There likely isn’t an automaker that’s better positioned than Subaru to confront the mainstream off-road-vehicle market that’s dominated by Jeep plus various hardcore-appointed Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota models.
With all-wheel-drive (AWD) as standard for the Outback, Subaru needed only to equip the new model with the requisite gear to create the Wilderness trim level.
Actually, Subaru previously tested the waters for this concept when it introduced the Impreza-based Crosstrek for 2013. The Outback Wilderness, although similar, has considerably more space, content and performance.
Spotting the Wilderness edition is easy. Subaru has attached additional front, side and rear protective cladding to the body, which includes irregular-shaped pieces surrounding the front and rear fenders. They do, however, take away from the wagon’s overall attractive design.
For some reason, orange-y yellow (anodized copper-coloured) accents are found on the rocker-panel plastics, roof rack, tow-hook covers and on the steering wheel and gear selector.
The Wilderness gets 24 centimetres of ground clearance, which is about 2.5 centimetres more than what the regular Outback has. This was primarily achieved through longer front and rear springs and shock absorbers, allowing the Wilderness to clamber over larger rocks and through deeper ditches. A protective front skid plate has been added.
A set of 17-inch Yokohama all-weather tires, including one for the full-size spare, round out the package. They run quietly on pavement plus there’s likely no need to swap them out for winter tires. The entire Wilderness setup doesn’t detract in any way from the Outback’s secure ride and handling qualities on the highway, which is a bonus.
The standard beefed-up ladder-type roof rack can handle a static weight of 700 pounds (320 kilograms), which is sufficient to support a roof-top tent plus a couple of occupants. Towing capacity maxes out at 3,500 pounds (1,590 kilograms).
Interior adjustments include water-repellent seat coverings, all-weather floor and cargo mats and brushed aluminum pedals.
Subaru’s turbocharged 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, which is also available with the Ascent and Legacy models, plus regular Outbacks, is standard for the Wilderness. It produces 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque and easily delivers sufficient grunt when accelerating to highway speeds.
Fuel economy is rated at 10.9 l/100 km city, 8.9 highway and 10.0 combined.
The accompanying continuously variable transmission (CVT) has paddle shifters that control eight built-in steps. This makes the CVT function somewhat like a geared automatic, even though there are no set gears.
The transmission and rear differential have been modified to direct more low-end torque to the rear wheels, allowing the Wilderness to scramble up loose-gravel gradients of up to 40 per cent (22 degrees).
Subaru’s X-Mode AWD system has driver-controlled Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud modes.
Pricing for the Wilderness starts at $44,400, including destination fees. That’s obviously more than the base Outback ($33,600), but it’s less than the top-level Premier XT trim that lists for $46,600.
Standard Wilderness equipment includes the usual convenience features as well as safety technology such as forward emergency braking and blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert. There’s also an 11.6-inch touch-screen, 180-degree front-view monitor, power moonroof and hands-free power-operated hatch.
Unlike most vehicles designed specifically for rough-and-tough adventuring, the Wilderness’s benign character might fool you into believing it’s not up to the task. However Subaru has devised a comfortable, well-appointed vehicle that should please most buyers, especially those who travel to remote fishing/hunting spots, backwoods camps or cottages, or other far-flung destinations.
For 2022, Subaru’s smaller-but-taller Forester utility vehicle also gets the Wilderness treatment — with less horsepower — but with the same near-extreme functionality.
As the off-road movement gains traction — pun intended — it’s a good bet that the Subaru Outback Wilderness will be keeping pace with that group.
What you should know: 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness
Type: All-wheel-drive midsize wagon
Engine (h.p.): 2.4-litre H-4, turbocharged (260)
Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT)
Market position: Adding the Wilderness version of the Outback comes at a time when many new-car buyers, for a variety of reasons, are enamoured with the idea of heading off the beaten path.
Points: Good-looking wagon somewhat marred by awkwardly designed protective cladding. • Interior comes with user-friendly controls and comfortable seats. • Strong-running turbocharged four-cylinder engine. • Suspension setup delivers a comfortable ride. • Increased ride height works well on and off-road. • An ideal multi-tasking wagon for all surface conditions.
Driver assist: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (opt.); active cruise control (std.); front emergency braking (std.); inattentive-driver alert (std.); lane-departure warning (std.); pedestrian detection (std.)
L/100 km (city/hwy): 10.9/8.9
Ford Bronco four-door
- Base price: $48,100
- The real off-roading deal and a worthy competitor to the Jeep Wrangler.
Jeep Wrangler four-door
- Base price: $]47,800
- A well-proven model that can now be had with a wide choice of power systems.
Land Rover Defender Sport
- Base price: $66,500
- The least pricey LR is capable in rough terrain. Turbo I-4 makes up to 296 h.p.
– written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media