I’ve marveled over the past few years at how many SUV and crossover owners have chosen to go downright macho when it comes to adding heavy-duty off-road tires to even some relatively benign automobiles.
That spirit has now made its way directly to automakers and Subaru’s line of Wilderness Editions is iconic. The newest variant is the Forester Wilderness, which takes both a series of tough-looking tweaks and some actual suspension upgrades with an extra half-inch of clearance, giving it 9.2 inches of rock-hopping ability. .
It’s also fitted with sporty factory-issued Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires on blacked-out 17-inch alloy wheels, which are also better suited to rocky summer trails. And the roof rails – highlighted by prominent metallic colored inserts – have also been upgraded to support 220 pounds of hauled gear or up to 800 pounds of you, your friends and your rooftop tent.
Power hasn’t changed, but the 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder engine puts out 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque, which you’ll likely find plenty for highway excursions. They also remapped the single-speed CVT transmission to provide a little more flexibility in off-road driving and highway trips, with 28 mpg on the highway.
The design certainly gets some big changes from the base, Premium or Sport models, including a different front fascia and grille, front skid plate and a large matte black anti-glare sticker in the middle of the hood. You’ll also notice that the wheel arches have been widened and the vehicle has a much more chunky look, with darkened window arches and those extra thick cladding details on the bottom of the doors.
You’ll have to sit in the Wilderness to see if you’re a fan of the synthetic, water-resistant StarTex seats, which may look a bit like Body Glove, but wet kayakers and paddleboarders might dig this.
The Forester’s already accomplished X-Mode for off-road or harsh conditions has also been enhanced, with brightly colored controls and special traction settings for snow, dirt and possibly dirty snow (deep snow, in made).
I wouldn’t say all of this necessarily makes it the Subaru version of a Wrangler Rubicon or a Land Rover Defender, but the upgrades are all functional and will definitely help you when you get out and explore in the summer.
I like the vertically oriented Starlink multimedia screen better than the horizontal screen found in WRX; you can add it, a premium Harmon Kardon sound system and an optional $1,850 power tailgate. That brought the total price to $36,015, which seems like literally half of the top-end Wranglers these days.
I have to admit, I never quite understood the Forester’s overall appeal, especially in its more clunky, boxy early days, but this one looks cool and drives comfortably. The suspension work means it doesn’t get much higher and lower on the highways, and the absolutely gigantic side and front windows ensure visibility you won’t find in many other vehicles.
They certainly went to town with the textured plastic on nearly every external surface, including the side mirror caps (even part of the instrument cluster as well). You also get ultra-textured floor mats throughout.
The cabin borders on giddy with aluminum pedals, more metallic inserts on the steering wheel, shift knob and off-road controls, and custom badges and labels on the seats.
Andy Stonehouse’s “Mountain Wheels” column is published Saturday in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at Summitmountainwheels@gmail.com.