Montebello, Que. – The fifth-generation Subaru Forester, introduced as a 2019 model, gets a refresh for 2022, and along with a few meaningful tweaks to the SUV’s styling, safety, tech, and on-road refinement, there’s a new horse in the stable. Say hello to the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness. Like its big sibling the Outback Wilderness, the Forester Wilderness layers on a decent helping of off-road mojo without sacrificing the essential goodness of this compact SUV. For those seeking a tougher Forester, this one will take you a little further into the boonies and look the part while doing so.

As an imminently practical, sensible, and darn right pleasant crossover, the capable Forester has few peers. Yes, its boxy profile won’t win any beauty contests and its 182-horsepower 2.5L naturally aspirated boxer four-cylinder engine certainly won’t win any drag races, but it sure ticks all the boxes when it comes to passenger space, cargo room, comfort, and all-wheel drive capability thanks to the brand’s excellent full-time symmetrical AWD system.

Visual upgrades for 2022 include redesigned headlights and rear fascia, a larger and more upright grille, and new roof rails. The top-tier Premium model gets a fresh wheel design, round LED fog lights, silver roof rails, and black pillar covers. Below deck, the Forester’s suspension has been revised for improved body control and refinement.

Subaru’s next-generation EyeSight safety system debuts in the 2022 Forester. The camera that peers ahead from the top of the windshield has a wider field of view, enhancing functions of adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation, lane-centring, and lane-departure assist. Additionally, the new system has a smaller profile and takes up less real estate on the windshield. If a collision is imminent, the new-for-2022 automatic emergency steering system will check immediate surroundings, and if the driver doesn’t react, will make avoidance manoeuvres at speeds of up to 80 km/h. A new electric brake booster allows for faster emergency response.

The 2022 Subaru Forester comes in seven trim levels, all with the 182-hp four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), spanning from the base $29,495 model to the ritzy $40,595 Premier trim. At this event, we were test driving the Premier model and the rugged new $38,995 Wilderness model.

Hop into the 2022 Subaru Forester and it’s like jumping back in time – and I mean that in the best way possible. In this age of stylishly pinched rooflines and thick pillars, the Forester’s outward visibility is a revelation. Its low beltline, tall greenhouse, and thin A-pillars afford a panoramic view, and for us humans with opposing thumbs, the plethora of good old-fashioned rotary controllers for volume, tuning, cabin temperature, and fan speed is enough to make one weep with joy. There are also analogue rocker switches for the well-calibrated seat heaters too (the low setting provides a nice, warm glow). It seems Subaru is bypassing the industry trend of having every vehicle function accessed via frantic pokes at a piece of glass. Let’s hope the sanity holds.

A new feature of DriverFocus (the system that monitors drivers attentiveness) is the ability to turn the cabin heat up or down by two degrees via hand gestures. Sure, it’s a bit gimmicky, but we can indulge Subaru for this. The 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen in these models (lesser models get 6.5-inch screens) is clear and easily navigated. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported.

The Premier’s cabin presents well with two-tone leather-look seating surfaces and a high level of fit and finish. The seats are well contoured for the long haul, and the Premier’s Harman Kardon audio sounds pretty good, too. That’s saying something, because Subaru’s sound systems have been historically sub-par. Since navigation isn’t offered on any Forester trim level, our testers were fitted with Tom Tom units that guided us through the scenic back roads of this lovely region of rural Quebec, but using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto would do the job admirably.

The Premier model showcases an impressive cocktail for driving dynamics – naturally weighted and direct steering, fine body control, and excellent ride quality. It’s a quiet and refined ride that easily soaks up the rough stuff, yet also shows an enthusiasm for tucking into corners. On the highway, the Forester tracks true. Yes, we could ask for more urge, and when matting the go-pedal, the CVT sends the 182-hp 176 lb-ft flat-four into drone mode. But for me, the Forester’s power is perfectly adequate, and when not leaning on it, the CVT does a pretty decent impersonation of a seven-speed automatic.

Subaru found some pretty challenging terrain to highlight the scrappy Wilderness’ abilities, and wow, is this jacked-up Forester fun to fling along a snow-covered logging road. Its tidy size, clever X-Mode AWD system, and general puppy-like exuberance proved no contest for the ice, snow, slush, ruts, and steep inclines. I hit the skid plates a couple of times, but the Subaru just bounced back and pressed on. There’s a lot going on below deck to keep the Wilderness going.

Its stability control system and suspension are tuned for more off-road use, and its ride height is raised by 15 mm over the regular Forester, although with its engine and rear differential skid plates, overall ground clearance increases by 9 mm to 299 mm. Yokohama Geolander 17-inch all-terrain tires are standard, and the corners of the lower front fascia are tucked in to provide a better approach angle. Should you slice a tire on your outback adventure, there’s a full-sized spare in the underfloor wheel well.

For 2022, the dual-function X-Mode (selectable by a rotary dial aft of the shifter) gets a new handy-dandy “standby mode” that proved its worth on a particular stretch of rutted track that sported both ice and higher-speed gravel. Previously, when exceeding 40 km/h, X-Mode would shut off and had to be re-enabled manually. Now, X-mode automatically re-engages when speeds drop below 35 km/h. A new front view camera with a near 180-degree view is a bonus when negotiating blind crests, and the Wilderness also gets LED steering-responsive headlights.

The 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, with the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands, Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, and Toyota RAV4 TRD in its sights, ups the visuals with extra body cladding, anodized copper accents, a flat-black hood decal, and white lettering on the tires. Inside, we see more copper trim, water-resistant upholstery, aluminum pedals, and rubber floor mats emblazoned with big Subaru Wilderness logos.

If rooftop camping is your thing, the Wilderness roof can support a static weight of 363 kg, which translates to a three-person tent. All Foresters get a new pair of hooks on the hatch’s ceiling, perfect for hanging dripping wetsuits, drying rappelling ropes, showing off the brace of partridges you just winged with your 12-gauge Browning while extreme snowboarding, or, ahem, hanging the dry cleaning.

So does all this boonie-bashing mojo hurt the Wilderness’ on-road civility? Not noticeably. Sure, jumping from the Premier to the Wilderness model shows this new high-riding Forester to be marginally less planted on the road, yet it still rides comfortably, handles well, and the seats are super comfy. With its shorter final drive ratio (4.11 vs 3.70), the Wilderness can tow 3,000 lb (double of its stable mates) but the trade-off is slightly lower fuel economy.

The upgrades made to the 2022 Subaru Forester for this mid-cycle refresh add just another layer of polish and capability to what is already an exceptionally well-rounded compact SUV. And with these new SUVs arriving in dealerships late December, the ebullient Forester Wilderness seems primed for a winter of frolicking fun.

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