The wildest and most capable Outback ever.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens. There are always more photos at the end of my reviews.
Pricing: 2022 Subaru Outback
Base price (Wilderness trim): $41,995
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $43,970
Not only is the new Wilderness trim in the Outback certifiably insane (in a good way), but it’s also a great value. It’s tough to find a car that offers so much utility and capability for this price.
OK, so we will address the obvious right off the bat. This is not the ride for everyone. The looks are outrageous and function definitely comes before form here. That said, what initially shocked me ended up growing on me and I loved it. You will get a lot of looks in this vehicle from all ages. I’m not sure they are all appreciative but why spend your life blending in, right?
The key visual differences between a normal Outback and the Wilderness are the raised ride height and the aesthetic touches, of which there are plenty.
The raised suspension gives it a somewhat stilted look and the rear profile is a bit awkward, as it has a hunchback/bubble-butt feel to it. It is quite unique and a notable departure from the regular Outback which suddenly looks pedestrian next to the Wilderness. I believe the appearance of the Wilderness will be love it or hate it. It’s hard to be neutral here.
The hood gets a full-length matte black accent decal and there is no way to miss the massive expanses of black plastic body cladding. The front and rear bumpers and corners are completely covered and there are also huge wheel arches in the same plastic. This “feature” is very visible and contributes to the love it or hate it aspect. The Wilderness also adds nifty anodized copper accents – the “Outback” rocker panel badging, the tie-down access points on the heavier-duty roof rack (Subaru has increased its payload capacity to 100kg versus the normal Outback’s 68kg) and the tow hook covers in the front and back bumpers. Add in the huge “Wilderness” badges on the sides and there’s no mistaking this is a special version.
Subaru’s C-shaped LED driving lights bracket the headlight pods and there are some cool hexagonal LED foglights in the lower front trim. You won’t find any chrome – all the trim and standard badging is blacked out.
The 17-inch wheels are also matte black and they mean business – Subaru wraps them with aggressive Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires, sized at 225/65. Thank you for not stunting this vehicle’s capability by putting low-profile tires on it! The Wilderness is also the only Outback to come with a full-size spare.
You will not be able to forget that you are driving this special Wilderness trim. Ever. There are obvious hints everywhere you look, from the golden fabric tags on the door panels to the logos on the special all-weather floor mats to the embossed headrests.
I actually really like these touches, along with the interior copper accents carried on from the exterior into the cabin – you’ll find them on the steering wheel, the gear selector, the gauge bezels and even the contrasting stitching.
Material choices are pretty nice, with soft-touch plastics residing virtually anywhere that would be a touch point. I appreciate the soft panels on the sides of the centre console, since I drive with my knee resting against that area.
The heated steering wheel sits in front of a pair of traditional analog gauges with a customizable driver information screen between them.
The massive 11.8-inch vertical screen dominates the dash – it’s bright and responsive. For the most part, the user interface is good and things work well, and it’s lovely to look at. I appreciate that Subaru included knobs and buttons for the volume and temperature controls for the dual-zone automatic climate control system, however I didn’t like having to tap through a couple of screens to turn on the seat heaters. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included and work very nicely.
The heated seats are finished in “all-weather” upholstery – it’s water resistant and easy to clean – with some panels done in a super-cool geometric dimpled finish. The seats are very comfortable and very well-bolstered which is excellent for taking this thing off the beaten path. Only the driver’s seat is power-adjustable.
A regular sized sunroof is found overhead – I think this vehicle would really benefit from a big panoramic one.
There’s a full suite of driver assistance technology – rear/side vehicle detection, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, lane keep assist and lane centering assist, lane change assist, pre-collision braking, a back-up camera and adaptive cruise control.
The seats are quite comfortable and there was ample head and leg room for me at 5’10” sitting behind my own driving position. The middle seat is a bit narrow and straddles a floor tunnel, but it will still accommodate an adult if need be. The rear seating is reclinable, the outboard seats are heated and rear passengers get two USB charging ports.
Two sets of LATCH anchors can be found if you need to secure child seats.
There is a variety of good nooks and crannies – a nice storage slot on the dash in front the passenger, excellent door pockets and bins and outstanding cupholders. A small dual-level carpeted bin can be found under the armrest lid, along with a 12V plug.
A wireless charging slot, angled down in front of the gear selector, is provided – unfortunately this is a bit of an ergonomic flub as it’s quite difficult to get a typical smartphone into it with the gear selector in Park. There are also USB and auxiliary plugs above the slot, which would make for quite an ugly wire mess if you were using these, since there is no place to tuck away the cables.
