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2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Wilderness trim moves Forester further off road …

I’m not sure it’s ever totally fair to test a vehicle in Wisconsin in January, but then we all DO have to drive here in winter and Subaru designs its cars for our climate with full-time AWD.

So I guess I shouldn’t feel too sorry for the new Forester Wilderness that I hustled around mucky streets for a week during one of our patented January cold spells, several nights plunging below zero. To be honest, the Forester mostly coped fine with the big chill, but the weather put a chill on its gas mileage.

First, let’s focus on the Wilderness trim level, a new moniker for Forester and the Wilderness name is creeping across the outdoorsy-inspired Subaru lineup. Its point, not surprisingly, is to make said Subaru more off-road worthy, while also spiffing up the interior and exterior to lure young buyers to the brand, in case all the dog-loving and national parks-loving promos aren’t enough.

The Wilderness logo easily distinguishes this model.

I get it, and this white test crossover was spiffy looking. First, Subaru has restyled the Forester’s nose so it looks more muscular to fit into the increasingly macho compact crossover market. Second, it offers a full half-inch more ground clearance than other Foresters at 9.2 inches, making it a better trail-slogging vehicle.

There’s plenty more, which we’ll discuss, but visually it’s the Wilderness badges on the front doors, tail, and floor mats plus the cool anodized copper trim that is gonna tickle your iris. There’s a little copper everywhere, inside and out, just enough to please, not overwhelm. The exterior features copper accents on the now stronger black roof rail supports and the Forester name is emblazoned in copper on the black rocker panels. Plenty of black trim along with cladding over the wheel wells and bumpers, and an anti-glare matte black hood decal too.

A lot of black cladding on the Wilderness nose, plus a matte insert atop the hood.

Inside, the steering wheel hub’s lower spoke is copper as is the gear shift knob and X-Mode dial. Subaru also trims its durable StarTex water-resistant seats, along with the dash and doors in copper stitching. Wilderness logos grace the front seat backs too. All cool!

That’s just for looks. Wilderness is pretty much a loaded Forester. On the performance side that includes R17 Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tires for better grip in off-road slop, plus a beefed up X-Mode function with two settings for Snow and Dirt, or Mud and Deep Snow. Again, traction and trail performance step to the fore.

Copper trim on the wheel and shifter and X-Mode knob accent the interior.

Other goodies standard on Forester Wilderness include a 180-degree front view monitor, power tailgate, snazzy Harman Kardon stereo and 8-inch touchscreen that seems just the right size here while many screens have grown to overpower their interiors.

EyeSight, Subaru’s driver safety system with adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, blind-spot warning and such is standard too, and Wilderness adds lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking. Nothing more need be added to all that.

Performance remains solid, which is why Forester is so popular among compact crossovers as it leans a little more heavily on its SUVness.

In addition to the dual-function X-Mode of course there’s full-time AWD that shifts power to the wheels currently with the most grip, no matter if on slippery side streets or mucky trails. It’s a comfort in winter driving as the car corners with more sure-footedness than many other crossovers, and mostly at a lower price.

Handling is light and nimble, making Forester a fun drive in town and parking lots, while also being easy to handle if off-roading. Ride is improved over earlier versions, but still a bit firm as are other small crossovers.

Power, while improving with each iteration, is still Forester’s weak spot. The 2.5-liter Boxer 4 cylinder delivers 182 horses with a torque rating of 176. That’s fine for cruising and low-speed off-roading. But accelerating to highway speeds, or when it’s colder than an iceberg in the Arctic, is labored and noisy. That’s a combo of the engine and an 8-speed CVT.

Braking is fine, but know that if you upgrade to the Premium or higher trim levels the front disc brakes are larger than in other models.

Inside, Forester is comfy with supportive seats, a fine dash layout and Wilderness gets snazzy brushed aluminum pedals.

Brushed aluminum pedals here, and another logo!

Standard here are two-level heated seats, that fine stereo and touchscreen, which are easy to understand and use, and a big sunroof, a win for outdoors-loving folks who want to let in extra sunlight.

The test Forester’s black seats and dash look good too with the copper trim and I liked the feel and durability of the fake leather seats.

What I missed was a heated steering wheel, which would have been nice on the sub-zero mornings and should be standard on a Wilderness. I also found it hard to adjust the climate control’s fan speed while wearing gloves.

But Forester’s interior is roomy with plenty of head and legroom front and rear, easy rear-seat access and good storage space under that power hatch. Interesting too that Forester now has a 51.3-inch cargo opening in back, the biggest in the segment, so wonderful for loading wide loads. Oh, and now there’s one-touch rear seat lowering from inside the hatch too.

