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2022 Subaru Forester Test Drive Review

Now you can take a compact crossover SUV farther off-road thanks to the new-for-2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness.

8 /10
Overall Score

Subaru has updated the 2022 Forester with fresh design details, an upgraded package of EyeSight driving assistance technologies, and improved utility features. But the big news is the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, which adds extra clearance, more body cladding, and an interior designed to get dirty. The 2022 Forester Wilderness is the second model in Subaru’s new family of off-road-ready SUVs, following in the footsteps of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness.

Look and Feel

6/ 10

For 2022, the Subaru Forester comes in base, Premium, Sport, Wilderness, Limited, and Touring trim levels. Prices kick off at a $25,195 MSRP for the base model, and the Forester Touring tops out at $35,295. The destination charge costs an additional $1,125, and Subaru offers a wide range of dealer-installed accessories for this compact SUV. Remember: all-wheel drive is standard on every 2022 Forester.

We headed to Bend, Oregon and the wilds of the Cascade Mountains to evaluate the new-for-2022 Forester Wilderness. Our test car had white paint, a dark gray interior fitted with water-repellant StarTex simulated leather, and a base price of $33,945, including destination. To this, an option package equipped the SUV with a navigation system, a Harman Kardon premium sound system, and a power rear liftgate. Add the dealer-installed engine underguard (skid plate), and the test vehicle’s price came to $36,014.

The Subaru Forester has always been homely, and the Wilderness costume doesn’t help. In addition to a suspension lift and higher ride height (for a total of 9.2 inches of ground clearance), the massive protective cladding glued to the body and the anti-glare matte-black hood decal made our test model look like a racoon on wheels. Lots of people modify their Foresters for a more rugged and trendy “overlanding” look. But oversized cladding isn’t typically on the menu.

Inside, aside from copper-colored stitching and accents, Subaru leaves well enough alone. The Forester’s interior emphasizes function over form, setting the tone for the entire driving experience. Hard plastic and soft surfaces combine to create a cabin that exudes quality of construction and clarity of purpose, even if it comes across as somewhat inexpensive and dated.

Gratefully, the 2022 Forester Wilderness retains the model's 8-inch Starlink infotainment system, which has physical knobs and buttons for stereo, climate, and main menu shortcuts. It is easy to find what you’re looking for in this SUV, and everything is intuitive, though having three display screens to fiddle with is less than ideal.

Overall, the 2022 Forester feels well-made, and in most trim levels the new front styling improves the SUV’s looks. But the Wilderness’s cladding, matte-black hood decal, copper-colored details, and tall suspension sitting on small(-ish) 17-inch matte-black alloy wheels are not immediately appealing.

Performance

8/ 10

What happens when you spend some quality time with a Subaru Forester is that you forget all about its exterior styling. In part, this is because of its sheer utility and practicality. But its driving dynamics are also pleasing—unless you require plenty of outright acceleration.

Among the changes to the 2022 Forester, a turbocharger isn’t one of them. The SUV continues with the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine as last year, which is good for 182 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 176 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.

All Foresters have a continually variable transmission (CVT) and all-wheel drive (AWD), but in the Wilderness model Subaru uses a design that it says provides a 25% increase in initial torque supply. This CVT also allows Subaru to double the Forester Wilderness’s towing capacity from 1,500 pounds to 3,000 pounds.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 2022 Forester Wilderness should get 26 mpg in combined driving. During our drive in the Bend-Redmond region of central Oregon, the SUV averaged fuel economy of 25.9 mpg.

Near sea level, where we usually test vehicles, the Forester’s engine is competitively adequate. It emits the characteristic grumble of a boxer-style engine as you accelerate, an endearing trait that Subaru wisely hasn’t suppressed into oblivion. At altitude, where thinner atmosphere can strangle naturally aspirated engines, the Forester can feel sluggish. This is where a turbocharger would help. But, so far, this generation of the SUV doesn’t get one.

The CVT features eight programmed ratios, and it rarely calls undue attention to itself. The Wilderness test vehicle also had SI-Drive, which puts the powertrain into Sport mode for more lively response. That, plus the improved off-the-line feel from behind the wheel, made the Forester acceptably energetic most of the time. But we still want a turbo. Or a turbo-hybrid like what Hyundai and Kia are now offering in the larger Santa Fe and Sorento SUVs.

