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2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness: En route to adventure [First Drive]

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When I saw the moguls ahead, I was excited. We’d been traveling through dense wilderness for two hours on red dirt roads strewn with rocks and gravel. The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness had rucked up a lot of dust in our wake, and a thin film of red dirt covered the interior and exterior of the vehicle.

We’d crossed shallow water features and hit some small mud patches while traversing some of the prettiest country I’ve seen in a long while.

All of which the Forester Wilderness handled with ease.

But these moguls were different. They were deep and grooved – so much so that Subaru left a spotter behind for us to make sure we didn’t have any problems.

The vehicle dipped and bobbed. A couple wheels popped in the air, and the Forester came out on the other side completely unscathed.

I was impressed.

Forester Wilderness’ specialness

The Forester Wilderness is the second vehicle bearing the Wilderness badging in the Subaru lineup. While all Subaru SUVs with their standard all-wheel drive are meant for some mild off roading, the Wilderness models ramp it up, adding ground clearance and extra cladding as well as a standard front skid plate into the mix.

Other than the bronze accents on the interior and exterior, what are some of the differentiators? Well, because Subaru says the Forester Wilderness is meant to get you to your activity, not be the activity – the interior is fairly rugged and dirt resistant for bikes, outdoor gear and muddy or wet clothes. From the black headliners to the water-resistant and easily cleaned leatherette seats, the interior is intended get dirty and clean easily. Other standard cleanable features include the weather-resistant floor mats, a large plastic cargo mat and second-row seatbacks with a plastic coating.

The Forester Wilderness also comes standard with LED fog lamps, a full-sized spare tire that has Wilderness rims and tire pressor sensor included, an anti-glare matte hood decal, an LED light on the rear liftgate and a ladder-style roof rack that can hold up to 800 pounds in a static position – which is enough for a three person tent.

Forester Wilderness

Why doesn’t Forester Wilderness get the turbo engine?

One of the big delights I had with the Outback Wilderness was the standard 2.4-liter turbocharged engine. It was just the right amount of pep for a vehicle of that size – adding fun to the fun. But the Forester Wilderness doesn’t get that engine.

Would it fit? Yes. So, why doesn’t it get the fun engine? Because of pricing. Subaru execs said the automaker wanted to ensure there was enough differentiation between the Outback and Forester Wilderness models, and putting the tubo engine in here would make them too similarly priced.

But the base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Boxer engine isn’t bad. It’s just not awesome.

It delivers 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. I did a few hard accelerations and getting up to speed wasn’t exactly a struggle, but it wasn’t exactly quick either. It was fast enough to merge with highway traffic – but it was also loud under hard accelerations.

I understand the decision not to put the turbo engine in here, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want it. Then again, none of the Foresters in Subaru’s lineup currently get this engine, so the fact that it’s not there, shouldn’t really be a surprise. But I still want it.

Fitting into the Forester lineup

The Forester Wilderness sits toward the top of the Forester lineup, with a price point between the Limited and Touring trims. Without any added accessories, the base price will be $33,945, including destination fees. For reference, base price of the Forester is $26,320.

Though it is priced higher than the Limited, it’s actually based off of the Premium trim, which means it lacks some of the high-tech features you see in the up-level trims – such as Subaru’s DriverFocus facial recognition and distraction mitigation system, navigation, power liftgate blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

What it does include is 9.2 inches of ground clearance (up from 8.7 inches), Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tires, dual-function X-Mode with hill descent control, water repellant seat surfaces and a front-view monitor. That latter item isn’t available in any other trim.

Forester Wilderness

But how does it drive?

Considering the slightly raised ride height and all-terrain tires, I thought the Wilderness model did really well on paved roads. There is a little tire noise that creeps into the cabin, but nothing major, and the body roll is improved – likely due to some suspension tuning for 2022.

What was really impressive, however, is how it handled the dirt roads we traversed – and there were like 5 hours of dirt roads on our drive. That could have been mind-numbing and painful if the vehicle sucked – thankfully it did not. While it didn’t smooth out the biggest of the bump and divots, it did a fair job of mitigating the clatter from gravel.

One of the big things I like about the Forester that carries over into the Wilderness trim is the overall comfort of the vehicle. The seats are supportive and cushy without being squishy, and visibility out all of the windows is excellent – even for petite drivers. We spent about 7 hours driving around the wilds of Oregon, and everything was just as comfortable when we got out of the vehicle as when we first sat in it. I can’t say that about a lot of vehicles.

A “big minor change”

Subaru is calling the 2022 model year a “big minor change” for the Forester, and in addition to the Wilderness model, you’ll see some interior, exterior and mechanical updates.

In terms of what you can see that’s different, the 2022 Forester will get a new front bumper, grille, headlights and fog lights on the exterior. On the interior, you’ll see new hooks in the cargo area and new interior treatments. Changes you don’t see include a new engine mount bracket, suspension tuning and X-Mode.

What didn’t get updated: The Subaru infotainment system. It still has the chunky graphics, and the Forester hasn’t gotten the upgraded large screen yet.

The biggest change, however, is to Eyesight, Subaru’s safety suite, as it enters its fourth generation. Enhancements include a field of vision that’s two times wider, smoother operation  and automatic steering assist. What’s more, Eyesight in the Wilderness model has been recalibrated for the vehicle’s higher ride height.

Because we were on gravel roads most of the time, I had a very limited time to play around with the new Eyesight system, but I did find it to be better and smoother in terms of adaptive cruise control. The steering assist, however, is still a little grabby and aggressive. The vehicle and I didn’t always agree on the right line to travel between the lanes, and I felt a definitive tug when I tried to go against the grain. This is something I’ve noted in previous generations, and it’s still a thing here as well.  I’d likely turn off the steer assist function and just use the adaptive cruise control.

Forester Wilderness

The bottom line on the Forester Wilderness

I’m not shy about saying the Subaru Forester is the next vehicle my mom should buy. From the safety features to seat comfort to visibility to ease of ingress and egress, it’s perfect for her. But the Wilderness model probably takes it a step too far for her. However, if you want all those good features for daily driving plus a little something, something to get you to your next adventure, this is it.

With all the wipeable surfaces and off-road ready features, this is ideal for getting you to a campsite or trailhead. It can carry bikes and camping gear, and I’d have no fear storing my muddy running gear after a wet trail run in the back.

I love that Subaru is creating a rugged Wilderness trim for its vehicles, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. (Cough, Crosstrek?)

Editor’s note: Driving impressions in this “First Drive” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Subaru covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.


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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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