Necessity, it’s said, is the mother of invention. And Subaru certainly needed some help back in the early 1990s. In sharp contrast to today’s booming sales, the Japanese brand was a struggling afterthought in the U.S. market when its product development team came up with the idea of pumping some steroids into the Legacy wagon.
With the help of the Australian actor Paul Hogan, better known as “Crocodile Dundee,” who starred in a long-running series of ads, the Outback was born. And few vehicles have done more to transform a brand. But these days, in a market flooded with SUVs, manufacturers like Subaru are struggling to stand out.
The Outback has a solid, go-anywhere reputation that’s helped it build up a loyal fan base, especially in Snowbelt regions. But the automaker is ready to take things to the next level with the launch of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness.
The Wilderness takes the familiar Subaru Outback to a new level of ruggedness. The package will be easy to spot, with its bigger wheels, more aggressive cladding, higher ground clearance and revised front and rear ends.
This is more than just an appearance package, however. The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is ready to take on some serious off-road action. This special edition vehicle can handle up to a 40-degree grade, the automaker claims, with significant increases in both its approach and departure angles, as well as its ramp breakover.
In the event you’re not a serious off-roader, put more simply — it’s not quite a direct competitor to the Jeep Wrangler, but the new Outback Wilderness can handle just about anything you throw at it. That’s something I found out during a long afternoon at the Holly Oaks Off-Road Park an hour north of Detroit. The Wilderness performed flawlessly on some of the same trails I’ve used to test the mettle of products like the Wrangler and the new Land Rover Defender.
There are, of course, some trade-offs, but the new model also offered reasonably good on-road manners, as well, with only a modest sacrifice in fuel economy.
There’s been a shift, of late, with a number of manufacturers starting to reintroduce serious off-road capabilities to some of their SUVs and CUVs. In more than a few cases, it’s all show and no go. Not with the Outback Wilderness. Virtually all of the crossover’s visual changes have a functional purpose.
Ride height, for one thing, goes from 8.7 to 9.5 inches. The 17-inch wheels are a wee bit smaller than the conventional Outback but the Yokohama Geolander All-Terrain tires are bigger, with more sidewall to absorb the jarring hits the CUV will take off-road. The new front end, features a unique hexagonal-pattern grille and raised bumper, the back end also raised a bit.
As a result, Subaru explains, “Approach angles on the SUV have been extended from 18.6 degrees to 20, ramp breakover angle shifts from 19.4 degrees to 21.2 degrees, and the departure angle soars from 21.7 degrees to an impressive 23.6 degrees.”
The LED fog lights on the Wilderness have been moved inboard to minimize the risk of damage on a trail. And there’s a new skid plate under the engine — with optional skid plates running the full length of the vehicle, as well.
Other distinctive Wilderness touches include matte black mirror caps and anodized, copper-colored tow-point covers, front and back. Serious adventurers might also appreciate the fact that the ute’s new ladder-style roof rack has been beefed up. That allows campers to use a rooftop tent, with a static load of up to 700 pounds.
Another plus: a full-size spare tucked under the cargo area – a definite must for anyone going trail crawling.
To stand up to back roads adventuring, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness adopts StarTex waterproof upholstery, with washable rear seatbacks and all-weather floor liners. There’s been some creative thinking here. For one thing, the crossover comes with a black headliner that is less likely to get marked up when you slide in goodies like a mountain bike.
Both inside and out, the cabin features a minimum of chrome, the less to get scratched up. There are, however, a number of anodized copper accents matching the exterior tow points.
The Wilderness may be rugged, but it also comes with a number of useful creature comforts. A 10-way power driver’s seat comes standard, with multiple USB ports, front and back. There’s a hands-free power tailgate, illuminated inner door handles and other niceties.
My test vehicle added a power moonroof, and both an 11.6-inch digital gauge cluster and an 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
As with the standard-issue Outback, the Wilderness edition draws power from a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gas engine making 266 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It’s capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds and has an EPA rating of 22 mpg city, 26 highway and 24 combined. The standard-issue Outback comes in at 23/30/26.
The turbo-4 is paired with a Lineartronic CVT sending power to all four wheels using Subaru’s X-Mode all-wheel-drive system. The gearbox features an 8-speed manual mode controlled by paddle shifters.
The AWD system, meanwhile, has been modified for off-road use. It offers multiple modes, including one designed for mud and other off-road conditions. While some competitors offer a mode for seemingly every distinct condition, whether mud, snow, sand or what have you, the X-Mode system adapted intuitively to everything I could throw at it in Holly Oaks.
Safety and Technology
The touchscreen infotainment package offers all the features you’d expect these days, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Subaru’s StarLink telematics system. It also adds some useful features for off-roading, such as a roll angle display.
Particularly useful off-road is the 180-degree front camera. Climbing up a steep slope it helps you see what’s ahead when you crest the hill. It’s also useful in more mundane settings, such as figuring out how close you are to a curb when parking.
There’s a decent list of other technologies, such as adaptive cruise control, steering responsive headlights and active high beams. And the Wilderness starts out with advanced safety features like pre-collision braking, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot warning, using Subaru’s camera-based EyeSight technology. There are other options, such as rear auto braking.
Heading north up I-75 I found that there are some minor sacrifices, largely the result of those big Yokohama tires and the higher ground clearance. The Wilderness cabin is a bit noisier than a standard-issue Outback. The ride is a little rougher. And the crossover doesn’t have quite the solid, well-planted road feel.
Then again, it’s like driving a luxury sedan compared to some potential competitors, especially the Wrangler, which can be a handful at highway speeds, especially in Rubicon trim.
But what potential Subaru Outback Wilderness buyers likely will care about most is how the new model can handle off-road trails. With style. I was impressed enough to take the crossover out for an additional run through the off-road park and found that it was even more impressive the second time around as I built up my confidence.
To its credit, Subaru isn’t trying to say the Wilderness will out-handle the Defender or Wrangler Rubicon on Moab trails. But the Outback upgrade is clearly ready to take on just about anything you can throw at it, starting with the snowy conditions most customers will be experiencing.
Subaru has delivered some impressive products over the years and the 2022 Outback Wilderness shows the automaker continues to come up with creative new solutions.
At a starting price of $36,995 before delivery fees — my test model going for $39,965 with options — those who want to take an Outback to new extremes would do will to check out the new Wilderness edition.