In 1994 Subaru offered the Legacy wagon with a raised suspension and plastic cladding on the fenders and bumpers. The Outback became an instant hit, the best-seller in the company’s product line.
It also prompted copies from the only car makers still building wagons – European luxury car companies – Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo.
The car that started the whole jack-it-up and tack-it-on movement has taken it to new heights (pun intended) for 2022.
The Subaru Outback Wilderness stands two centimetres taller than other Outback models and has larger plastic cladding around the wheel wells. It also gets a unique grill, revised front and rear bumpers, black hood, trim and wheels and fixed roof rails.
The body and front and rear tracks are slightly wider.
Inside, the Outback Wilderness can be distinguished from a ‘normal’ Outback by a number of unique features including water-resistant upholstery, black headliner, all-weather floor mats and alloy pedals.
There are also a variety of bronze/copper-coloured touches inside and out, ranging from the tow hooks anchors and roof rail tie-downs to the steering wheel and shift knob.
The Wilderness logo is embossed on the head restraints, floor mats and badges on the front fenders and tailgate.
But, with all due respect, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is more than a decorated Outback.
It has a quartet of skid plates, all-terrain tires, 21 millimetres more ground clearance, front and rear tow points, model-specific springs, shock absorbers and steering rack. The different bumpers are shaped to provide increased breakover and departure angles.
Power comes from a 2.4-litre turbocharged boxer (horizontally-opposed) four-cylinder. Coupled to a continuously variable automatic transmission, it produces 260-horsepower and 277 lb. ft. of torque.
The company’s excellent all-wheel-drive system is, of course, standard equipment. The programming has been altered and the rear differential gets a lower final drive ratio accompanied by revisions to the CVT to provide a matching ratio at the front axle.
The numerous seemingly-small upgrades result in an extremely competent vehicle – on or off road. I did not venture far enough off the beaten path to tests its abilities at the extreme.
Suffice it to say the Subaru Outback Wilderness will go where few can follow!
What I found most interesting was that all this off-road prowess did not come at the expense of ride or handling on the road. The supple ride and ability to absorb major road blemishes expected from a Subaru remains.
The aggressive all-terrain tires result in more road noise and less grip when pressed hard in the turns. That is the only reminder of the added capability of this vehicle beyond the visual cues.
The Outback Wilderness can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
When venturing off road, there are two worthy options in off-road X-Mode that control wheel speed – Snow/Dirt minimizes wheel spin on slippery surfaces and when climbing hills. Snow/Mud actually allows wheel spin to prevent bogging down. X-mode automatically controls vehicle speed on loose surfaces when descending steep slopes.
There are plenty of other features worthy of mention including a roof rail system capable of holding up to 300 kg when stationary and 100 kg underway.
A front view camera provides a high-resolution 180-degree view of what lies below bumper height at low speeds, great when entering an intersection or approaching a tall curb in a parking lot. Of course it is also useful in the wilderness for identifying rocks and sharp objects!
The interior of the Wilderness is very well done.
The tablet-like vertical orientation of the 29-cm touch screen is a pleasant departure.
Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system is standard as are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Four USB ports and Subaru’s excellent EyeSight Driver Assist system is standard, including adaptive cruise control, lane centering and departure, automatic emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
The front seats are worthy of note for their ergonomic strengths.
The rear seat offers a decent amount of room for a pair of adults and the cargo area is massive. The StarTex waterproof seat covering extends to the back of the seat as well, making cleaning up much easier after a day in the rough with a dog or muddy boots.
The engine provides class-competitive performance accompanied by the thrum common to Subaru’s flat-four engines.
The CVT is programmed to mimic a conventional eight-speed but retains slightly sluggish response off the line and other qualities associated with that type of transmission The start/stop function is slightly less refined than most when shutting down. Fuel mileage is competitive if not impressive.
This rugged-looking, and very capable addition to the Subaru Outback line offers more of everything – cladding, height, features and capability. The Outback Wilderness is a definite alternative to the myriad of crossovers on the market.
FACTS & FIGURES – 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness (CVT)
As tested: $43,870 including freight
LED headlights, eyesight driver assist (pre-collision throttle assist, and braking; lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane vehicle start alert), rear & side vehicle detection, reverse automatic braking, automatic collision notification, automatic high beams
29-cm tablet-style touchscreen, wireless connectivity, streaming audio, dual USB and aux inputs, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, satellite radio, navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way adjustable driver seat, eight-way passenger, heated front and rear seats, heated tilt & telescope steering wheel, 12-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system
Wireless phone charger, roof rails with swing-in-place crossbars, power liftgate, power sunroof, 17-in alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control
Turbocharged 2.4-litre four-cylinder, 260-horsepower, 277 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel; continuously variable automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive. NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 10.9/8.9
Length, 4,860-mm; width, 2,084-mm; wheelbase, 2,745-mm; weight, 1,789-kg
Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Bronco Sport Badlands, GMC Acadia, Honda Passport, Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road and 4Runner