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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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: 19.6 (tested)
Base Price: $33,945 (includes delivery)
Aluminum engine under guard, $220
Test vehicle: $34,165
Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage