Comfort and hardcore collide
THE GOOD
  • Capable off road
  • Fun to drive, well-mannered
  • Practical and easy to clean
THE BAD
  • Infotainment a bit dated
  • Reduced fuel economy

With an increasing number of customers outfitting their crossovers with suspension lifts and all-terrain tires, Subaru decided to cut out the middleman and deliver an off-road-ready ride straight from the showroom and backed by a factory warranty.

The first in what’s to become a sub-brand of its own, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness adds rugged body cladding, a trio of skid plates, a raised suspension, tow hooks, and upgraded wheels and tires. It does an admirable job of straddling the line between genuine trail capability and daily comfort without falling into “soft-roader” territory.

Styling: 7.5/10

The sixth-generation Outback was redesigned in 2020 and built on the Subaru Global Platform. A wagon-like crossover, the Outback isn’t conventionally beautiful but holds a unique appeal to folks who don’t want to blend in. The Wilderness trim adds unique grille, bumpers, trim, and moulding; a matte black hood finish to reduce glare; bodyside cladding; 17-inch black alloy wheels wrapped with Yokohama Geolander tires; unique fixed roof rails with a 318-kg (700-lb) static load capacity; and exclusive Wilderness badging and anodized copper trim. Inside, the waterproof waffle-weave upholstery features Wilderness logos stamped into the headrests, and there are copper accents on the steering wheel and shifter.

Practicality: 9/10

When it comes to practicality, the Outback is the Swiss army knife of crossovers. The Wilderness trim should pack some appeal if you spend your holidays camping, hiking, or fishing but still need a vehicle that looks and feels presentable when it’s back to civilization. To wit, the rugged body cladding is scratch-resistant, so it won’t look scuffed up sitting in the driveway. Likewise, the black headliner resists scuff marks while loading gear, the waffle-weave upholstery is durable and stain-resistant, and the rugged black rubber matting in footwells and the cargo area is designed to be hosed down.

The 920-L trunk is accessed via the power operated tailgate, and the flat, rubber-clad cargo space expands to 2,144 L with the rear seats folded down. The fixed roof rails are capable of holding as much as 318 kg (700 lb) while stationary for rooftop tent camping; or 100 kg (220 lb) of cargo in transit.

For the off-road crowd, the Outback Wilderness comes with a full-size, matching spare wheel and tire that’s stashed under the cargo floor. All-wheel drive is standard and features an enhanced drive mode selector that can be toggled between normal, snow/dirt, or deep snow/mud settings.

While lower trim levels offer a smaller 2.5L four-cylinder producing 182 hp, the Wilderness comes fitted solely with a turbocharged 2.4L that puts out 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Although the Wilderness version’s ride height has increased from 220 mm (8.7 in) to roughly 240 mm (9.5 in), the max towing capacity of 1,588 kg (3,500 lb) is not affected, and fuel consumption suffers only a slight increase.

Features: 8/10

While the Wilderness isn’t luxury-car loaded, there’s an extensive list of standard safety technology and connectivity features. All Outback models come standard with Subaru’s advanced safety suite. It has been recalibrated to work better with the Wilderness’s raised height and different gearing. The camera-based driver-assist safety package includes pre-collision braking and throttle management, lane-departure and sway warning, lead vehicle start alert, adaptive cruise control, front and rear automatic braking, automatic high-beams, lane-centring assist, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

There’s an 11.6-inch tablet-style touch display for music, information, and connectivity apps, a wireless smartphone charger, and a three-year free subscription to Subaru’s connected services suite that includes emergency collision notification.

I found the glossy screen too reflective in bright sunlight and its layout not very intuitive; it also took a minute to find the small button at the bottom to return to the home screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

Extra off-road features include skid plates under the engine, transmission, and rear differential with heavy furled edges; scratch-resistant fender, bumper, and body cladding; a lower transfer gear, final gear, and rear differential gear ratio; improved approach, breakover, and departure angles of 19.6, 21.2, and 23.6 degrees respectively; enhanced drive modes for steeper grades and more challenging terrain; and extra recovery points.

Comfort: 8/10

It’s difficult for an automaker to strike the right balance between utility and comfort, but Subaru has succeeded very well with the Outback Wilderness. Serious rock crawlers are infamously harsh and noisy, and trail capability usually means a sacrifice in ride quality. Although the all-terrain tires produce some excess road noise, overall I was pleasantly surprised by how nicely the Wilderness rides over asphalt, gravel, rocks, and rough trails.

The modular platform the Outback is built on is a very stable and rigid structure, and the re-engineered springs and dampers did a great job of absorbing road imperfections despite their increased rough terrain capacity. I spent several hours tossing the Outback Wilderness around winding cottage roads, and came away impressed with its agility and lack of body roll. Cabin isolation is fairly good, except for the aforementioned tire noise, and the car remains stable through tight turns. Brake rebound and squat, while not overly dramatic, are more noticeable than the regular models. While the Wilderness falls mid-pack in the Outback trim lineup, it lacks the seat ventilation of the other turbocharged entries.

User Friendliness: 9/10

Aside from a few moments to find the touchscreen’s home button, I found the Wilderness quite ergonomically friendly. It’s not a tall vehicle to climb in and out of, and the wagon-like roof is much easier to access for lashing down canoes or mounting bicycles than taller crossovers. The tailgate is power-operated, which makes loading easier. Cabin instrumentation is straightforward, and there’s a welcome lack of confusing buttons and switches. There’s a traditional shifter with clearly marked gears augmented by paddle shifters on the wheel for quick downshifting.

Climate control is fixed at the bottom of the touchscreen, so there’s no need to cycle through several screens just to adjust the fan speed. The sound system has two simple knobs for volume and channel adjustment.

Fuel Economy: 7.5/10

While other turbocharged Outback variants are rated at 10.1 / 7.9 L/100 km city/highway, the Outback Wilderness’s numbers take a slight hit due to its extra height and less-efficient tires. Official fuel numbers are 10.9 L/100 km city and 8.9 highway. The closest competitors are the Ford Bronco Sport and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, which deliver 11.1 / 8.9 and 12.9 / 9.7, respectively.

Power: 8/10

The Wilderness is only available with a 2.4L boxer engine that produces 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a “stepped gear” controller to more closely emulate the shift patterns of a conventional automatic. Its lower gear ratio (3.29 compared to 3.49 in the regular Outback) helps it put more torque to the ground at lower speeds – great for trails and mud.

Power is delivered to all four wheels through an all-wheel drive system that, depending upon which drive mode is selected, can vary the amount of torque applied to individual wheels. The engine is quick and responsive and the car never feels underpowered.

Safety: 9/10

Outbacks score well with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), including earning a Top Safety Pick rating. The new platform’s rigidity and well-engineered crumple zones form a stable base that’s strategically designed to absorb and deflect impacts. Subaru’s aforementioned suite of driver safety systems comes standard, while the government-mandated back-up camera gets a washer, and it’s also equipped with LED headlights.

Driving Feel: 8/10

The Outback Wilderness is a relaxed and fun-to-drive cruiser despite its added off-road capabilities. Steering is quick and accurate, and body roll is much less than expected for a taller vehicle. The camera-based safety suite makes highway driving less of a chore by maintaining an adjustable distance from the car ahead, staying within the lines, and quickly reacting to any vehicle intrusion into its lane.

We tackled a fairly impressive off-road course, clambering over tumbled rocks and steep grades, through sloppy mud and forging through several water holes, including one that came up to the vehicle’s grille. With the deep snow/mud drive setting selected, the transfer case can apply as much as 100 per cent of the available torque to a slipping wheel, and lets you take your feet off the pedals for hill descent while maintaining a constant speed. It’s not going to tackle Dakar or the Rubicon, but the Wilderness is an impressively capable daily vehicle.

Value: 8.5/10

The Outback falls into that quasi-premium category with wagons from Volvo while costing thousands less and offering more capability and interior space. Closest competitors for the Wilderness include the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands, Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, and the Toyota RAV4 TRD Trail, all of which are priced within range of this Subaru. The Outback Wilderness is priced at $43,870 including the non-negotiable freight charge but before tax.

The Verdict

Subaru has sold roughly 2.5 million Outbacks since the vehicle’s 1994 debut, and it clearly has a good idea of who its customers are. By paying attention to how those buyers use their vehicles, Subaru has delivered an Outback model straight from the factory with all the extra modifications its customers apparently prefer. The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is a great all-around vehicle that’s comfortable to drive in the city, yet more than capable of going deep into the bush.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.4L   Model Tested 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness Edition
Engine Cylinders H4   Base Price $41,995
Peak Horsepower 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 277 lb-ft @ 2,000–4,800   Destination Fee $1,875
Fuel Economy 10.9 / 8.9 / 10.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $45,252.95
Cargo Space 920 / 2,144 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$1,282.95 – Wilderness Outdoor Adventure Package, $1,282.95