Gas mileage normally has been good with Forester. I last got 25.9 mpg in a drive 3 years ago. But with the cold weather and the car groaning to gain power in the cold this time I managed just 19.6 mpg. Disappointing to be sure, especially since the EPA rates this at 25 mpg city and 28 highway.

I’m also disappointed that Subaru still doesn’t offer a hybrid model, which most competitors do. That would help mpg considerably, not to mention buoy Subaru’s mantra of helping and protecting the environment. Subaru is way late to the hybrid game, and I should note that I’ve owned two Subies, including a Forester and an Outback.

Pricing remains a Forester strong point though, with the base model starting at $26,320 with delivery, and remember that includes AWD. There are six trim levels with Touring being the top dog at $35,295. This Wilderness started at $33,945, with delivery, and only added an aluminum engine under guard for $220 to settle at $34,165. That’s well below the average new crossover price.

Forester is a nimble drive and better off-road than many compact crossovers, but it also butts heads with the likes of Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V, big sellers. Wilderness trim gives it an edge for snazzy looks though.

FAST STATS: 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Hits: Sporty looking inside and out in Wilderness trim, light and nimble handling, AWD, 2 off-road settings, comfy 2-level heated seats, good radio/info screen, nice stereo, big sunroof, EyeSight system standard, and power hatch.

Misses: Noisy acceleration, modest power, no heated steering wheel, no hybrid available, and poor mpg (mostly weather related).

Here’s a closer look at the copper gear shift lever and ring on the X-Mode knob on Forester’s console.

Made in: Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter Boxer 4, 182 hp/176 torque

Transmission: Lineartronic CVT 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,620 lbs.

Length: 182.7 in.

Wheelbase: 104.9 in.

Cargo: 28.9 cu. ft. (74.2 cu.ft., rear seats down)

MPG: 25/28

MPG: 19.6 (tested)

Base Price: $33,945 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $31,863

Major Options:

Aluminum engine under guard, $220

Test vehicle: $34,165

Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2020 Subaru Outback Touring XT

Subaru’s Outback just keeps getting better, and now it’s faster …

Subaru’s handsome Outback seems to have overrun southeastern Wisconsin roads and it makes sense. Outback is practical for families and also empty-nesters looking to travel in comfort and safety, all at a high value and with AWD.

Full disclosure, our family owns a 2017 Outback, so I knew what to expect when I test drove the 2020 line-topper, the Touring XT. But there were a few surprises. Continue reading 2020 Subaru Outback Touring XT

2019 Subaru Ascent Touring

Subaru’s new Ascent  nails 7-passenger crossover market … 2019 Subaru Ascent

Subaru took a couple years off from the minivan/larger crossover market in an effort to get it right. The strategy worked, its new 2019 Ascent nails it.

Rarely does a vehicle deliver fully what it promises and at a reasonable price. Ascent offers room for seven or eight passengers, a comfortable and useful interior, good power and handling, plus Subaru’s noted all-wheel-drive. Pricing starts at $32,970. Yes, you read that right. Continue reading 2019 Subaru Ascent Touring

2016 Subaru Forester Limited

Subaru Forester remains spunky, sure-footedforester

Subaru’s Forester remains one of my favorite small SUVs because of its handling, spunky power, smooth CVT, quiet interior and sure-footed AWD capability.

That doesn’t even get at its other attributes, like reasonable starting price, good gas mileage, comfortable interior, top-notch safety rating and its overall usefulness.

The Forester was redesigned for 2014 and just keeps getting better with little tweaks. The handsome metallic (Venetian) red test model was the mid-level Limited that includes leather seats, an automatic climate control system, and power hatch.

Like its stablemates (there are four trims, plus the XT models that include a gutsier 2.0-liter turbocharged engine), the Limited delivers good interior space with wide comfortable seats and one of the quieter small SUV interiors.

forester1The 2.5-liter boxer (horizontally-opposed) 4-cylinder engine is strong, delivering 170 horsepower and 174 ft.-lbs. of torque. While some small SUVs and crossovers may offer more pony power, few feel as spunky as this Subaru engine. Touch the gas pedal and the Forester jumps away from stoplights. In fact, it takes a couple days to get the feel of the pedal. You can startle yourself a bit the first few times you accelerate. Continue reading 2016 Subaru Forester Limited

2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

Subaru’s new Outback epitomizes luxury AWD wagonoutback1

Subaru could be credited for starting the crossover craze as an early adopter of AWD on all its vehicles, including its wagons. Jeep could argue, but Jeeps are unique unto themselves, at least in their original form.

The Legacy wagon comes to mind from the Subaru camp and that morphed into the Outback years ago. Basically it’s a tall wagon with AWD, good cargo room and an interior that easily seats five. Yet it wasn’t, and isn’t an SUV. Oh, it has 8.7 inches of ground clearance to help it straddle snow piles and the stray large rocks if it goes off-roading.

