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2022 Subaru Forester First Drive: Let’s Get Wild(erness)

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness | Photo: D.Heyman
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Dan Heyman
The new Forester keeps its charms and adds a new, wilder one

Auto123 gets in a first test drive of the 2022 Subaru Forester and its new Wilderness version.

Like an old friend come home for the first time in a while, the new Forester may seem different at first, but soon you’re comfortable as ever. The vaunted Subaru Forester – vaunted and popular, it should be said – gets refreshed for 2022, but doesn’t lose all that’s made it so great for so many years: an all-wheel-drive system that provides supreme confidence, great interior space, patented EyeSight safety tech and just a general air of practicality and sensibility.

It has been given a comprehensive once-over for 2022, mind you. The headlights are different, the foglights are now small roundels and there’s a new grille and front bumpers, too. New 18-inch wheels for the Premiere, new two-tone black and leather interior upholstery to replace the all-brown treatment from previous and new Cascade Green Silicia exterior paint cap off the changes for most Forester trims.

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Into the Wilderness
The big news, though, is the addition of an all-new, more off-road-centric Wilderness version. Which is a good move as the competition continues to add more off-road-specific trims such as the Toyota RAV4 Trail and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, badging
2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, badging | Photo: D.Heyman

The changes don’t end at a few body modifications and maybe some colours. The Wilderness gets Yokohama Geolander off-road tires (that also get a winter rating), special wheels, different suspension tuning and geometry (its 9.0-inch of ride height is higher than other Foresters) and more aggressive cladding around the wheel wells and rocker panels. They’ve also added aluminum skid plates to protect the radiator, oil pan and differentials.

All that cladding makes for an aggressive mien, but considering the nature of this particular Forester, it makes sense. Plus, it looks really unique – not always a top trait when it comes to Foresters or other Subarus – and tougher than it’s ever looked before, especially when finished in the Geyser Blue paint job with gold trim (all Wilderness models get the latter) seen here. It looks aftermarket, and that’s OK. Almost makes up for that STI Forester we never got all those years ago…

The Wilderness, of course, is the polar opposite of that tarmac shredder; this latest Forester is more of a trail shredder. Or, in the case of our drive through the wintery wilds of southern Quebec, a snow shredder. In short, it was the perfect environment in which to put the Wilderness to the test.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, interior
2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, interior | Photo: D.Heyman

First, though, one must accommodate oneself inside. Which is relatively easy thanks to great headroom both front and back, wide opening doors (that open almost 90 degrees in back) that makes entrance and egress much easier – not to mention loading your toddler into their child’s seat – wide view out (and wide trunk opening; one of the widest in this business) and high seating position.

It’s a good vantage point to take in the interior details of the Wilderness, which revolve mainly around gold accents on the steering wheel, shift lever, X-Mode dial and matching stitching on the dash and seats. It also gets rubberized floor mats as standard as well as an 8-inch touchscreen display (as opposed to the 6.5 incher found on the two base trims). They’ve also added gesture controls for the climate system; hold an open hand towards it and the temperature goes up a couple of degrees; a closed fist drops it a couple of degrees. You don’t have to take your eyes off the road.

Speaking of eyes on the road: the Forester sees the first application of Subaru’s new EyeSight 4 system, which now has a wider view out, provides automatic emergency steering, electric brake boost and enhanced lane-centering assist, lane departure assist, pre-collision braking and adaptive cruise control. The dual cameras are now sealed against the windshield so not only does it integrate better with the surroundings in the stylistic sense (the old EyeSight assembly was a pretty hideous thing), it stays cleaner as well.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, main screen
2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, main screen | Photo: D.Heyman

There’s also a secondary screen atop the dash that provides off-road info (angle of descent, axle articulation, etc.) and a forward-facing camera so you aren’t left blind as you climb steeper hills. It doesn’t get a washer, though, which is a shame as it can get a little dirty. The Premier also gets the feature, as well as a newly-tuned dual-function X-Mode AWD system with two separate AWD modes: deep snow/mud, and snow/dirt.

Essentially, the tweaking done here is about the seamlessness of its integration. Used to be, the system would deactivate once you hit 40 km/h, and that was it. Now, it merely goes into standby mode and reverts to X-mode – which essentially plays with the powertrain and brakes to help you traverse steep, rough terrain – once you drop back below 35. What’s a little confusing, however, is that the camera only functions up to 20 km/h, so it’s not quite in lockstep, but it makes sense because you probably should be looking at the road ahead as opposed to a little screen when driving upwards of 30, 40 or 50 km/h.

