8.5 / 10

There are millions of acres of dedicated wilderness in the United States – including the mass expanse that is Alaska. Oregon only makes up a small percentage of that untouched acreage by comparison, but with gorgeous peaks like Mount Hood dotting the skyline, painted with high-desert deciduous forests, the Beaver State still offered up plenty of opportunities to get lost in nature while driving the new 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition.

Following in the treads of the Outback with the same name, the Forester Wilderness is tougher than your average crossover. Think of this as Subaru's answer to the Ford Bronco Sport. It gets new suspension bits with a proper lift and improved off-road angles, plus a revised transmission that yields more low-end torque – better for climbing rocks – and extra cladding on the exterior to help fend off nicks and scratches.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition First Drive Review

Although this is only the second option into the Wilderness series, Subaru promises a whole range of tougher products down the line; we expect everything from the Crosstrek to the Ascent to wear the badge down the line. For now, the Forester Wilderness is our favorite of the duo, proving its mettle on some of the toughest trails Central Oregon has to offer.

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Quick Stats 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition
Engine 2.5-Liter Four-Cylinder
Output 182 Horsepower / 176 Pound-Feet
Ground Clearance 9.2 Inches
Base Price $32,820 + $1,125 Destination
As-Tested Price $35,795

Tougher By Design

Every 2022 Subaru Forester includes angular new headlights, a sharper grille, and fresh fog lamps as part of a substantial facelift. The Wilderness model, like the Outback, wears a daunting amount of body cladding on the front end that extends up from the running board and connects with the headlights and grille. That cladding even juts out from the body in some places like a Xenomorph trying to escape the sheet metal. It's... odd.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition First Drive Review
2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition First Drive Review

But beyond the overkill cladding, the exclusive Geyser Blue paint looks sharp, as do the 17-inch black wheels wrapped in bulky Yokohama Geolandar off-road rubber. A copper-colored Forester logo lines the side skirts, and a trio of neat-looking “Subaru Wilderness” badges sit just below the side mirrors and on the rear hatch. And the roof rails are larger and studier here too, designed to carry up to 220 pounds on the move or 800 pounds when parked – perfect for the roof-mounted tent crowd.

The copper-colored accents and “Wilderness” motifs from the exterior carry over to the cabin. The former trim pieces dot the steering wheel, shifter, and dash, while the logo is stitched in the headrests and atop the rubber floor mats. A waterproof StarTex material covers the seats, and while it's far from real cowhide, it's nice and cushy nonetheless. Plus, the seats offer great support over long distances.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition First Drive Review

The touchscreen options inside are the same as last year: Base, Premium, and Sport models get a standard 6.5-inch display, while the Limited, Touring, and Wilderness models don the larger 8.0-inch unit. Each screen comes with Subaru's Starlink infotainment system with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard across the board and navigation available for an extra $1,850. We had no issues using this setup; the home screen is clean, the graphics are crisp, and it responds to touch quickly.

The Wilderness model does don a few trim-specific surprises that you won't find on other Forester models, like a Wilderness logo on startup, custom graphics, and an X-Mode off-road display with a roll and pitch indicator, which we played with later in the day once we hit the tough stuff.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition First Drive Review

Standing Tall(er)

Powering this Forester is an unmodified version of the brand's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, good for a modest 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet, paired to a continuously variable transmission with all-wheel drive. Nothing about this powertrain is overwhelmingly impressive – in fact, the lack of oomph had us longing for a turbo. The setup offered just enough grunt to get the Forester up to speed on the highway.

One thing that did stand out was the modified CVT. Same as in the Outback Wilderness, Subaru's addition of a pressure sensor helps drive more low-end torque for better give, yielding a final drive ratio of 4:11 compared to 3:70 in the standard Forester. It's noticeably better than the base model's CVT, with better pull off the line and less whining up top.

With a best-in-class 9.2 inches of ground clearance, the Forester Wilderness happily skips over obstacles.

