If the rise of the SUV has taught us anything, it should be that capability is one of the most important elements of the modern car world.
Why else would otherwise rational adults spend big money on thirsty SUVs for mundane daily driver use? These buyers want the ability to go wherever they want to go whenever they want to go, even if the payoff is more feeling than activity. I could get out there. If I wasn’t working, or picking up kids, that is. Someday.
Escape is a dream of freedom, and capability is the tool to get you there. And you don’t need 6,000-lbs of traditional SUV to earn that capability — whether it’s actually used or not.
With that I give you the 2023 Subaru Forester Wilderness
Off the grid
Subaru has perfected a formula of Boxer engines and AWD drive systems in inexpensive and durable packages — and they’ve been doing it since the days of Star Wars and the AMC Eagle.
The formula isn’t new, but what is new in today’s market is the drive for attitude — it’s not unlike the muscle car world of the 1960s in a lot of ways, but instead of tire-melting torque, the drive is in edgy, capable rigs — the Raptors, TRXes, ZR2s, Trail Bosses, Rubicons, TRD Pros, etc. In every case, there’s tough body cladding and better ground clearance as part of the edge, as well as better equipment and varied levels of mechanical seriousness to back up the look.
What makes Subaru different here is that the basis is sensible, and the end result is still very car-like.
Yes, the Wilderness has special badging, accents and the more, but it also has body cladding that actually protects it out on the trail, as well as improved approach and departure angles thanks to nine inches of ground clearance. That’s not enough to go crawl up a rock face, but that’s OK, because Subaru’s going for the people who want to get to the rock so they can climb it themselves.
The Wilderness isn’t particularly quick — it has a 2.5-L Boxer 4 that makes 182 hp. It has a CVT transmission that features a virtual 8-speed manual mode and more aggressive final drive ratios than other Foresters. The end result is enough torque for the trail, but not too much for street driving — and slightly worse overall mileage than the regular Forester.
Pluses here are a great turning radius, great visibility, triple interior info screens inside that host the backup and nose cameras, HVAC controls, stereo and more, and active headlights that turn with the steering wheel. All in all, there are a good selection of features here for the $35,795 asking price.
So the question is this: With so many intense and expensive off-road rigs on the market today, how lost do you really need to get?
The answer depends on how sensible you are. But I know how I’d answer it.
High Point: Good capability for the price, and in a daily usable package.
Low Point: Forester styling isn’t helped much by edgy add-ons.
Final Word: Capability that aims to make sense to a broad market — but isn’t special enough for the front-running off-roader crowd.
Fun factor/appearance: **
(***** is best)