2022 Subaru Forester Review Update

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Oct 25, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Subaru deals!

Following the success of the original OutbackSubaru got into the compact crossover SUV game early with the first Forester. Introduced for the 1998 model year, the Forester established a design and functionality ethos for the nameplate that even today formulates the basis for the refreshed 2022 Subaru Forester. Take a couple of boxes, add wheels, lighting, a boxer-type engine, and standard all-wheel drive (AWD), and you’ve got one of the most popular vehicles available today.

With the 2022 Forester, Subaru takes that emphasis on utility to new levels. Highlights of the changes to the 2022 Forester include:

  • New Wilderness trim level with added off-roading capability
  • Revised exterior styling across the lineup
  • Upgraded roof rails and utility hooks in the cargo area
  • Gesture control operation of the climate system with Touring trim
  • Next-generation EyeSight 4.0 advanced driving assistance system (ADAS)
  • Maximum towing capacity increases to 3,000 pounds (Wilderness only)

For 2022, Forester configurations include the base model (simply called the Forester) and Premium, Sport, Wilderness, Limited, and Touring trim levels. They all have the same 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission (CVT), and AWD system. Prices range between $25,195 and $35,295, not including options, accessories, or the $1,125 destination charge to ship the SUV from Japan to your local dealership.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2021 Subaru Forester. This review focuses on the Forester’s updates for 2022 and how they potentially impact its overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the Subaru Forester - Find the best Subaru deals!

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness White Front Quarter View Creek

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The Subaru Forester competes in the Compact SUV market segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2021 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 51 percent of new Subaru Forester buyers are male (vs. 50 percent for the segment), and the median age of a Forester buyer is 64 years (vs. 60).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the Forester in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you’ll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Feeling of safety
  • Driving feel
  • Exterior styling
  • Getting in and out
  • Setting up and starting
  • Interior design
  • Driving comfort
  • Fuel economy
  • Infotainment (in a tie with Powertrain)

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the Forester ranks seventh out of 14 Compact SUV models.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Subaru Forester - Find the best Subaru deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a Forester Wilderness equipped with the following options:

  • Navigation system
  • Harman Kardon premium sound system
  • Power rear liftgate
  • Engine underguard plate

The price of the test vehicle came to $36,014, including the $1,125 destination charge but not dealership labor charges to install the accessory underguard plate.

Head Out Into the Wilderness

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness Tent on Roof

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The big story with the 2022 Forester is the Wilderness version of the SUV. It’s the second member of Subaru’s growing family of more capable Wilderness models, following the debut of the Outback Wilderness in the summer of 2021.

Based on the Forester Premium, the new 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness boasts an extra half-inch of ground clearance, raising the SUV’s underpinnings to provide a remarkable 9.2 inches of ground clearance. The standard Forester models continue to offer 8.7 inches of clearance.

Subaru says longer coil springs and shock absorbers provide the suspension lift, and the automaker claims it has re-tuned the suspension on all trim levels to improve the Forester’s ride and handling. The Wilderness, according to Subaru, gets further tuning modifications. As a result, the automaker says it suffers less body roll than the standard models despite the SUV’s higher ride height.

In addition to increasing the ground clearance, the modifications also improve the Forester Wilderness’s approach (23.5 degrees), breakover (21 degrees), and departure (25.4 degrees) angles for better clearance when the going gets tough. Since improved off-road capability is the point of the Wilderness, the model’s exclusive matte-black 17-inch aluminum wheels feature Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires designed to resist punctures better while traversing rugged terrain. Importantly, the Wilderness includes a standard full-size spare wheel and tire.

Dual-function X-Mode drivetrain and traction technology are also standard on the Forester Wilderness. Drivers manually activate this system, which operates at speeds under 25 mph to assist with traction. Foresters with the dual-function X-Mode system add a Deep Snow/Mud setting, and the Wilderness model receives an exclusive low-speed/low-ratio gradient control function. Subaru also says it has improved engine braking when descending a grade and has programmed the system to automatically re-engage when the Forester drops back down below 22 mph after the SUV has traveled at higher speeds for a time.

Design and Utility Upgrades

For 2022, all Foresters have a restyled front end with a new grille, headlights, fog lights, and bumper cover. Around the back, the 2022 Forester has a revised rear underguard design. Depending on the trim level, new wheel designs are also available.

Most 2022 Foresters get new roof rails with integrated tie-down locations. According to Subaru, they provide 44 extra pounds of dynamic and 100 added pounds of static capacity (now 220 lbs. and 800 lbs., respectively). Upper tie-down hooks are now standard within the cargo area, adding to the SUV’s excellent utility.

The Forester Wilderness adopts exclusive design elements inside and out. In addition to its matte-black wheels and white-lettered all-terrain tires, it has a matte-black hood decal to reduce sun glare, bolder protective cladding around the body’s entire perimeter, and an aluminum front skid plate. Anodized copper accents identify the Forester Wilderness with no more than a glance.

Inside, the Wilderness features Subaru’s water-resistant StarTex simulated leather upholstery. Easy to clean, StarTex also traps moisture against your body. If you get into the Forester Wilderness while damp, you’ll exit that way.

Additional signs that Subaru intends for the Forester Wilderness to get wet and muddy include standard all-weather floor mats, a cargo tray, and washable material on the rear seatbacks. Subaru thoughtfully adds a black headliner, too, which won’t show scuff marks when you’ve shoved your mountain bike into the cargo hold.

