On the Road Review: Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition

For over 20 years, the Forester has been the shorter, taller sibling to the Subaru Outback, a compact five-passenger wagon brimming with comfort, stability, wicked good visibility and overall convenience. Endowed with the brand’s stress-reducing symmetrical AWD, the Forester has pulled through deep snowstorms and pushed up greasy slick leaf-covered hills for thousands of Mainers. It is the transportation device equivalent to a warm blanket and flickering wood stove on a cold winter night, or extra chocolate-chip cookies from your visit with grandma.

Now Subaru thinks the Forester can become more of an adventure vehicle, an off-roader to chase Jeep Wranglers and Ford Bronco Sports through the woods, up that forbidden dirt trail, go beyond the single track in the woods; or at least one version can.

Like the previously revealed Outback Wilderness, Subaru has formatted a similar version of the Forester, another trim level to drive more sales for what is now the brand’s most popular vehicle.

Apart from the standard Forester, the Wilderness model is covered in copper-colored accents (inside and out), wears larger Yokohama Geolander tires, sits almost an inch and a half taller, plus it features some extra-large wheel flares and more plastic cladding that will be eye-candy — or not.

The revised suspension improves ground clearance by a half inch, 9.2 inches now, plus approach and departure angles for obstacles off-road have been improved so that stumps, rocks and stream crossings will seem less daunting. Aluminum skid plates protect some vital components below. An extra oil cooler also keeps the engine oil levels from overheating, which taken in total now allows a 1,000-pound gain in trailer towing — up to 3,000 pounds here.

The familiar 2.5-liter boxer-four engine is retained, as is the CVT transmission. Power is 182 horses, while the CVT gains new “ratios” for manual paddle-shifter action and low-speed off-roading, as well as a higher final drive ratio that helps with the towing limits. The downside: the higher body reduces aerodynamic efficiency and the new gear ratios increase engine revs at higher speeds, so fuel economy is no better. EPA ratings are 25/28 mpg. We witnessed 23 mpg for one tank under wintry conditions, 28 mpg in balmier weather.

With active torque-vectoring and X-mode offering electrically selectable AWD choices for surfaces and terrain, the Wilderness purports to be a real four-wheeler. Aiming for new (younger) buyers, the Wilderness is also available with an optional rigid tent platform as the roof rails are rated for increased static and dynamic loads.

Inside, fourth-generation EyeSight driving and safety aids are standard, along with a one-touch folding rear seat, rear seat occupant reminder chime, all-weather floor mats, water-resistant textured seating, plus rear privacy glass, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alerts. Starlink and an 8-inch screen with Tom/Tom navigation and Apple/Android compatibility are options, as are a power liftgate, reverse auto-braking and a nine speaker Harmon Kardon stereo that includes a single disc CD slot.

While retaining much of the overall goodness of the Forester, the Wilderness trim adds the premise of improved off-roading, a feature that most drivers might never exploit. The gravelly boxer engine note and the racy-revs of the CVT will always remind you that this remains a Subaru, however, with hundreds of thousands sold, doubtful that Forester buyers will mind at all. They probably won’t blink at the control buttons out of sight on the left side of the instrument panel or the lane assist control mounted on the roof either.

In another oddity, Subaru does not offer the more powerful turbo engine found in the Outback Wilderness.

Long a favorite brand in the Northeast, perhaps even the “state” car for Maine and Vermont, Subaru would seem to be a natural early adopter for electric vehicles. The brand’s first EV, the Solterra — a joint project with Toyota and based on its forthcoming RAV4-like EV — is due this spring. Marketing strategists will be closely watching to see how this $45,000 (estimated price) EV will do in Subaru showrooms.

Subaru and Toyota continue to produce their 2+2 sports coupe, the BRZ and the Toyota 86. More collaborations will occur if the Solterra excels.

Forester pricing starts at $26,320. A base Wilderness lists for $33,945 with our Ice Silver sample stickering for $36,015 — almost the same as the base Outback Wilderness.

The Forester Wilderness enhances the brand’s portfolio by appealing to a different subset of buyers. It can do more when the pavement ends. If this is your dream, an off-roading wish that doesn’t include truck-like Wranglers and Broncos, just ask for extra chocolate chip cookies.

Next week: Honda Civic Sport Touring Hatchback

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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