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The new trim package is excellent on road but really shines when you leave the pavement.

COURTESY PHOTO: SUBARU - The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness is the most off-road capable version of the popular compact SUV yet, with factory features that make it easier to leave the pavement.Just a few months ago we reviewed the new Subaru Outback Wilderness. The all-new Wilderness trim includes enhanced off-road capability features like increased ride height, expanded X-Drive traction and stability controls, and both interior and exterior features designed for serious camping and exploration. Now Subaru has joined the mid-size Outback Wilderness with a new Forester compact SUV built to similar specifications, and it's really good.

The Forester is one of the most popular models Subaru has ever made. It's the second best-selling Subaru of all time, and represents almost 20 percent of all Subarus ever sold. Since the model's introduction in 1997, Subaru has sold over 2.3 million Foresters. For the most part, people use the Forester as a convenient and useful hatchback wagon, but the Forester carries the same symmetrical all-wheel-drive system as the Outback, so it's a great choice for getting off the paved roads for camping or just getting to the top of the mountain, and then driving to work the next day.

COURTESY PHOTO: SUBARY - The 2020 Subaru Forester Wilderness features 9.5 incjes of ground clearance, underbody protection, a rood rack that can hold 800 pounds and more.

In fact, the Forester was so popular for off-pavement use that many owners were installing lift kits, larger tires, skid plates, and roof-mounted tents. It's common enough that you've probably seen modified Subarus in your neighborhood. What Subaru has done with the Wilderness series is replicate and extend those modifications, all with a factory warranty and the kind of engineering you just don't get in the aftermarket.

For example, all new Foresters come with Subaru's latest version of EyeSight, the advanced driver assistance system that provides forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, as well as adaptive cruise control that follows the prevailing speed of traffic. That system is carefully calibrated to the ride height of the vehicle, so buying the Wilderness edition maintains that calibration.

COURTESY PHOTO: SUBARU - Subaru offers additional off-road components for the 2020 Forester Wilderness for those who want to go even deeper into th woods.

There are several other key differences between the Wilderness edition and other Foresters. The Wilderness receives special off-highway capable tires, and a full-size spare with tire pressure monitoring installed. So if you do manage to puncture a tire on your way to your campsite, you have a fully functional spare to get you to your destination and back home again. The Forester Wilderness also includes a heavy-duty roof rack rated for 800 pounds of load when parked. That means you can use a roof-mounted tent with room for three adults. When driving, the roof load capacity is 220 pounds, or about the weight of a good-sized roof tent or cargo box. Under the skin, the Forester Wilderness includes new transmission programming, a lower final drive ratio, and an extended X-Mode for off-road driving. This not only allows the Forester Wilderness to scramble up steep grades on loose surfaces, but includes hill descent control. As an added bonus, the Forester Wilderness has double the towing capacity of a standard Forester, up to 3,000 pounds. So your boat, ATV, or travel trailer is good to go.

COURTESY PHOTO: SUBARU - The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness receives special off-highway capable tires, and a full-size spare with tire pressure monitoring installed.

The raised suspension of the Forester Wilderness has also been retuned for on and off-road stability. The Wilderness offers 9.2 inches of ground clearance, which is more than a Toyota Land Cruiser and almost as much as a Ford F-150. This means increased capability to handle steep inclines and rough surfaces. The Wilderness package also includes standard underbody protection from rocks and other obstacles. If you want to go truly hard-core, there's an accessory set of extreme duty skid plates available from the dealer.

Inside, the Forester Wilderness is based on the upper trim levels, with an outdoor orientation. The upholstery is StarTex, which cleans easily. Subaru extended the philosophy with easy-clean cargo liners and floor mats. Even the backs of the rear seats are designed to shed dirt and mud. There are nice features like LED cargo lights in the rear hatch, for when you get back to the car after dark.

COURTESY PHOTO: SUBARU - The interior of the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness is the uppee trim level, which includes a large display and the advanced EyeSight safety system.

On the road, the Forester Wilderness is excellent. The additional ride height yields a great view of the road ahead, and the retuned suspension delivers a firm, smooth ride with minimal body roll. Subaru's 2.5-liter engine, mated with the continuously variable transmission, gives good power for acceleration or cruising.

When you get to the end of the pavement, the Forester Wilderness really shines. You won't need to engage X-Mode until the going gets really rough. The basic all-wheel-drive that Subaru provides will get you most places. The additional ride height relieves worries and the Wilderness suspension soaks up the bumps. The Forester just goes where you point it without drama. On our test drive we went to an off-highway-vehicle area for a little automotive parkour, and the Forester simply scrambled up and over the obstacles without any particular skill on our part.

COURTESY PHOTO: SUBARU - The upholstery is in the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness is StarTex, which cleans easily. Even the backs of the rear seats are designed to shed dirt and mud.

The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness starts at $33,945 including all fees, but you'll want to say yes to a few options to really get the vehicle the way you want it. Our test vehicle priced out at $36,015 with a technology option package including reverse automatic braking, the upgraded Harman Kardon audio and navigation system, and a power rear liftgate, plus a heated steering wheel. Heated front seats are standard on Wilderness. The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness is expected at area dealers in December of 2022.

COURTESY PHOTO: SUBARU - The ample cargo area in the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness featues heavy-duty lines that clean up easily.

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Base price: $25,195

Price as tested: $36,015

Type: Compact crossover SUV

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder (182 hp, 176 lbs-ft)

Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission with All-Wheel-Drive

EPA estimated mileage: 25/28

Overall length: 182.7 inches

Curb weight: 3,620 pounds

Final assembly: Gunma, Japan


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