New and Improved EyeSight 4.0

Subaru EyeSight 4.0 Display

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

All 2022 Forester trim levels have standard EyeSight 4.0, Subaru’s collection of ADAS. This year, it features next-generation technology that provides double the field of view ahead, system availability under a wider variety of driving and environmental conditions, and smoother overall operation. A new Automatic Emergency Steering system adds extra control at speeds under 50 mph when the driver is trying to avoid a collision.

Fortunately, I did not need to test the new Automatic Emergency Steering technology. Unfortunately, it did not rain during the drive intended to assess EyeSight 4.0’s newfound effectiveness in inclement weather conditions. However, on the higher speed 2-lane highways on our route, the system appeared to operate in a more refined manner without excessive warnings or messages indicating that the system was unavailable.

During a photo shoot, however, we did experience something we’ve encountered in other Subarus. After restarting the car, all the EyeSight warning lights glowed within the instrumentation, suggesting that the system was not working correctly. Unfortunately, this happened the last time I drove the car before handing it back to Subaru, so I don’t know if it resolved itself on the subsequent re-start.

Crash-test ratings for the 2022 Forester are partially available. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the SUV a highest-possible 5-star overall rating based on top ratings in all individual assessments except for rollover resistance, for which the Forester earns a 4-star rating.

Structurally the car is identical to the 2021 model, so the “Top Safety Pick+” rating it received from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) should carry over for the new model year.

Can a Subaru Forester Go Off-Road?

Why yes. Yes, it can. At Subaru’s invitation, I went to Bend, Oregon, to drive the new Forester Wilderness, and the SUV proved its mettle on some challenging terrain. Before getting to those details, let’s set the stage.

Subaru owners rate the Forester’s powertrain as their least favorite thing about the SUV (in a tie with the infotainment system). Indeed, the Forester is begging for a turbocharged engine option. It doesn’t need a big bump in power. It needs a broader torque band and, for high-altitude driving, a forced-induction solution to make it feel lively instead of gutless.

As it stands, the 2.5-liter boxer-type 4-cylinder engine is merely adequate. It makes 182 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 176 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) powers all four wheels, and it features eight programmed ratios to sound and feel more like a traditional automatic.

To its credit, Subaru tries to make the Forester Wilderness feel more responsive with an exclusive CVT used only on this trim level. Subaru says it provides a 25-percent increase in initial torque delivery compared to other Forester models, and the Wilderness also gets a bump in towing capacity from 1,500 pounds to 3,000 pounds.

During our drive, the exclusive CVT did make the Forester feel more responsive when accelerating from a stop. Mid-range passing power, however, remains meager. Especially at altitude, you need a long stretch of highway to get around slower traffic.

The on-pavement ride and handling are excellent. The Forester Wilderness doesn’t feel overly soft and compliant on the pavement like the Outback Wilderness does, and body roll is beautifully controlled. Aside from its lack of power, the Forester is enjoyable to drive, though it is loud inside at higher speeds.

Off-road, the Forester Wilderness impresses with its traction, clearance, and technology. On an off-road course with X-Mode engaged, the Wilderness valiantly trudged through deep sand, scampered up and down steep hills, and crossed uneven terrain. A front-facing camera is standard on the Wilderness and helps with visibility when cresting a hill or picking a path through rocks. The only precautions necessary were to turn EyeSight off and remember that, despite its enhanced capabilities, the Wilderness still isn’t a traditional body-on-frame off-roader.

More impressive, perhaps because the Forester faced down Mother Nature instead of a Subaru-designed course, the Wilderness proved thoroughly capable on forest roads laced across the Cascade Mountains west of Bend. Seemingly impervious to the dust, mud, snow, rocks, and water on the route, the Forester capably handled trails that would force most crossover SUVs to turn back—and sometimes did so with two wheels in the air. Aside from mindfulness to keep speeds down for the rougher sections to avoid testing the front skid plates, I covered the terrain south of Mount Jefferson with confidence and ease.

In addition to powertrain dissatisfaction, Forester owners aren’t all that impressed with the SUV’s fuel economy, either. The test vehicle averaged 25.9 mpg over more than 100 miles of driving, plenty of it on unpaved roads. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says you should expect 26 mpg in combined driving from the Wilderness model, so based on this evaluation, the Forester almost precisely matched expectations.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Subaru deals!

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness White Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Generally speaking, the 2022 Subaru Forester is a useful tool for daily living. Easy to get into and out of, roomy for four people, and offering plenty of utility in an affordable package, a Forester can help to simplify your life. Add to these traits its terrific performance in terrible weather conditions, a well-established record for safety, and nimble driving dynamics, and it does not surprise the Forester is such a popular compact SUV.

For 2022, Subaru ensures that the new Forester Wilderness takes these traits to the next level while hoping the more rugged look and enhanced capabilities will broaden the SUV’s appeal among younger, outdoor enthusiast customers. You know, the types of people who might install a roof-top tent and head off-grid for a while.

As Subaru puts it, the 2022 Forester Wilderness provides the off-road capability to get you to an activity. Off-roading is not the activity itself. That distinction might seem insignificant, but it perfectly summarizes what the new Forester Wilderness can do, and what it cannot do.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2023 J.D. Power

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