By Andy Stonehouse
I have marveled during the past few years about the number of SUV and crossover owners who’ve made the option to go full macho when it comes to adding overly rugged off-road tires to bring some versatility to their often relatively benign automobiles.
That DIY spirit has now made it back to auto manufacturers and Subaru’s range of Wilderness editions reflects the trend. The company has several models, the newest variation is the 2022 Forester Wilderness. It takes on both a series of rugged appearance tweaks and some actual suspension upgrades, like a half inch of extra clearance, giving it 9.2 inches of rock-hopping ability.
Most prominently, it features factory-issued Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires on 17-inch blacked-out alloy wheels, a chunky set of treads that’s far better suited for rocky summertime trails, creek beds, or sandy beaches. The roof rails—highlighted with prominent metallic-colored inserts—have also been upgraded to support 220 pounds of carried equipment or as much as 800 pounds of you, your friends, and your rooftop tent.
Forester’s current power hasn’t changed, but the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine chugs along with 182 horsepower and 176 lb.–ft. of torque, which you will likely find adequate for highway excursions. They also remapped the one-speed CVT transmission to offer a little more flexibility in both off-road driving and highway journeys, with 28 miles per gallon on the road.
Design certainly gets some big changes from the existing base, Premium, or Sport models, including a unique front fascia and grille, a front skid plate and a large matte black anti-glare decal in the middle of the hood. You’ll also notice the wheel arches have been expanded and the vehicle has a much stockier look, with darkened window arches and those ultra-chunky cladding details at the bottom of the doors.
You’ll have to sit down in the Wilderness before you buy one to see if you’re a fan of the synthetic, water-resistant StarTex seating, which may feel a little Body Glove-like, but damp kayakers, river rafters and paddleboarders may dig that.
The Forester’s already-accomplished X-Mode system for off-road or challenging conditions has been upgraded, as well, featuring brightly-colored controls and special traction settings for snow, dirt, and perhaps dirty snow (I think this is deep snow, actually, but dirty snow sounds great).
I would not say that this all turns it into the Subaru rendition of a Wrangler Rubicon or Land Rover Defender (spoiler alert: absolutely not), but the upgrades are all functional and will certainly help as you go out and explore in the summertime.
I like the vertically-oriented Starlink multimedia screen better than the horizonal one found in a new WRX; you can add it, plus a premium Harmon Kardon sound system and a power rear liftgate as an $1,850 option. That brought the total price to $36,015, which seems to be literally half as much as many Wranglers nowadays.
I have to admit I have never quite understood Forester’s overall appeal, especially in its more awkward and boxy earlier days, but this one looks cool and drives comfortably. The suspension work means it is not that much taller and tippier on highway drives, and the absolutely gigantic side and front windows guarantee visibility you won’t find in many other vehicles.
They certainly went to town with the texturized plastic on almost every external surface, including the side mirror caps (even part of the instrument cluster, as well); you also get ultra-texturized floor mats throughout.
The cabin also borders on the giddy with aluminum pedals, more metallic-colored inserts on the steering wheel, shift knob and off-road controls, plus custom badging and labels on the seats.
Si: Wilderness is indeed a way to separate yourself from the Subaru crowd, especially if you live in a 10-on-every-block spot like Colorado or the Northeast.
No: While Wilderness’s looks are rugged, the upgrades do not turn this Forester into a 4×4 with the agility of a quad. It’s still a car, so rock-crawling is probably not advisable.
Andy Stonehouse is a guest contributor to Latino Traffic Report and a freelance automotive journalist based in Lakewood, Colorado. All photos are stock, not as-tested, and feature European models.