Test drive: 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness reports for adventure duty

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Subaru’s embracing its adventure-ready marketing to new heights. Literally. It just lifted its second model.

The refreshed 2022 Subaru Forester arrives with a new Wilderness model that applies the lifted right height, all-terrain tires, body cladding, and adventure-ready interior to a smaller package. We’ve seen this before on the 2022 Outback Wilderness and we like it.

But does the package make as much sense on the Forester? And is the refreshed 2022 Forester better than before? Here’s what I learned during my week with the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Hit: It’s lifted

A big theme with Subaru’s Wilderness package is to increase capability. Part of that is increasing ground clearance. In the case of the Forester, the Wilderness model rides a half inch higher than other Foresters for a total of 9.2 inches of ground clearance. That’s more standard ground clearance than a Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Bronco. This enables the Forester to easily roll over snow-covered roads or small debris on the path to the trail head. There’s also a new front skid plate for a bit more protection should a mistake be made. The upgraded suspension has also been retuned to provide less body roll than other Foresters, making for a comfier ride on pavement.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Miss: Must move slowly

Like other Subaru models, the Forester Wilderness features Subaru’s X-Mode for the all-wheel-drive system. X-Mode can be engaged with a knob on the center console to Snow, Dirt, or Mud. The modes modify the torque split between the axles and change the amount of allowed wheel spin as well as the transmission programming. In short, it’s useful. But it can not be enabled or changed while underway, based on my experience. Subaru spokesperson Dominick Infante has sworn to me the system can be enabled at speeds of less than 12 mph, and will automatically shut off over 25 mph. It’s really only meant for deep snow and adverse conditions, Infante explained. This might not be apparent to the normal user. Most vehicles can engage their snow mode at any time to modify the powertrain programming for more stability in slick conditions. Every time I tried to place the Forester into X-Mode the system would beep at me and say it could not be engaged due to the vehicle moving. Apparently I was going too fast, but was unaware of it. A notification saying the speed needed to be 12 mph or less would have helped. A lot.

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2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Hit: Easily wipeable

Just like in the Outback Wilderness, the Forester Wilderness’s interior features water-resistant StarTex upholstery (along with a smattering of gold Wilderness logos and trim). Unlike marine-grade vinyl, this StarTex material is not sticky feeling and seems to be easy to maintain. It’s not just good for messy adventures, it’s good for normal family life because kids are messy.

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2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Miss: Why isn’t this heated?

The Forester Wilderness features heated front seats, and they are controlled via simple rocker switches that provide an extremely satisfying click. But the steering wheel and rear seats are not heated in a vehicle with Wilderness in its name. It can get cold in the Wilderness.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Hit: Upgraded transmission

The Wilderness model receives an upgraded transmission from the Outback that is different from every other Forester. A direct transplant from the Outback, the transmission is meant to provide a wider power band for improved acceleration and climbing capabilities. A lower final drive ratio (compared to other Foresters) and revised ratios for the rear differential all add up to a Forester that feels quicker off the line and doubles it’s tow rating to 3,000 lb.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Miss: Cubbies and lack of wireless

The 2022 Forester underwent a small refresh instead of a complete redesign. This shows in a few key areas in day-to-day living. There’s no wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There’s no wireless smartphone charging. And perhaps the most annoying thing on a day-to-day basis is the cubby in the dashboard is too small for an iPhone 12 Pro that’s plugged into the car which isn’t even the largest smartphone.

The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness is peak Forester despite not being the top Touring trim level. It costs at least $4,000 more than the Premium model on which it’s based, but the upgraded transmission, factory-backed suspension upgrades, and wipeable adventure-ready interior justify the price.

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2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Base price: $26,320, including $1,125 destination
Price as tested: $34,165
Powertrain: 182-hp 2.5-liter flat-4, continuously variable transmission, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 25/28/26 mpg
The hits: Great visibility, lifted ride height, wipeable interior
The misses: No heated steering wheel or rear seats, lacks certain expected technology, X-mode quirks

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