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The Subaru Forester tries to stay ahead of the backpack pack.
From the Ford Bronco Sport to the Toyota Rav4 Adventure and Mazda CX-50 Meridian, it seems everyone is following the prints of Subaru’s hiking boots these days by adding compact off-road SUVs to their lineup.
Now Subaru is literally stepping it up a notch with the new Forester Wilderness, which features new equipment and a taller ride height to enhance its rugged road capabilities. It is the second model in the growing Wilderness family, which was launched last year with the Outback Wilderness.
The Forester Wilderness gets a half-inch boost in ground clearance to 9.2 inches, thick black bodywork, redesigned bumpers, a metal front skid plate and a set of black 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tires, including a full-size spare tire, because a donut doesn’t cut it into the vehicle’s namesake.
TEST RIDE: THE 2021 SUBARU OUTBACK WILDERNESS CAN GET YOU BACK FURTHER OUTSIDE
It also has a reinforced roof rack that can support up to 220 pounds while the vehicle is in motion and 800 pounds when parked. That makes it suitable for a pop-up tent mounted on the roof.
The 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, CVT transmission and four-wheel drive are shared with all other Foresters, but the Wilderness gets new gear ratios for extra grunt and its towing capacity is doubled to 3,000 pounds.
The Forester has one of the most spacious passenger compartments in the segment, and the Wilderness adds water-resistant synthetic upholstery, a full complement of passenger and cargo rubber floor mats, and much of the Wilderness line’s signature copper trim.
A front camera displayed on the small information screen at the top of the dashboard is standard and useful for tricky terrain or parallel parking spaces. Subaru’s X-Mode traction management system has been upgraded and has deep snow and mud settings, plus a slope descent control that can maintain speed on a slope without the driver having to apply the brakes. You may not even need that front camera, because as with all Foresters, the Wilderness has huge windows and narrow roof pillars that give it good visibility everywhere.
The improvements quickly become apparent on dirt and unpaved roads, even with a few large rocks thrown in. It’s still not a 4×4, but the limits have definitely been stretched and it gives the impression that it can lick a pretty good load over the long haul.
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Even with the changes, it maintains a stable ride on the road that doesn’t feel wobbly or bouncy, and comes with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of electronic driver assistance systems with adaptive cruise control that centers the lane. The system has been recalibrated to work with the Wilderness updates, something you can’t do yourself with a modified Forester. The road and wind noise is slightly higher than the class standard, but does not outweigh the other features.
Prices start at $34,695 and the only option is a $1,850 package that includes navigation, a Harmon Kardon premium audio system and a power-opening tailgate.
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The main drawback is that the changes made to the aerodynamics, drivetrain and rolling resistance of the knobby tires contribute to a drop in highway fuel economy from 33 mpg from other Foresters to 28 mpg, while the low-speed city figure drops from 26mpg to 25mpg.
That’s a good reason to spend more time on the trails it was built for.
2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness
Base Price: $34,695
As tested: $36,545
Type: 5-seater, 4-door SUV with four-wheel drive
Engine: 2.4 liter four-cylinder
Power: 182 hp, 176 lb-ft
Transmission: CVT automatic
MPG: 28 highway/25 city