The market is swaying towards active lifestyle consumers looking for something that will get them closer to the trailhead or the water’s edge.
When the news dropped that Subaru was adding a new Wilderness line of vehicles, my first thought was “what took them so long?”
There is nothing wrong with introducing a more capable trim level for both the Outback and Forester now. The market is swaying towards active lifestyle consumers looking for something that will get them closer to the trailhead or the water’s edge.
During the pandemic, there was a want of getting out of the house. Not just to a movie theater or the store. We’re talking the National Park or a county-run campground. This is leveraging a trend towards greater domestic tourism, whether by car or by any other transportation means.
Preferably by car, in this case. After all, what’s the point of talking about the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness featured in this article.
This is part of a new line of ruggedized, off-road ready vehicles created by Subaru to get in on this current trend. However, one should look back at Subaru’s history to see that they always had such vehicles. The 4WD wagon of the 1970s (Leone, for those of you reading outside of North America) offered an aggressive driveline and tough exterior for its size in its era.
After all, the Outback was seen as a return to the capable all-wheel drive wagon. Subaru added body cladding and added ground clearance to both the Legacy and Impreza wagons for consumers seeking adventure wherever they want to roam.
Available in both the Outback and Forester, the Wilderness trim level is a step further. Both models sport a taller ground clearance, added a skid plate underneath the engine, and additional trim pieces designed for more adventures further afield.
For the Forester, the Wilderness trim is exactly what Subaru needed for this popular SUV. It is not about putting more power underneath the hood, but by adding capability that will enable it to stand out among other ruggedized SUVs in its size class.
The starting point is already a great package. The Subaru Forester already offers an SUV with a tall roof with a lower glass belt line, large glass area, a comfortable and spacious cabin for four-to-five people, a straightforward driving environment, and a solid driveline. No one can deny what the 185-horsepower 2.5-liter BOXER engine, its continuously variable transmission, and Symmetrical all-wheel drive can do.
Therefore, how much of a difference will adding a half-an-inch to the ground clearance, installing a skid plate underneath the engine subframe, slapping on a set of all-terrain tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, amending the angle of approach and departure with specific bumper facias, and some additional protection all around to the Subaru Forester?
First of all, Subaru should have done this several years ago. How many Foresters do you see running around with lift kits, knobbier tires, rook racks, bumper bars, off-road driving lights, and other overlanding accessories? I have seen a good number of them over the past several years.
The Wilderness trim level is a ready-made, factory-built solution. It arrives just when everyone seems to playing with trying to accomplish a way to meet the rush of overlanders and adventurers with their own ruggedized version of similarly-sized SUVs.
However, none of them went as far as Subaru did. Furthermore, neither of them could possibly meet the way Subaru has executed their Wilderness lineup.
Back to the Forester Wilderness, to see the kind of execution Subaru accomplished here – find yourself off the highway. If you need more traction, flip the X-Mode knob to the appropriate setting and let it go. One setting is for dirt and snow, which enhances the drive system for appropriate grip in those conditions. Flip it over to Deep Snow/Mud for even more grip from the system.
The trick is a Low Speed/Low Ratio Gradient Control module. This is how the X-Mode is able to emulate a lower “gear” to induce more traction in tougher conditions. In other words, that system works. You do need that available lower ratio in the all-wheel drive system to truly get over some tougher terrain than a lot of its newly ruggedized competitors.
Some may be a bit skeptical about the torque figure from the BOXER engine in the Forester Wilderness. Yeah, 176 pound-feet is on the low side, but it still works in delivering power where it needs to be. In all, the engine pulls pretty well and manages everyday driving with ease – both on and off the highway.
The Environmental Protection Agency rated the Wilderness at a lower fuel economy rating than standard Foresters. In my care, I averaged 26.3 MPG. That puts it closer to the overall averge for this specific Forester model.
Even with an additional half-inch of ground clearance, the overall ride was very nice. It was not too soft nor firm. When you add more suspension travel, you tend to have a softer ride. Subaru just made it, in the words of Goldilocks, “just right.”
The steering rack yields a good turning ratio for tight maneuvers and the system is quite good. There is a bit of softness on-center, but the control and feel are good. The brakes are solid, yielding good stops in normal and panic situations. Pedal feel is good overall.
As far as cost goes, this 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness tester came with a sticker price of $36,015. The base price for this model is $33,020. If you just want a 2022 Forester, there are five other trim levels to choose from. Pricing starts from $25,395.
So, what took Subaru so long to create a model that revisits its legendary capabilities? Good question. At this point, we should celebrate the fact that Subaru is willing to go further than its competitors to not only create a pair of vehicles for those living adventurous lifestyles.
In the 2022 Forester Wilderness, not only was this achieved by adding more capability to Subaru’s popular SUV. The execution is quite good. The price isn’t bad, either.
If you’re not a WRX, STi, or BRZ person, the Subaru Forester Wilderness might not be for you. That is, unless you have a side of you that can go from rallycross mode to overlanding mode on a quick pivot. For the rest of us, this vehicle proves that real off-highway capability can be had in a Subaru. If you want proof, find a muddy trail somewhere, flip the X-Mode knob to the right setting and tread lightly.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Subaru of America, Inc.
All photos by Randy Stern