2024 Subaru Forester Wilderness Review
Blending style with substance
BOSTON — The marketing geniuses at the nation's carmakers seem to have quite the knack for figuring out what consumers want.
This makes sense, of course: when you're trying to convince someone to spend a significant portion of their annual salary on a product, it's good to make something they actually desire.
One of my favorites is the special edition. Consumers can't get enough of these unique trim packages, generally combining some amount of custom cosmetics like unique colors or cool designs with an optional improvement to performance in some way.
The litany of blackout packages, like the Chevy and Nissan Midnight Edition or Kia's Nightfall Edition, are a testament to that. Buyers can't get enough, and these murdered out rides often sell meaningfully faster off the lot. It's incredibly clever.
It's easy to sell a car when it's brand new, chock full of the latest in tech wizardry and gadgets, with a new design and all the rest. But after a few years, the design becomes stale, and something must be done to keep it fresh.
For Subaru, that comes in the form of the Wilderness Edition, which has now expanded to most of the niche carmaker's lineup — including this week’s review of the 2024 Subaru Forester Wilderness1.
Wilderness adds a host of excellent visual touches, including a unique front grille, extra cladding around the wheels for a rugged look, and the Wilderness signature yellow accents everywhere imaginable. There are custom seat covers, headrests, floor mats, and yellow accents on the steering wheel and gear selector, roof racks, and countless other spots.
There are functional components, too, with a modestly increased ride height and all-terrain tires mounted to matte-black alloy wheels. A front skid plate protects the underside of the engine should you really wander off the beaten track, and — hilariously — a "useful anti-glare hood decal" in matte black to "diffuse direct sunlight on the trails." Right.
I'll leave the jokes about stereotypical Forester customers aside and instead note that the Forester is an excellent compact SUV. Focusing on functionality and practicality, it has a spacious cargo area and plenty of room for passengers — longtime readers of my reviews may remember that I adore having places for people and stuff.
Subaru is excellent about equipping its vehicles with all manner of safety tech; most of it is standard in the Forester. But Subaru gets there in an interesting way, using its distinctive EyeSight system rather than a camera plus a forward-facing radar to see what's up ahead.
EyeSight has a pair of cameras conspicuously mounted at the top of the windshield, spread apart like a pair of eyes. And that's literally what they are, using the same principles as the human eye to see in stereo and determine how far away upcoming vehicles and other obstacles are.
With it, Forester owners get everything you'd expect, including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and more. Though not standard in the base package, the Wilderness also has standard blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic emergency steering to help keep things in control during avoidance maneuvers.
The ride is very comfortable, partly thanks to the increased ground clearance and the squishy all-terrain tires (the full-size spare under the rear cargo area is a nice quality-of-life touch). The water-resistant seats and solid rubber, all-weather floor mats and cargo tray — all emblazoned with Wilderness logos, naturally — add to the practicality and functionality and the Wilderness-ness of things.
As is often the case with Subarus, the Forester's weak point is the anemic 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 182 hp and 176 lb-ft via a painful continuously variable transmission. Most folks will not have any complaints about this slow and boggy engine, which revs itself to the moon under heavy acceleration. Still, it's worth calling out compared to the peppy turbocharged engines in the competition. It does make 33 mpg on the highway, which is relatively strong.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Forester is its shockingly good Harman Kardon audio system, part of a $1,850 option package alongside a larger infotainment screen and a power liftgate. The stereo is the best I've heard at this price point, with thumping bass and a clear sound even at higher volumes. Whether you're listening to Lady Gaga or Melissa Etheridge, the Forester sounds tremendously good. I don't usually call out stereos unless there's something genuinely spectacular going on. The Forester doesn't have a spectacular stereo, certainly not compared to some of the things you'll find in cars two or three times the price, but it's solid for less than $40,000.
All in, the Forester Wilderness prices out just under $38,000, which is downright reasonable for a car these days. If that seems like a lot, remember that thanks to inflation, a $38,000 car in 2024 is roughly equivalent to a $27,000 car in 2010.
Yeah, that was a shocker for me, too.
Overall, the Subaru Forester Wilderness is an attractive, affordable, practical, well-designed all-wheel-drive SUV beloved by its buyers, who don't give a second thought to whether you approve their purchase.
They're too busy going hiking or snowboarding or making pottery or fostering senior dogs or... well, whatever it is you might want to do with a Forester Wilderness.
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For full disclosure, the Forester Wilderness was actually a 2022 model year vehicle that was still in the press fleet well into 2023.
However, Subaru carried over the 2022 Forester to 2023 and then 2024 with no changes other than yearly price increases. In the interest of relevance, I have updated the pricing to reflect the ‘24 costs. If the vehicles had any changes besides price, I would have noted it prominently.