2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness First Drive: No Surprises Except MPG

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Wild region. The name alone stirs the soul to life. Subaru’s new adventure-focused Wilderness package takes the already well-equipped Subaru all-wheel-drive lineup even further off the beaten path. Originally introduced for the 2022 Outback, the Wilderness version has been extended to the 2022 Forester.

It would be easy to dismiss the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness as just a feel-good concept exemplified by fancy badges, embroidered headrests and branded all-weather floor mats. Yes, it has all of those dazzling styling cues and more, right down to the brushed aluminum pedals and copper anodized finish stitching and accents. But the Wilderness is also packed with a number of useful off-road upgrades.

Black coating protects the most vulnerable body parts from rocks and scratches, and Wilderness-specific front and rear bumpers improve approach, departure and crossing angles. It has more ground clearance than the base Forester, and it comes with upgraded suspension and all-terrain tires. It’s also the only Forester to offer a full-size spare tire, a big deal in off-road situations where flat tires are always possible. Roof rails can support a much larger load and require a rooftop tent. Also unique to the Wilderness: a front view monitor with a 180-degree viewing angle to aid visibility on the trail; hexagonal style LED fog lights; an enhanced dual-function Subaru X-Mode Terrain Assist feature; and special, durable padding.

So the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness has its share of off-road good faith, but how does it perform in the urban jungle? To find out, let’s take the Wilderness out of the forest and dip it onto the pavement to test how it handles the twisty roads that lead into the wilderness.

Underpowered, all-terrain

The Forester Wilderness, powered by a version of Subaru’s 2.5-liter flat-four, develops 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. No surprises here, as it’s the only powertrain in the Forester – and not exactly exciting at that. It’s backed by Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission with an eight-speed manual mode. The CVT has a lowered final drive (4.11:1 vs. 3.70:1), a lower launch ratio to maximize climbing torque and a stronger CVT pulley, all of which improve off-road low-end torque. Interestingly, other Forester versions have a seven-speed mode, making the Wilderness the only variant to come with the eight-speed setup.

As part of its special feature, the 2022 Forester Wilderness is the only Forester that rolls on 225/60R17 Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires. Its upgraded suspension gives it 9.2 inches of ground clearance, half an inch more than other Foresters. Finally, at around 3,600 pounds (specifically 3,610 pounds for our tester), it’s the heaviest Forester, about 30 to 150 pounds heavier than other Foresters.

With these factors in mind, how does the Forester Wilderness compare to other Foresters? Will its off-road stature negatively affect its on-road performance? And how does the Wilderness stand up to its competition, namely the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road?

Quite energetic from one red light to the next

Basically, any perceived bulkiness emanating from the Wilderness’ off-road handling shouldn’t be equated with sluggishness off the line or a “dragging” feeling from stoplight to stoplight, where the majority of driving has location.

Pretty good in Twisties

The Subaru Forester had no IST on MotorTrend, but “overall it wasn’t embarrassing at all and presented a respectable performance,” said road test editor Chris Walton, who was pleasantly surprised by its poise and refinement. On the number eight, which rates acceleration, handling, braking and transitions between those elements, the Forester clocks in at 28.4 seconds at 0.57g (average).

Walton said: “The brake pedal is easy to modulate and find the ABS threshold [60 mph to 0 took 133 feet]. There isn’t much grip on the skid, but it was also easy to find and hold the limit there. Steering feel is a bit springy, not its best attribute. I had to resort to manual shifting to get a quick exit, and that made the difference.”

By comparison, the Forester Touring was more than a full second faster at 27.3 seconds at 0.63g (average); the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road completed the course in 28.0 seconds at 0.59 g (average). Although both were a little faster, the differences were by no means deciding factors in real-life situations.

Basically, the Wilderness’s all-terrain tires weren’t a huge demerit around the number eight, proving they can hold their own in corners leading to off-road adventure. The Subaru Wilderness package isn’t so much off-road focused that it can’t handle pavement with composure. Rather, the complaint would likely be the other way around, that what you get with the Wilderness might not be good enough over the already dirt-worthy average Subaru.

Impossible to ignore its poor fuel economy

The main 2022 Subaru Forester is EPA rated at 26/33 mpg city/highway. Not the Wilderness, however, which comes at a many lower 25/28 mpg city/highway. That’s a whopping 5 mpg on the highway (and a forgivable 1 mpg in the city). Worse still, our driving time averaged 22.0 mpg, and we weren’t exactly whipping at it or off-roading.

Whatever the reasons for the success – the off-road tires, the CVT tuning – it’s a pretty poor performance of the same four-cylinder engine. On the bright side, we saw 28.0 mpg on our last 20-mile highway trip, reassuring us that at least (poor) advertised Wilderness economy can be achieved. Stay in the desert, not on the highway. At least the towing is rated at 3,000 pounds thanks to its shorter gearing, which is double that of other Foresters.

Unique Padding, Weird Screen

If you’re stepping out of a full-size truck or SUV, the Forester Wilderness rides small and nimble (because it is), and it doesn’t take long to get comfortable in the cabin. . However, despite its small size, the interior feels rather spacious and not cramped. The rear doors opened nice and wide, allowing us to squeeze two large car seats into the back with relative ease. The locations for the LATCH system (which stands for lower anchors and tethers for the kids, who knew!) were perfect and easily accessible. Best of all, we weren’t miserable traveling with our family of four. One kid might have called Geyser Blue Forester Wilderness a Polaris, but in his world that meant it was one hell of a ride. Come to think of it, innocently comparing it to a side-by-side might be seen as the ultimate compliment for a rather softcore off-roader.

Although the Wilderness is the only Forester to receive the StarTex water-repellent coating, it has been present in a few other Subarus for a few years. It’s soft and inviting, and it’s deceptively upscale for off-road trim. A viewer was convinced it was leather, which is a forgivable mistake given that it mimics its texture. It is actually a chemically produced polyurethane synthetic plastic. It is physically lighter than leather and repels water while remaining breathable. The real test would come naturally with time (and kids), but Subaru says it stands up to the elements.

Visibility is excellent when it comes to changing lanes and being aware of the surroundings. However, we found the 180-degree front-view monitor to be rather distorted, which defeats its purpose for front-end clarity. It was difficult to discern where the front end was from objects. This may be because it displays on the small screen above the larger 8.0-inch screen, so it feels far away, hard to focus on, and somewhat distracting. Like, that little screen (the one nobody talks about) could disappear, and you’d be fine.

Worthy of the name Wilderness?

Overall, the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness felt great behind the wheel. We’d immediately put up a rooftop tent and head out into the wilderness, calling it our reasonable (and roughly $34,000, reasonably priced) on- and off-road vehicle. We would then consider a bit more lift and beefier tires – and probably go too far on the land theme. We can think of worse.

This seems good! More details?

Specifications of the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness
VEHICLE UPFIT Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door SUV
MOTOR 2.5L Direct Injection DOHC 16-Valve Boxer 4-Cylinder
POWER (SAE NET) 182 hp at 5,800 rpm
TORQUE (NET SAE) 176 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION Automatic variable cont
CURB WEIGHT (DIST FWD/REW) 3,610 pounds (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 104.9 inches
Length x Width x Height 182.7 x 72.2 x 68.3 inches
0-60MPH 8.1s
QUARTER MILE 16.2 sec at 87.3 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 133 feet
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.4 sec @ 0.57 g (average)
EPA RANGE, COMB 432 miles