Subaru wants buyers to take the Forester into the woods.
Whether you plan to drive your vehicle on the Rubicon Trail or over the pavement in the mall parking lot, automakers are cashing in buyers wanting off-road versions of their popular crossovers. Subaru has always targeted a more active, outdoorsy demographic but has recently taken its efforts a step further by introducing a more rugged Wilderness trim for its popular Outback. The results were a success, and now the Forester gets its own Wilderness version.
CarBuzz tested a 2023 Subaru Forester Wilderness for the week, which included a three-hour trip to South Florida to test its presence on the highway. It may not be a match for a Ford Bronco or Jeep Wrangler in terms of off-road capability, but for a lot of buyers, the Forester Wilderness is just right.
The Wilderness treatment includes a half-inch suspension lift, which brings the Forester's ground clearance to a healthy 9.2 inches. That's more than the Ford Bronco Sport, Jeep Compass, and Toyota RAV4. In fact, it's only a half-inch less than a base Wrangler. Along with the increased ride height, the Forester Wilderness gains longer coil springs and shock absorbers for improved off-road capability and Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires for improved grip off the pavement. Those tires even get some raised white lettering that looks pretty retro.
Underneath, the Wilderness is protected from the terrain by a front skid plate and larger wheel arch cladding than a standard Forester. The towing capacity is doubled to 3,000 pounds, and the roof rack is rated for 800 pounds when parked (100 pounds more than the standard model). Completing the rugged look, the Wilderness receives matte black wheels, hexagonal LED fog lights, an anti-glare hood decal, and yellow accents. It's by far the coolest-looking Forester available.
Inside, there are a few Wilderness-specific touches, including Anodized Copper accents, special badging, and embossed logos on the water-resistant StarTex seats. Speaking of those seats, the Subaru's material feels incredibly durable, meaning it can easily stand up to kids and pets. We do wish the front seats had more lumbar adjustment though, as our three-hour trip became slightly uncomfortable on our lower back.
The Forester's cabin is extremely roomy, taking great advantage of its inoffensive size. Passengers in the rear are treated to a generous 39.4 inches of legroom and 37.6 inches of headroom. A spacious 26.9 cubic feet (thanks to the moonroof) is located behind these seats, but fold them down, and the Forester Wilderness can accept up to 69.1 cubes. While not the largest in the compact SUV segment, the Forester's tall greenhouse makes it feel more spacious inside than other crossovers.
Subaru offers one package for the Forester Wilderness, priced at $1,850. It includes a ton of technology, making it easily worth the price tag. For example, the package increased the screen size from 6.5 to eight inches, adds built-in navigation, a Harman Kardon audio system, and a power liftgate. Subaru may not have our favorite infotainment system on the market, but must-have features like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard. We also enjoyed the Forester's upper screen, which mostly displays useful information like fuel economy but can also show off-road features like tilt angle or a front-view camera.
If there's one area where the Forester fails to impress, it's under the hood. Subaru's 2.5-liter boxer-four engine produces 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, which is fine for the segment but far from class-leading. It sends power to a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system through a continuously variable transmission, which emits the typical CVT groan when pushed hard. Under normal circumstances, the setup is fine, but the Forester doesn't love to be rushed.
We'd love to see Subaru offer a turbocharged option, though that could eat into Outback sales. Even if it doesn't add significantly more power, a hybrid would be our preferred addition. The Forester only manages 26/33/29 mpg city/highway/combined, and thanks to its raised height and all-terrain tires, the Wilderness trim cuts those numbers to 25/28/26. During our three-hour drive, we managed to average 30 mpg on the highway.
There's a lot to love about the Subaru Forester Wilderness. It looks aggressive, packs enough off-road capability for most buyers, and doesn't compromise too much on everyday comfort. Pricing for this trim starts at $34,020, excluding $1,225 in destination charges, making it the second most expensive in the lineup. That's significantly less than a Compass Trailhawk, RAV4 TRD Off-Road, and most Bronco Sport trims, though.
If you don't care about the off-road performance, the Forester Limited delivers similar features starting at $31,875, and the Forester Touring adds more creature comforts for $35,295. We wouldn't fault anyone for getting one of the other Forester trims, but the Wilderness is an interesting package with plenty of appeal.