Subaru’s dual-function X-Mode system is standard on most versions of the Forester. Drivers can choose between several settings depending on the type of surface beneath the tires, and Subaru claims the technology is better at managing speed during hill descents. Additionally, it now offers a new “standby” setting. When you’re using X-Mode and exceed the 25-mph threshold, it will now automatically re-engage when the Forester’s speed drops back down below 22 mph.

All 2022 Foresters get a re-tuned suspension for improved ride and handling. The Wilderness builds on this with longer springs and shocks that raise the suspension and improve ground clearance from the standard (and already generous) 8.7 inches to 9.2 inches. Side effects of this change include improved approach, breakover, and departure angles to 23.5 degrees, 21 degrees, and 25.4 degrees, respectively. A set of Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires and a standard aluminum front skid plate complete the modifications. Subaru also provides a full-size spare wheel and tire with the Wilderness trim.

We drove the Forester Wilderness in town, on two-lane highways, at an off-road course, and on forest roads that would easily vex the typical crossover SUV. In all environments, the Forester excelled, aside from its lack of engine power and excessive wind noise above 65 mph or so.

The long-travel suspension absorbs pavement bumps and breaks like a sponge, almost gliding over them as though they didn’t exist. At the same time, the Forester retains a good feel for the road, and Subaru claims the Wilderness suffers less body roll than other versions of the SUV. At the off-road course, the Forester Wilderness churned through sand, crossed diagonal berms, cleared rocks, and powered over a steep hill without much effort.

But the SUV impressed us most on minimally maintained forest roads near Oregon’s majestic Mt. Jefferson. Here, driving through melting snow and soft mud, across streams and eroded terrain, and at speed through dust and dirt, the Forester Wilderness proved unstoppable—within reason. You must still take care not to smack the front end on the ground, and you need to remember that the Forester sits on what is essentially a car platform. But among its direct competitors, the Wilderness is compelling for anyone who wants to get well off of the beaten path.

The long-travel suspension absorbs pavement bumps and breaks like a sponge, almost gliding over them as though they didn’t exist. At the same time, the Forester retains a good feel for the road, and Subaru claims the Wilderness suffers less body roll than other versions of the SUV. At the off-road course, the Forester Wilderness churned through sand, crossed diagonal berms, cleared rocks, and powered over a steep hill without much effort.

But the SUV impressed us most on minimally maintained forest roads near Oregon’s majestic Mt. Jefferson. Here, driving through melting snow and soft mud, across streams and eroded terrain, and at speed through dust and dirt, the Forester Wilderness proved unstoppable—within reason. You must still take care not to smack the front end on the ground, and you need to remember that the Forester sits on what is essentially a car platform. But among its direct competitors, the Wilderness is compelling for anyone who wants to get well off of the beaten path.

Form and Function

9/ 10

If nothing else, the 2022 Subaru Forester oozes functionality. From the ease of entry and exit to its endlessly practical personality, this vehicle is all about making your life easier.

You don’t step up or drop down into this vehicle. Thanks to tall seating hip points, you slide in and slide out of the front seats, so entry and exit are easy on your knees. But the younger, more outdoorsy buyers Subaru hopes will gravitate toward the Forester Wilderness are less concerned about that, and more interested in how this SUV can stand up to grit and grime.

The StarTex upholstery looks a bit like leather upholstery, but it's not. It is water-resistant, however, and the Wilderness includes standard all-weather floor mats, a rubber cargo mat, and washable material on the rear seatbacks. So go ahead. Get the car wet and muddy. Just keep in mind that if you sit down on this SUV's driver's seat drenched in sweat, precipitation, or the like, you’ll exit it that way because the simulated leather doesn’t absorb moisture or breathe well. And the Forester Wilderness lacks a seat ventilation system.

One change for all 2022 Foresters is a set of upgraded roof rails with new integrated tie-down locations. They now accommodate a dynamic load of 220 pounds and a static load of 800 pounds. This means the SUV accommodates a three-person roof tent for overnight and multi-day adventures.

Comfort levels are high in both the front and back seats. You sit up tall in the Forester and enjoy an excellent view out of the SUV. Rear air conditioning vents and 2.1-amp quick-charge ports make passengers happier, and the back seat easily holds two adults (or three if absolutely necessary).

Storage space is decent, but Subaru missed an opportunity to add a dashboard shelf in front of the passenger’s seat or a shallow tray atop the infotainment screen. Each armrest has a bin and each door panel has a bottle holder. Rear-seat occupants can use dual front seatback pockets for their things, and cupholders reside within the fold-down center armrest.

