Mountain Wheels: Off-road-oriented Subaru Forester Wilderness is customized for adventure |

Mountain Wheels: Off-road-oriented Subaru Forester Wilderness is customized for adventure

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels
The newest member of Subaru’s factory-spec Wilderness edition off-road family, the Forester gets added rooftop carrying capacity and upgraded suspension.
Subaru/Courtesy photo

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 for even some relatively benign automobiles.

That spirit has now made it directly to the auto manufacturers and Subaru’s range of Wilderness editions is emblematic. The newest variation is the Forester Wilderness, which takes on both a series of rugged appearance tweaks and some actual suspension upgrades with a half-inch of extra clearance, giving it 9.2 inches of rock-hopping ability.

It also features sport factory-issued Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires on 17-inch, blacked-out alloy wheels, also better suited for rocky summertime trails. And 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.

Power hasn’t changed, but the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine chugs along with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet 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 mpg on the road.

Design certainly gets some big changes from the base, Premium or Sport models, including a different 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 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 and paddleboarders might dig that.

The Forester’s already-accomplished X-Mode 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 (deep snow, actually).

I would not say that this all necessarily turns it into the Subaru rendition of a Wrangler Rubicon or Land Rover Defender, 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 horizontal one found in WRX; you can add it, 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 high-end 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 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.

Andy Stonehouse

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