In an era when shopping and working are done online, and the need to be anywhere is less essential than ever, the demand for all-wheel-drive vehicles with the ability to get anywhere at any time makes little sense. But neither does the fact that Americans have bought 15 million Chia Pets.
This explains the new for 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, a new trim level first seen on the Subaru Outback that tarts up the exterior, raises the car’s ride height, adds knobby, off-road tires and adds touches of gold trim that’s almost gaudy. But Subaru has long thrived on being the automotive equivalent of Merrell outdoor gear.
The Subaru Forster starts at $26,320, including a $1,125 destination charge, for the Base trim. From there, Subaru offers ascending Premium, Sport, Wilderness, Limited and Touring models, topping out at $36,420. The Wilderness model starts a bit higher at $33,945.
Opting for it ensures a considerable amount of comfort and convenience features, including heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, windshield wiper deicer, 10-way power driver’s seat, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels in black with machine finish; roof rails; dark tint privacy glass; a panoramic power moonroof; leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual front seat USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and, in a nod to the 20th century, a CD player. There’s also an X-Mode off-road display with a roll and pitch indicator. Neat.
Most importantly, the Wilderness’s seats are covered in water resistant StarTex polyurethane, perfect for mucky, soggy clothing. The Wilderness's sole option is an $1,850 package that adds an 8-inch touchscreen with a navigation system, Harman Kardon premium audio, and a rear power rear liftgate.
More than that, however, the Wilderness gets a number of mechanical and design tweaks that render it unique in the Forester lineup. Consider the coil springs and shock absorbers; they’re longer than the ones on other models to provide 9.2 inches of ground clearance, rather than the Forester’s standard 8.7 inches. It also wears Yokohama all-terrain tires on 17-inch wheels, and Subaru includes a full-size spare tire underneath the cargo area floor. The added functionality continues on the exterior, where a ladder-type roof rack can transport 220 pounds of gear, and support 800 pounds when parked, enough to hold larger roof tents. Just be careful when you roll over in your sleep.
Other modifications include a unique hexagonal front grille and front fascia, acres of additional lower body cladding, gold color accents, a front skid plate, unique LED fog lights and a matte-black, anti-glare hood decal. The changes announce this Forester’s primeval tendencies with modern flair. But the wheels look small compared to the overall height of the body, which is accentuated by the added ride height, lending it a goofy look — something Subaru owners are accustom to.
The Forester Wilderness benefits from the tall cabin used throughout the lineup, allowing for an equally tall, upright seating position. For those who enjoy sitting in church pews, you’ll appreciate this driving position. This also helps make the most of legroom in both rows. Outward visibility is excellent. Overall ambience is commensurate with its price, feeling neither cheap not pricey. The onscreen graphics have a very bright, aggressive design, with the smaller center-mounted information screen battling for your attention with the larger infotainment screen below it. A little design hierarchy might help here.
While the Wilderness stands apart from its siblings in upgrades, the one item that remains the same resides under the hood. There you’ll find the same 2.5-liter double-overhead cam horizontally opposed four-banger used in other Foresters. It’s rated at 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque and mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission with all-wheel drive. Uniquely, the transmission has more low-end torque than in other Foresters, although it still won’t overwhelm you with its abundant torque. But towing capacity is 3,000 pounds, more than double other Forester models thanks to the addition of a transmission oil cooler. Thoughtfully, Subaru also fits the Wilderness with Trailer Stability Assist to ease the burden of towing. Other driver assistance safety systems include automatic emergency steering, pre-collision braking, blind-spot detection with lane change assist, hill descent control, and rear cross-traffic alert.
The Subaru Forester Wilderness seems ideal for those who want just a little more off-road capability, although it’s no hardcore off-road boulder basher. But the suspension revisions lend the Forester Wilderness ready for unpaved roads and undulating trails. The compliance can be felt on-road, dispensing with the worst that America’s crumbling infrastructure deals up. Body lean builds gradually, clearly communicating its capability. The one real issue with this vehicle’s handling is the steering, however. On-center feel is lacking, and there’s a lot of play where nothing happens.