve off-road performance, X-MODE on the Forester Wilderness includes low speed / low ratio gradient control that senses when the vehicle is on a steep incline. In these situations, the system shifts the CVT to its lowest ratio for an experience similar to having a low range with increased drivetrain torque at the wheels for climbing. The X-MODE also includes hill descent control to manage the vehicle’s speed on steep downgrades. The X-MODE display includes a new roll-angle indicator, and a standard 180-degree front-view monitor gives the driver maximum forward visibility on trails.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceEyeSight
All 2022 Subaru Foresters come with the latest version of the company’s driver-assist system called EyeSight. Features include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure and sway warning and — one of our favorites — lead vehicle start alert, which lets the Wilderness driver know when the car in front has begun moving from a standstill, in essence keeping “tabs” on drivers who might not be paying close enough attention to the car directly ahead.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceEyeSight Additions for Wilderness
The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness is equipped with the latest generation of EyeSight, which doubles the system’s view and adds some new features including automatic emergency steering, which can assist with steering control to help avoid a collision at speeds less than 50 mph. Blind-spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic rear braking are also standard on the new Forester Wilderness.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
Subaru invited us to spend a day with the new Forester Wilderness in Bend, Oregon, with time both on and off pavement. Even though the Forester Wilderness has a higher center of gravity and off-road tires, it handles everyday driving duties with aplomb. Although we’re not big fans of continuously variable transmissions, this Subaru version works well, mimicking an 8-speed automatic with strong power off the line. The ride in city driving or at high speeds on the highway is quiet and smooth — much more than we would expect with the aggressive tires.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDecent Handling
While driving on a variety of surfaces including gravel, dirt and pavement during our press trip, we soon discovered that the Forester Wilderness tracks well with good steering feedback. Even when pushing the small crossover hard into corners on loose surfaces, the combination of all-wheel drive and stability control keeps the Forester Wilderness on track with little drama — even while trying to create a little drama.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOff-Road
The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness reveals its true capabilities when heading off pavement on rough and slick surfaces. Not only was the vehicle perfectly capable on muddy, snowy and rocky conditions we encountered, the Forester Wilderness is surprisingly good at absorbing the brunt of rough surfaces to make the ride comfortable — even on “washboard” roads that can often be painful at high speeds. After several hours of driving through the forests of western Oregon, we experienced almost no fatigue or soreness thanks to the suspension and comfortable seats.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceHill Climbing, Descending
For the press event, Subaru created a bit of a “playground” to showcase the abilities of the 2022 Forester Wilderness, grooming an area with steep climbs and descents on loose gravel and sand, in addition to moguls and sloped corners. With the X-MODE set to Snow/Dirt, the Wilderness variant is capable of handling terrain not possible for typical compact crossovers. Steep climbs are no problem, and steep hill descents become smooth nonevents thanks to hill descent control, without needing to touch the throttle or brakes.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight for You?
Subaru has experienced great success with the Forester, despite its presence within a crowded compact crossover segment. Thanks to Forester’s strong and fuel-efficient powerplant, standard all-wheel drive and spacious, comfortable interior, this crossover’s current success isn’t much of a surprise. And now the new Forester Wilderness adds a bold exterior and impressive off-road capability for those wanting to explore a bit farther off the beaten path. At the same time, the standard advanced safety systems of Subaru EyeSight — as well as the everyday drivability and utility — making the Forester Wilderness an excellent choice as both a daily driver and an exciting off-road adventurer.

Available in December
The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness has a starting price of $32,820 (plus destination charge), slotting between the Forester Sport and Limited trims. The only factory package available includes an 8-inch multimedia plus display, a Harmon Kardon premium audio system and power liftgate for an additional $1,850. All 2022 Foresters are slated to go on sale in December; however, the current microchip shortage has severely curtailed the supply of these popular SUVs.

Rating: 9.0
Pros: Great performance on- and off-road; striking styling; well equipped.
Cons: No wireless Android Auto or Apple CarPlay; some might not like seat material.
Bottom Line: Already the most popular Subaru model, the Forester should earn even more new fans thanks to the adventure-ready Wilderness variant.

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