But this is a luxury wagon in the best sense of both words.

The new 2015 Outback is slightly longer and larger than its predecessor, with a bit more cargo room, better gas mileage and a quiet comfortable cabin that encourages conversation, not the thrum of road noise.

My dark blue Subaru test car was the Limited, with an impressive $2,990 option package that added virtually everything, except a heated steering wheel, that most folks might want. Its base price is $30,295 and with delivery fee, this one hit the turnstiles at $34,207. Cheap? No, but a high value crossover that nearly perfectly blends luxury sedan with crossover usefulness.

outback2Here’s what I like. Continue reading 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

Subaru upgrades Legacy to take on Camry, Accord, Fusion legacy

Subaru strengthens its position in the mid-size market with an even more appealing Legacy sedan, but it retains a major advantage, all-wheel drive.

While past Legacy models (see the reveal at the Chicago Auto Show) may have felt a little bargain basement in their interiors, the new Legacy eradicates any hint of that and takes full dead-on aim at the segment leaders, Toyota’s Camry, Honda’s Accord and Ford’s Fusion.

What Legacy lacks in styling it makes up in quality feel, good interior design and performance. My Venetian Red Pearl (metallic red) test car was the top-end 3.6R Limited. Outside of an option or two, Legacy doesn’t get any better than this.

First, that number means it comes with Subaru’s strong 3.6-liter boxer 6-cylinder engine that generates 256 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft. of torque. The boxer, which is a flat engine that can be placed lower in the chassis for better balance, delivers heady power for getting on the freeway. Not sure about a boxer? Well, Porsche engines are of similar design!

Now linked with Subaru’s excellent Lineartronic (Subaru’s name) CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), the power is delivered smoothly, but with good low-end torque to get this luxurious sedan moving from a standing stop. Many CVTs lack low-end oomph, but that’s not a problem with Subaru’s LCVT. Continue reading 2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

2014 Subaru BRZ Limited

Fun, Fun, Fun till daddy takes the BRZ away!BRZ 

Rarely have I driven a sports coupe that was more pure fun to drive and garnered more attention than the Subaru BRZ, and yet …

The BRZ, a kissin’ cousin to Scion’s F-RS, is far from perfect. But it’s so much fun you might overlook most of its shortcomings.

First, there are many bright spots. It’s an edgy looking sports car, one that gets thumbs up at stoplights from young men, young women and guys on motorcycles. It has a triangular center mounted brake light below bumper level in back and the tested Limited model touts a mean Star Wars look rear wing that even Darth Vader would give a thumbs up.

The test car was a dark metallic gray that complimented that edgy, somewhat menacing look, and being rear-wheel drive and packing a 200-horse Boxer 4-cylinder, the car has excellent balance and a peppy feel. BRZ accelerates quickly from a stop, but doesn’t have explosive power as it would if the car’s horizontally opposed Subaru-designed engine had a turbocharger. Could there be one in the future? One can hope.

BRZ1Subaru also gives the car an easy shifting 6-speed manual that slips through the gears smoothly and synchs well with the engine to give it that pep. The clutch works well too, so unlikely you’ll tire in thick traffic or kill the engine at a stoplight.

Handling is light and easy too with good steering feedback and the car feels well balanced so it zips through tight corners like the sports car that it is and with the car’s rear wheels feeling well planted. The low profile provided by the Boxer engine keeps the center of gravity low, which also helps handling. A Torsen limited-slip differential and stability control give BRZ sticky footing upon acceleration and in corners and much of the car’s light feel is attributable to its modest weight, just 2,776 lbs. Continue reading 2014 Subaru BRZ Limited

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

 Attractive Crosstrek a bit of sedan, wagon, crossover 

Subaru_XV_Crosstrek-2Subaru’s new crossover, the XV Crosstrek, is an attractive vehicle that splits the difference between sedan, wagon and crossover, with many of the good characteristics of each.

But the Crosstrek, which rides on the compact Impreza platform, is underpowered, so keep that in mind if you plan to haul four people or a load of stuff under its roomy hatchback.

I like that Crosstrek has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, but looks more like a tall hatchback than a true crossover or SUV, now a dying breed as most truck-based SUVs have switched to car chassis. But, like a Subaru sedan, this has good road manners. It’s easy to drive and handles well with a moderately light steering feel from the electronic power assisted steering system.

Best of all, it’s useful. Not only will four adults fit in the Crosstrek, but you can haul a load of junk, er stuff, in back with its 22.3 cubic foot cargo bay. Fold flat the split rear seats and it’ll haul 51.9 cubic feet of your best stuff, just like a wagon. And it has AWD, like an SUV. Continue reading 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Limited