If you’re an outdoors person or couple that likes to hike, fish, hunt, cross-country ski, kayak secluded waters and travel the untraveled, there are a host of SUVs and crossovers on the market that may satisfy your tastes. But Subaru has a compromisingly new offering in their Forester Wilderness that, as its name implies, can get you over and through nasty off-roads for your outdoor pursuits, while offering the comfy driving pleasures of sedan-like on-road.
This compact AWD SUV is the downsized version of its popular brother the AWD Subaru Outback. The Forester Wilderness falls midway in the model’s line-up that runs from base, Premium, Sport, Limited and top-line Touring.
Wilderness differs in several ways from those in that it has a higher ground clearance of 9.2 inches versus 8.7 of the others. This height comes in handy on severe off-roads, deep snow, mud and water. It’s also offers better clearance than a Ford Bronco, Jeep Cherokee and almost as high as a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro pickup’s 9.4 inches.
With that lift comes an approach angle of 23.5 degrees, a departure angle of 25.4 degrees and a breakover angle of 21.0 degrees. All allow better off-road maneuverability.
But a lifted ride height is not the entire story. Wilderness is outfitted with 8-inch wide, Yokohama 17-inch deep-lugged all-terrain tires, body cladding to protect the sides and an interior with long-wearing washable seats. It also is sprung with longer coil springs along with dampers were retuned for rugged trekking. All intended for adventuresome ventures.
Subaru also improved the roof rail system for a higher load capacity of 220 pounds and a static load limit of 800 pounds for those who want to put a tent on top.
And speaking of seats, and after an 18-inch step-in into the cockpit, the heated fronts are covered with Star-Tex, a waterproof material that is washable and has sensible lateral support, meaning not overly confining when wearing heavy outer garments.
Wilderness’ interior is eclectic with gold trim on the steering wheel, gear selector and AWD X-Mode selector. In contrast, the pedals are brushed aluminum. They all grab the eyes as does a pair of displays. An 8.7-inch infotainment screen serves a multitude of functions as does the smaller 6-inch information display atop the dash. The larger display has a learning curve for audio, apps, navigation and rearview camera with 180-degree front view. It also offers Subaru’s STARLINK connected services with smartphone integration that offers Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity with voice control.
The 6-inch display also serves a host of functions and features and operating information. A study of the owners’ manual while sitting in the car is a must-do. On the other hand, HVAC controls though are large and easy to use even with gloved hands.
The gold trimmed gear selector with paddle shifters, controls the eight ratio continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has been re-tuned compared to the standard CVTs in other Foresters. Actually, it comes from the Outback with modifications to handle better performance both on and off-road.
Sharing the console is the gold emblazoned X-Mode 4WD system rotary switch for Snow/Dirt, Deep Snow/Mud and Normal modes. These modes can be selected while driving at speeds less than 12 mph, and will deactivate over 25 mph. An audible warning sounds if attempting to activate at a faster speed.
The analog gauge cluster includes a driver information display between the speedo and tach and it too displays mode selections, functions and alerts.
Wilderness’s back seat is comfy for two with adequate seating for two adults with generous headroom. Wide opening doors allow easy ingress and egress.
Back in the cargo area, that has a low 28-inch lift-over, it offers up to 26.9 cubic feet of space with the rear seats upright. The area measures 35 inches deep, 50.5 wide and 31.5 high. Flip the seatbacks and space expands to 69.1 cubic feet for 70 inches of cargo loading depth.
Beneath the cargo floor is a hard foam bin that covers a full-size spare tire. Small items can be stowed within the shallow bin.
Forester Wilderness gets its grunt from a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that generates 182-hp and 176 lb/ft of torque for EPA mileage estimates of 25 city, 28-highway mpg with auto start/stop engine technology. Coupled to the enhanced CVT transmission, the combination offers a tow rating of up to 3,000 pounds. So powered, acceleration was robust. Kick down from 40 mph pushes the torso into the seat. The engine under heavy throttle is a bit noisy, but its relatively quiet at around town driving.
Handling on-road is smooth and stays planted in turns and is very nimble to park with a tight turning radius. The knobby tires, however, do make some noise at highway speeds.
On off-roads, harsh terrain is nicely absorbed by Wilderness’s beefy suspension and again, the Suby feels safely secure and more like a larger SUV.
Standard safety features include reverse automatic braking, blind spot detection with lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, tire pressure monitoring and more.
As a most complete SUV, Forester Wilderness is modestly base-priced at $30,820. Add the options package ($1,850), engine skid plate ($220) and delivery ($1,125) and the bottom line reflects an affordable (in these days) $36,015. This is a lot of dual-use vehicle for the money.
Added to this, Forester earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s top safety pick for 2022. This marks the 16th year Forester has received this award. And Kelly Blue Book named Forester the most trusted and best performance brand in 2022.
Forester Wilderness has my vote. Since I owned a ’98 Outback, I can attest to Subaru reliability, all-weather traction and economical fuel economy.