Back Forty: 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Outback is a name that conjures images of the Great Outdoors and Subaru’s Outback has been a wagon with off-the-beaten path potential since its introduction in 1994. Fitted with standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive and greater ground-clearance than a standard car, it became a sales juggernaut. To keep one of Subaru’s best-selling models fresh, the new 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness trim dials the off-road capability several notches. Do these changes make a usable improvement or is this new trim nothing more than a gimmick? Our week with the Outback Wilderness helped us to understand the benefits offered by this outdoorsy, active-lifestyle themed trim level.

The Outback Wilderness starts with the essence of the standard Outback and spices it up with unique exterior front and rear fascias and trim accents. The Wilderness is given a 0.8″ suspension lift over the standard Outback, yielding an impressive 9.5″ of speed-bump clearing ground-clearance. Outback Wilderness wears 225/65R/17 Yokohama A/T rubber with raised white letters, contributing to a tougher and more capable looking Outback vs. the standard model. The front and rear bumpers have been re-profiled for better approach and departure angles and are finished in black plastic for enhanced durability off-road. There’s a matte black decal on the hood, a la Jeep’s Trailhawk models. Unique hexagonal foglights light the road ahead, while the beefed-up roofracks carry the weight of the world along (not quite, but they are rated for 700lbs). Additionally, Subaru adds more aggressive fender flares and copper trim accents on the front and rear bumpers and roof racks. Exterior-wise, the world hasn’t seen a more aggressive Outback factory-direct from Subaru. Whether or not you like the changes will be down to personal taste, but the Wilderness turned some heads during our week-long evaluation, and being noticed is half the battle.

After having caught our attention with the fairly dramatic exterior changes, we shift our attention to the interior wondering if we will find substantial changes again. For better or worse, the interior is essentially the same as the standard Outback, meaning it has comfortable and supportive seating, plenty of space and relatively intuitive controls. There are some copper accents splashed around the cabin tying into the exterior copper accents, along with Wilderness logos embossed in the headrests and floortmats. Interestingly, the Wilderness’s seats are outfitted in Subaru StarTex, a water-repellent material that feels very durable, if not luxurious. It’s reassuring to know that you can filthy up the cabin over you brand new $40k Outback and not feel bad about it, washing it out with ease! The Wilderness comes standard with all of the standard safety software as other Outback models, which means EyeSight is watching your every move. The 11.6 inch touchscreen is vertically-oriented, benefiting usability in most cases but unfortunately reducing the screen size allocated for the back-up camera, making it less effective than it would be if was in landscape orientation. Whereas our 2020 Outback Limited XT had the upgraded Harmon-Kardon sound system, our Wilderness did not and that was a disappointment. The Harmon-Kardon system provided greater detail, a larger sound image and deeper and cleaner bass response, but unfortunately is not available on the Wilderness trim.

Given the extra ground clearance and different tires, you might expect the Wilderness to drive differently than other Outback trims, and you’d be correct. The Wilderness comes standard with the turbo 2.4L flat-4, mated to a CVT with a shorter final-drive ratio than before. The Wilderness has surprisingly quick acceleration once turbo boost has built, but the CVT dulls the response of the engine disappointingly. Unless you are flat on the throttle, responses to the gas pedal is met with half-hearted increases in revs and acceleration as well as sometimes jerky operation. Ride comfort, one of the most impressive aspects of the Outback Wilderness’s driving character, is enhanced over the standard Outback, perhaps due to the extra sidewall of the tires. Handling is compromised by the extra ground clearance and tall, off-road oriented tires which causes even more body roll than the standard Outback. However, the body roll is almost amusing and certainly won’t affect normal usage. The Wilderness has special AWD modes for different terrain and, combined with the extra ground clearance and off-roady tires, should get you where you need to go, even if off the beaten path.

While the Outback Wilderness may not win over the most dedicated off-roaders, it does provide a unique experience over the standard Outback. The styling changes are enough to get you noticed on the road, which can’t really be said for any other Outback (for better or worse), and ride quality is improved as well as off-road usability and capability. If you live an “active-lifestyle” that involves traversing moderately daunting off-road terrain, changing surfaces and weather conditions while carrying hundreds of pounds of cargo on the roof and dirty items in the cabin, the Outback Wilderness may be the perfect vehicle for you. If you’ve always been a fan of the Outback but wish it had a more aggressive look, off-road ready tires and rugged appeal, then the Wilderness is waiting for you at a Subaru dealership near you.

-Ken Wilson

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness$36,995
Optional Package$1,845
Destination Charges$1,125
As-Tested MSRP$39,965

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