Beyond that, the Forester Wilderness is more than just a CUV with butch looks. With a best-in-class 9.2 inches of ground clearance, the Forester Wilderness happily skips over obstacles. Compared to the standard model's 8.7 inches of lift, this Forester rises well above most traditional crossovers, even beating ruggedized alternatives like the Ford Bronco Sport (8.8 inches), Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk (8.8 inches), and Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (8.6 inches).

Longer coil springs and bigger shock absorbers contribute to the Forester's newfound height, giving it better off-road angles of 23.5 degrees on approach and 25.4 degrees upon departure. Those aren’t as good as the Bronco Sport's 30.4-degree approach angle or 33.1-degree departure angle, admittedly, but they’re solid nonetheless.

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Let The Adventures Begin

Our drive route started near beautiful Bend, Oregon, and took us onto the highway, past the world's last Blockbuster Video, and onto some genuinely tough stretches of rocks and dirt near Mount Jefferson. Part of the route included a rocky incline where we’d be able to put that new, higher ground clearance to the test, as well as some of the trim-specific features that you only get on the Wilderness model, like the front-facing camera and updated X-Mode off-road mode.

Unsurprisingly, the Forester Wilderness – helped by the new CVT, grabby off-road tires, and active X-Mode – scurried up the steep incline with ease. The transmission only whined a bit in protest, and the naturally aspirated engine delivered enough grunt to get to Forester to the top. Activating the front-facing camera at the crest helped us over the hump, even if the image was tiny and blurry – a problem we also experienced when driving the Outback Wilderness. But with the help of a spotter and the updated X-Mode with the baked-in hill descent control active, the Forester effortlessly descended down on the other side.

The longer, rockier path near Mount Jefferson later in the same day gave us the opportunity to see how the Forester Wilderness performed on a genuine off-road trail. Spoiler alert: This little CUV is sublime in the tough stuff. It bounces over sharp rocks with its tougher tires and glides over undulations without feeling too harsh. And although we admit the engine is a bit underpowered on the road, the combination of a naturally aspirated engine with improved low-end torque gives the Forester Wilderness the perfect amount of grunt for powering through the trail at lower speeds.

Spoiler alert: This little CUV is sublime in the tough stuff.

With the Forester Wilderness thoroughly covered in dirt at that point, we hit the pavement and headed back toward the hotel. Compared to the Outback Wilderness, which had some uncouth rolly qualities on the road, the Forester was an absolute charmer in this respect. Even with the taller ride height and thicker tires, overall comfort only felt incrementally less cushy than the traditional Forester. There wasn't a ton of road noise, either, as you might experience in the Cherokee Trailhawk or RAV4 TRD Off-Road, and the compact wheelbase made it easy (and fun) to fling around quickly.

The Forester also comes with a number of standard active safety features as part of the brand’s EyeSight suite. Adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and lane-keep assist made it a breeze on the highway after a long day of intense off-roading.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition First Drive Review

Attainable Off-Roading

For just $33,945 to start (including $1,125 in destination fees), the Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition is a lot of crossover for not a lot of cash. Comparably, the Ford Bronco Sport starts at $27,215 plus $1,495 in destination fees, but an equally equipped Badlands model costs $33,360 to start. Meanwhile, the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk costs $34,755 and the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road asks $36,080.

By expanding its Wilderness Edition line to the Forester, Subaru now gives adventurous customers an exciting new option that’s better in a lot of ways than the Outback before. This is the toughest Forester – by a long shot – and a genuinely capable CUV compared to rugged alternatives like the Bronco Sport and Cherokee Trailhawk. The Subaru Forester has always been a solid adventure vehicle, but now the Wilderness Edition allows you to kiss the beaten path goodbye for good.

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2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Engine 2.5-Liter H4
Output 182 Horsepower / 176 Pound-Feet
Transmission Continuously Variable
Drive Type All-Wheel Drive
Efficiency 25 City / 28 Highway / 26 Combined
Weight 3,643 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 26.9 / 69.1 Cubic Feet
Towing 3,000 Pounds
Base Price $32,820 + $1,125
As-Tested Price $35,795
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