The large 920 L trunk has a power liftgate, a mesh storage pocket on one side, a 12V plug, bag hooks and 8(!) heavy-duty tie-down hooks. It’s a well thought-out, flexible and highly usable space. You can visually secure things with a removable, retractable multi-position tonneau cover and we found the high load floor very easy to live with. The rear seats, which split 60/40, can be folded completely flat using levers in the trunk – when they are folded down, the cargo capacity grows to a massive 2,144 L.
Under the Hood
Subaru’s excellent turbocharged 2.4L 4-cylinder powers the Wilderness trim Outbacks. It puts out 260 HP and 277 lb.ft of torque at a low 2,000 RPM. All that power is directed through a CVT and to all four corners via an all-wheel drive system.
It’s not a super-efficient powertrain – it’s rated at 10.9/8.9 L/100 km (city/highway). We averaged 12.2 L/100 km during a week of mostly city driving, with perhaps 75 km of freeway and highway cruising thrown in. That’s not very good by today’s standards, but not bad enough to be a deal-breaker.
This powertrain is outstanding. It’s easy to drive smoothly and wonderfully tractable around town. Step on it, and it will pull with surprising authority off the line and at any speed. Power is immediate and linear.
The Outback’s CVT is an oustanding take on this type of transmission, as Subaru programs it to act like a traditional one. It actually cycles through programmed ratios and feels much more as if it’s actually shifting through a set of cogs, and you can do so manually with paddles if you want as well – it reacts very quickly and is quite convincing.
Subaru has done a great job with the suspension. Anything that offers up this much clearance has to give something up, and the Wilderness doesn’t stay flat around corners. But it is a very competent performer, sticking to any surface you throw at it. Turn-in is quicker than expected and this car is legitimately fun to drive, even if there’s a bit of body lean at speed. And the ride is outstanding in every driving situation, soaking up the biggest of hits including bumps, dips and even jagged elevation changes with ease and refinement. It offers a very impressive balance between driving and off-roading.
The brakes are powerful and easy to modulate. Visibility out of the vehicle is excellent. Noise levels are very refined – even at highway speeds and with these aggressive tires, this a quiet car.
If you tow stuff, the Outback’s towing capacity is a very respectable 3,500 pounds (1,588kg).
When Subaru talks about the Wilderness trim in their literature and in TV ads, they are taking it pretty seriously – and you should too. This thing is not just a visual treat that looks the part – it truly amps up the Outback’s already significant off-road chops. The increased ride height gives the Wilderness 230mm of minimum ground clearance – that’s more than many SUVs and most crossovers, and the lower front end, the engine, transmission and rear differential are all protected by their own metal skid plates. Approach and departure angles are 19.6 and 23.6 degrees respectively, and the ramp break-over angle is 21.2 degrees!
The ample power isn’t just great for the street, it makes off-roading a joy as it easily pushes the Wilderness through trails, looser surfaces and up incredibly steep hills. It feels like it never misses a beat.
I left the all-wheel drive system for this section since it’s mostly invisible during normal driving. I didn’t officially off-road with the Wilderness, but we did take it into some challenging backcountry areas. Traveling at high speeds over loose surfaces, the traction felt superb, almost as if it was reading my mind, actively throwing torque at whichever corner needed it at whichever moment and changing directions with authority. It was confidence inspiring to say the least and I maintain that Subaru continues to build amongst the finest and most capable of all-wheel drive systems in the world. Subaru’s off-road modes, named X-Mode, allow you to choose between Normal, Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud. At that point, you’ll need to trust Subaru’s programming and electronics to do its best to handle those types of surfaces.
As already mentioned, the suspension is supremely capable – Subaru raised the the Wilderness’ suspension and retuned it to make it more off-road capable. Add in the exceptional turning circle, and you’ve got a ride that is as easy to get around with as it is to maneuver. And when things get gnarly, there’s a front camera with guidelines to help you get out of tight spots.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was medium. As my regular readers know, she’s a wagon fan through and through, but this one was a bit much for her, visually speaking. Just a tad too rugged in the looks department, although she really liked the interior and the driving experience.
To me, the Wilderness felt invincible and it has a ton of character without compromising its mission.
It is simply an excellent vehicle overall, very easy to live with and an outstanding value – it’s hard to think of a vehicle that offers this much comfort, refinement, tech, utility and genuine capability for the price.
So if the appearance doesn’t throw you off, I highly recommend taking a close look at the Outback Wilderness. It is truly awesome. And hey, even if the looks are a bit much for you at first, give it a chance – like I said, it really grew on me and this was a hard vehicle to return to the manufacturer after the review period. I would gladly put one of these in my garage for the long term.
On a side note, the amount of visual detail added to this vehicle actually feels like a proper branding exercise, and I’m wondering if this isn’t just the first of the Subaru Wilderness models we may see.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Subaru Canada.
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