Cargo space measures 28.9 cubic feet without the Forester’s panoramic sunroof, and 26.9 cubes with it. Those numbers don’t sound accommodating, but the squared-off cargo area is usefully shaped and, for 2022, new cargo hooks are located on the Forester’s ceiling at near the top of the liftgate. Also, don’t forget about the Wilderness’s standard full-size spare under the cargo floor.

Fold the 60/40-split rear seat down, and the Forester holds 74.2 cubic feet (69.1 with the sunroof). Those figures put the Subaru in company with the roomiest of compact SUVs. Total volume is a smidge smaller than the Honda CR-V but noticeably larger than the Mazda CX-5.

Tech Level

7/ 10

Even in base trim, the 2022 Forester includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, satellite radio and HD Radio, and Starlink connected services. Upgrade to Premium trim and the system offers access to a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. Remote engine starting is available through an active Starlink plan.

Choose Wilderness, Limited, or Touring trim, and an 8-inch screen is standard. This upgrade opens the door to a navigation system and a Harman Kardon premium sound system. The Forester Wilderness also includes a 180-degree forward-view camera that is quite handy when off-roading.

The test vehicle had both navigation and the Harman Kardon audio system, which produces clear, rich sound. The navigation system is helpful, but as we criss-crossed various forest roads in Oregon we realized a breadcrumb function would be great to have. The voice recognition system is hit-and-miss in terms of its effectiveness.

If you’re truly the outdoorsy type, you’ll love the PIN Code Access feature that is standard on most Forester models. It allows you to leave the key fob in the SUV, engage in the activity of your choice, and use a PIN code process to re-enter the vehicle.

Safety

9/ 10

Subaru debuts its next-generation EyeSight 4.0 safety system in the 2022 Forester. Mainly, the camera-based technology now benefits from twice the field of vision of the previous system, which means it is more accurate and smoother when used. A new Automatic Emergency Steering system operates at speeds under 50 mph to help add stability when drivers take steering action to avoid a collision.

EyeSight 4.0 includes the usual advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) suspects, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and lane-centering assist. On the highways of central Oregon, EyeSight 4.0's driver assistance features seemed to suffer fewer false warnings and appeared to be more confident in its operation. On one engine re-start, though, all of the safety system warning lights illuminated within the instrument cluster. Whether the situation resolved itself is unknown, as that was our last time driving the car before handing it back over to Subaru.

Among the standard and available safety features, the Forester includes a rear-seat reminder system, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a rear automatic braking system. Via Starlink connected services, a Safety and Security subscription plan provides access to automatic collision notification and SOS emergency assistance.

Touring trim equips the 2022 Forester with DriverFocus, a facial recognition technology that monitors for drowsiness and distraction. In previous test drives, we’ve sampled this system and it works well. For 2022, it adds a gesture control function to adjust the climate system’s temperature.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2022 Forester earns a 5-star overall crash-test rating. What’s more, it gets 5-star ratings in all evaluations except for rollover resistance, which results in a 4-star assessment.

As this review was published, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had not rated the new Forester. However, because there are no structural changes, it’s a good bet that it will retain the 2021 model’s “Top Safety Pick+” rating. The Wilderness, however, may require re-testing due to its modified height.

Cost-Effectiveness

9/ 10

For 2022, the Forester's new Wilderness trim brings Subaru-style excitement to this SUV’s lineup. But the real value in this capable compact crossover resides in its appeal as a tool for daily living. Simple and easy to drive, safe and secure, ready for any kind of weather, and known for its durability and knack for holding its value over time, a 2022 Subaru Forester is an exceptionally cost-effective solution to your transportation needs.

Among the Forester Wilderness's competitors, the Ford Bronco Sport, Jeep Cherokee, and Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road come closest to offering the same kind of utility and off-roading capability. But the new Forester Wilderness delivers unmatched ground clearance combined with the traits and qualities that have endeared this Subaru to its owners for decades. All three of these competitors are also more expensive than the Forester, especially in the selected trim levels that provide maximum capability in the muck.

Would it be nice if Subaru matched Hyundai with regard to warranty, complimentary maintenance, and generous trials of connected services? Of course. Should Subaru offer a turbocharged engine in the Forester? Absolutely, or an electrified powertrain at a minimum. Do versions of the Forester equipped with StarTex upholstery need a seat ventilation system? You betcha.

But otherwise, there is plenty to love about the exceptionally practical 2022 Forester.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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