Feeling X-Mode work is quite something. Activate it, and in addition to providing up to 50/50 front/rear power distribution (stock settings have it at 60:40 front:rear), it works as an off-road cruise control system that allows the driver to focus on steering while it does the powertrain and brake work itself.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, three-quarters rear
2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, three-quarters rear | Photo: D.Heyman

It’s remarkable how cooperative and accomplished this AWD system is. Steep ascents you swear are going to jam you up are tackled with hardly any drama. Yes, some of the deeper stuff we tackled led to a little tail wagging – this is a short wheelbase, after all; one of the shortest in the segment – but just when you think forward progress is thwarted, power gets shuffled about, the tires bite and you’re on your way.

Though we were in the Wilderness for this, you get the sense that the other Foresters would be able to accomplish a similar feat. Or at least the ones that get the dual-mode X-Mode system – Sport, Wilderness, Limited and Premier. Indeed, the lighter off-roading we did attempt with both the Premier and Wilderness model was accomplished sans drama. The Forester just aces this kind of challenge.

Back on more actual roads, you still get that sense that there’s very little that’s going to keep you back. It’s just that in these conditions, it’s almost too safe.

Power is rated at 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque; those are fine figures, but they’re on the low end of what’s found in the compact crossover segment. The Forester feels just a little underpowered – more so in Wilderness spec, as there’s more weight to haul around – and a naturally aspirated 2.5L four-cylinder “boxer” engine and CVT transmission is your only choice.

There is a turbo-4 in the North American Subaru world, and it’s found under the hood of the larger Outback Wilderness. Adding that engine to the Forester, however, could make the choice between the two a little tougher and make each cannibalize the other’s sales. Plus, the 2.5L ensures the Forester does deliver better-than-average fuel economy, but with the added bonus of a full-time AWD system, not a passive “slip and grip” type.

On the other hand, other markets get a hybrid Forester; if fuel economy savings are important, you’d think that would be a good fit here.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, front
2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, front | Photo: D.Heyman

Like the X-Mode system, the Forester also gets on-road drive modes – Sport and Intelligent – that modify the powertrain. While you will feel it hold on to the CVT’s “virtual” ratios a little longer, it isn’t a drastic change, though I did keep it in Sport for most of my drive on the less-hazardous roads.

As off-road, the Forester is something of a charmer on-road as well. Dips, cracks, pavement heaves, the potholes Quebec is so well known for (and seems kind of proud of, to be honest) – none of it upsets the Forester much. In fact, except of one massive dip through a rut recently carved by flowing rainwater, I never got high-centered, never felt my teeth rattle. Heck, I never even felt the bump stops. I began by swerving around potholes, but eventually just went “forget it” and plowed through. If it could talk, that’s probably what the Forester would tell me to do.  

I would imagine that it would also be saying “don’t worry, I got this”, no matter the situation. The Forester is that comforting arm on your shoulder you like to have on the forestry roads in B.C., through the long shadows, snow and slush of a Quebec winter or grinding your way through town on the way to hockey practice or work. Now, it’s as well-rounded as it’s ever been, but with a proper dash of Wilderness cool to go with it.

Specifications sheet of 2022 Subaru Forester

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, profile
2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, profile | Photo: D.Heyman

Pricing for the 2022 Forester:

Forester: $29,495
Convenience: $33,095
Touring: $34,895
Sport: $36,295
Wilderness: $38,995
Limited: $39,295
Premier: $40,595

We like

Wilderness version adds a compelling later of coolness and practicality
Unstoppable AWD
Refined X-Mode AWD
Updated EyeSight tech
    
We like less

Could use more power
No wireless charging
Navi reserved for top trim only
Busy Trim Selection
    
The competition

Chevrolet Equinox
Ford Escape / Bronco Sport
GMC Terrain
Honda CR-V / Passport
Hyundai Tucson
Jeep Cherokee
Kia Sportage
Mazda CX-5
Nissan Rogue
Toyota RAV4

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, rear
2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, rear | Photo: D.Heyman

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Photos:D.Heyman
2022 Subaru Forester WIlderness pictures
Dan Heyman
Dan Heyman
Automotive expert
  • Over 12 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 70 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 150 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists