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2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness First Drive: Good On and Off Pavement

Consumers pursuing camping, rock climbing and other outdoor activities and are looking for vehicles like the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness to reach increasingly remote areas.

With the new Forester Wilderness, Subaru is continuing to offer versions of its models optimized for off-road conditions. It is the second model in the series, following the Subaru Outback Wilderness. The automaker has figured out the formula.

The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness is smartly engineered with higher ground clearance and other off-road driving enhancements. It avoids the one downside of the Wilderness version of the Outback, which suffers from increased body roll and loser steering feel compared to the regular Outback.

Subaru Forester Wilderness Agile on Dirt

A test of the Forester Wilderness for about 100 miles both on and off-road in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains demonstrated that the Forester variant is an ideal vehicle for getting deep into the forest and other remote areas for outdoor adventures.

The 2022 Forester Wilderness is remarkably composed both on and off-road. It has a smooth, firmer drive on the pavement. At the same time, it nicely eats up washboard or other rough terrain without too much bounce in the cabin. As an SUV, the Forester is bound to have body roll on tight paved curves, but Subaru’s engineers have controlled the problem. The Forester’s suspension slow eases into the roll, reducing the diving or squishy feeling drivers experience in many rival vehicles.

That represents smart suspension tuning by the Subaru engineers, considering that the vehicle has a high center of gravity due to its substantial 9.2-inch ground clearance. That’s 0.5 inches more than the regular Subaru Forester and higher than the Toyota Land Cruiser, Jeep Grand Cherokee, standard Ford Bronco – all vehicles with decent off-roading reputations.

Other off-road enhancements include an approach angle of 23.5 degrees compared to 20 for the conventional Forester. Similarly, the departure angle is 25.4 degrees compared to 24.6, and the ramp break over angle is 21 compared to 19.6.

While this seems like many numbers, these are technical details that prove out on the trail. The Forester Wilderness will never be a rock crawler like a Jeep Wrangler of a Ford Bronco, but it is adept at traversing mountain trails, ravines, and fording creeks. It can go much farther into the wilderness than the so-called adventure trims of mainstream SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V.

More Rugged Transmission

Subaru also has enhanced the transmission to make the Forester more rugged, modifying the gear ratios. Additionally, the automaker strengthened the variator pulley and chain to make more low-end torque available. That helps in the muck and when climbing steep hills in the dirt.

One wheel up is no problem for the Forester Wilderness. (Photo: Jerry Hirsch/Trucks.com)

Driving the dirt trails of the Cascades demonstrated the effectiveness of Subaru’s driver-selectable dual-function X-Mode system that adjusts the vehicle to varied terrain. The system offers Snow / Dirt and Deep Snow / Mud modes. Each of the selections optimizes the engine output and the continuously variable transmission ratio positions. The system increases the all-wheel-drive engagement and modifies traction control to reduce wheel spin.

With an eye to the popularity of camping, Subaru strengthened the vehicle’s roof load capacity. Owners can carry 220 pounds of gear on top of the SUV. That’s 55 to 100 pounds more than most of its competitors. The Forester Wilderness also can hold 800 pounds of static weight – not while driving – on the roof. That’s enough for a rooftop tent, two adults and a dog.

There are extra lights in the tailgate. The interior has mud- and blood-resistant seating fabrics for hard-core outdoor sports enthusiasts.

Subaru Forester Wilderness Powertrain

A 2.5-liter direct-injection, four-cylinder engine that produces up to 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque powers the Subaru Wilderness. The EPA rated the model’s fuel economy at 25 mpg in city driving, 28 on the highway and 26 combined.

The vehicle also comes with extensive and standard advanced driver assistance and safety features. They include adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking. There is also lane departure warning, blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic reverse braking. Subaru added standard automatic emergency steering. It will assist with steering control to help avoid a collision at speeds less than 50 mph.

Subaru Forester Wilderness has plenty of traction in muck and snow. (Photo: Jerry Hirsch/Trucks.com)

Subaru expects the Forester Wilderness will be popular with buyers in their 30s who like rock climbing, backpacking and other rugged outdoor activities.

The Forester Wilderness has a starting price of $32,820.

Subaru hasn’t said if it will extend the Wildnerness trim to other models. But given the automaker’s marketing to outdoor types, a Crosstek Wilderness will likely join the model lineup.

Jerry Hirsch August 19, 2019
Subaru makes dogs the centerpieces of its advertising and sales, even conducting canine crash tests.

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