Review: 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

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Cameron Neveu

Ever had your eggs prepared by the Rollie Hands-Free Automatic Electric Vertical Nonstick Easy Quick Egg Cooker?

No? Let me explain how it works. Just crack several eggs into a hole at the top of the thermos-shaped egg cooker. After several minutes, convection pushes out an edible tube from the same hole in which you placed the raw eggs. Boom. Or not—in the amount of time it takes the Rollie to deposit a steaming egg log on your plate, you could pan-fry an egg to perfection.

Sorry, Sharper Image. The Rollie, the strawberry slicer, the quesadilla maker, are only good for one job and hog drawer space or countertop real estate when not in use. Most of these “unitaskers,” as television chef Alton Brown calls them, could be collectively dropped in the nearest garbage bin and replaced by a multi-use tool, such as a knife or a fork with little to no turbulence in future food preparation.

I think we can all agree, save for possibly the inventor of the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Maker, that multi-use tools are fantastic. A chef’s knife, a hammer, a drill press—amazing. Recent years have produced a new type of multi-faceted tool: the off-road-capable crossover. Distant relatives of the AMC Eagle and the Subaru Brat, each of these trail-ready models perches atop a unibody platform—Honda’s Pilot Trailsport, Ford’s Bronco Sport, Subaru’s Outback Wilderness—and arrives in showrooms trailing a cloud of silt. Subaru has gone back to Wilderness well, with a two-track-worthy version of its Forester.

Cameron Neveu

Last week, Subaru delivered a 2022 Forester Wilderness to our editorial office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Rolling on the group’s Global Platform, the fifth-generation Forester is the stubby middle child in Subaru’s lineup. It’s never been regarded as a looker, either. The Wilderness trim is an immediate glow-up, though—black wheels, copper accents, white-lettered tires, and Autumn Green Metallic paint glinting in the summer sun. This is the best-looking Forester to date, but it comes at a cost. Our test Subie’s sticker: $35,795 (nearly $10,000 more than a base Forester).

For that amount of dough, it better cook the eggs and slice the strawberries.

The Wilderness package was introduced by Subaru this year, joining the existing Base, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring trims. The orange-accented bundle features all the badges, accents, and flair that an outdoorsperson can handle. That mountain-flaunting crest could be affixed to a tent, a portable stove, or the flatbill hat of some free-climber, and nobody would look twice. Out of all the trim levels, the new option best aligns with Subaru’s crunchy vibe; so much so it’s a wonder that the firm waited until this long to roll it out.

Though the increased body cladding and badging are rather bombastic, it’s important not to write off the Forester Wilderness as cosplaying off-roader. There are real, mechanical upgrades: Like the Outback, the Forester Wilderness receives a mild lift (less than an inch) for increased approach and departure angles. The copper-capped roof rack is improved over that of years past, and rated to withstand more than 800 pounds of heft. Should you take this Forester overlanding, you can confidently set up shop on the roof.

The drivetrain has subtle adds, too. Subaru tuned the gearing on its CVT for better low-speed climbing and mated the transmission to its 2.5-liter Boxer engine (the largest mill available for the Forester) which puts out 182 horses and 176 lb-ft of twist. There’s also an eight-speed manual mode available in all Wildernesses. The drivetrain isn’t quick by any means, but that’s not really the point. What matters is the unit’s ability to haul 3000 pounds (more than the Bronco Sport, and just a shade under a four-cylinder Chevy Colorado’s towing capacity). A decent towing capacity, sure, but should you really want to tug something down the two-track, you might opt for the Honda Pilot Trailsport, which can tow an astounding 5000 pounds.

The Forester’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system delivered sure-footedness on most occasions and its X-MODE terrain selector—which controls wheel slip under 25-mph for a variety of surfaces—worked well off pavement. The white-lettered Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tires are great for loose gravel and mud, though you sacrifice a ton of road feel over standard radials. On-road, the raised suspension isn’t doing the ride quality any favors, and the entire paved affair feels like driving a used CRV.

Subaru’s Eyesight driver assist tech works well, providing it isn’t raining. While navigating rather intense showers, the system notified me that it was punching out for the remainder of the storm, when I arguably needed the support the most. (NB: This problem isn’t unique to Subaru’s system.)

Cameron Neveu

No matter, life behind the wheel is good. This Forester’s interior is tastefully complex and a reminder that, despite its roughin’-it attitude, the Wilderness package is designed as a relatively posh (in Subaru’s world) trim level. There are plenty of upscale of materials and a variety of tessellating patterns throughout the cabin. The chairs, which come stamped with “Subaru Wilderness” in the headrest, might be the best part about this trim level. Comfortable and rugged. Subaru’s StarTex water-repellent upholstery is a wonder, easily wiping clean even after you accidentally track clay onto a seatback. (Don’t ask me how.)

The eight-inch-tall touchscreen functions fine. Even better, Subaru positions much of its vehicle telemetry, which includes anything from HVAC to pitch angle, in the digital screen above the infotainment screen. This proper separation of telemetry from entertainment allows you to glance at a map—or artist credits—without toggling between the two.

The interior’s only short-coming is the Harman Kardon nine-speaker audio system, which is borrowed from the Forester’s Premium trim. The speaker set doesn’t give the depth of sound that you’d like to have in a $35K+ vehicle, and you’re already paying more, since it’s part of an $1800 option package that also includes the StarLink navigation system and gesture-capable controls.

Therein lies the rub. This is an upscale vehicle. Its implied mission, though, is to provide a thoughtful solution to those who want a daily driver that is off-road capable. A vehicle with the ability to carve trails without rigid stick axles, fussy transfer cases, or obnoxious tire slap. It aims to be a multi-use tool but costs far too much. Consider this: for the Subie’s steep sticker, you could purchase a new Hyundai Venue (which is easier on gas, too) and have $15,000 left over to devote to a used Wrangler. This “knife,” as advertised by Subaru, costs just as much as the Rollie, the strawberry slicer, and the quesadilla maker lumped together. Unfortunately for Subaru, the Forester Wilderness will be most compelling to budget buyers once it hits the used market.

Earlier this winter, editor Grace Houghton shook down the Outback Wilderness. She concluded: “If you want a gnarly Outback and don’t have time to build one yourself, the Wilderness is for you.” The problem with the Forester is that, unlike the Outback, most Subaru shadetree mechanics aren’t opting for the stubby crossover as an overlanding canvas. And if you’re truly serious about off-roading over Rubicon-style trails in a unibody truck with a rear hatch, you’d be better suited in a Bronco Sport in Badlands trim, for about the same amount of cash.

Lucky for Subaru, that’s not exactly what its buyers will be cross-shopping. Subie shoppers are notoriously loyal, wrapped up in the company’s brand identity and superior safety ratings. Their tough decision on the lot will be a choice between the Wilderness and the Outback. In that case, you have two perfectly capable multi-use tools to choose from.

And neither of them will lay a steaming egg tube on your plate.

 

***
 

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Price, base/as tested: $33,520 / $35,795 (base Forester: $25,895)

Highs: The best-looking Forester ever, a trim level that goes beyond chairs and flairs, 800-pound-rated roof rack

Lows: Expensive, lackluster on-road handling, subpar sound system

Summary: Subaru finally delivers a spec that aligns with its outdoorsy buyers on its compact crossover, but it comes at a hefty price.

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