May 20, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness First Drive Review

9 min read
The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness is an even more off-road capable version of the popular crossover aimed directly at outdoor adventurers. Alex Kwanten

It would be hard to find a place more appropriate to showcase the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness than Bend, Oregon. To the city’s west lies Deschutes National Forest, a 1.8-million-acre backcountry paradise of fast-moving rivers, clear lakes, lush forests and snow-capped peaks. To the east is high desert, filled with sagebrush, craggy rocks and dusty trails. 

These are the sorts of places Subaru knows its buyers like to explore, and the Forester Wilderness, an off-roading variant of its compact crossover, will take them even further into the wild than before.  

The Forester Wilderness is the second Subaru to get the Wilderness treatment, following the Outback wagon. It builds on Forester’s capabilities with higher ground clearance, different gearing, all-terrain tires, a trail camera, more aggressive styling, increased towing capacity and a stout, camping-friendly roof rack. 

With off-road adventuring and overlanding now hot even among non-car enthusiasts, the Wilderness aptly balances on-trend exploration amenities and value. This most extreme Forester will start at $33,945 including destination fees. That’s about $3,600 less than the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk but only slightly below Ford’s Bronco Sport Badlands, the Forester Wilderness’ two most likely rivals. 

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness
The Forester Wilderness easily navigated a maze of gravel roads and dirt trails in the Deschutes National Forest, but driving had to pause for this cliffside view of Mount Jefferson. Alex Kwanten

To demonstrate the legitimacy of the Forester’s upgrades, Forbes Wheels sampled the crossover’s abilities on a 200-mile drive around Bend at a Subaru-hosted event. Our route included a dirt trail climb to 4,600 feet above sea level, a dusty trip through an off-roading park, and miles of forest trails ranging from casual gravel roads to serious off-road terrain.  

Almost every off-road mile inspired genuine confidence in the Forester, although there are tradeoffs in both on-road performance and fuel economy. 

Driving the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness 

Beefing up any vehicle for off-road duty is a study in compromise. On the pavement above 40 mph, there are clear concessions to making the Forester Wilderness more capable on the trail, but the tradeoffs are few. 

Every Forester is powered by the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque, mated to a continuously variable automatic (CVT) transmission. But the Wilderness gets a different version of the CVT with a higher final drive ratio (4.11:1 compared to 3.70:1), a wider gear range and a different variator pulley.  

Ordinarily, a numerically higher final drive ratio means a vehicle feels faster off the line than one with a lower ratio, but the regular Forester is never in much of a hurry on the highway and neither is the Wilderness. Flooring the gas pedal summons a cacophony of noise but only leisurely acceleration to highway speeds. It revs higher once you’re there, but the difference from the regular Forester is only slight.  

On the trail, the different gearing puts more useful torque down low. Even on steep sandy grades the Wilderness showed no hesitation and never felt like it didn’t have enough brawn. The revised transmission also has the nice side effect of doubling the Forester’s towing capacity from 1,500 pounds to 3,000.