What Is It?
During the mid-1990s, the Subaru Outback unwittingly became one of the original crossovers — a vehicle with attributes of both a passenger car and an SUV — when the automaker took its Legacy wagon and beefed it up with some rugged styling and a raised suspension. In the intervening years Outback has grown not only in popularity but also in size and capability, and for the new model year Subaru creates the most aggressive and capable Outback to date — the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness.
Subaru provided us with a 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness painted in Crystal Black Silica. With no additional options on the test vehicle, the MSRP comes in at $38,120. Competitors to the Outback Wilderness include the Jeep Cherokee, Audi A4 allroad, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sorento, Nissan Rogue, Volvo V60 Cross Country and Toyota Highlander.
The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness literally stands above the rest of the Outback lineup thanks to its 9.5 inches of ground clearance — almost an inch taller than the standard Outback. For comparison, this clearance is about the same as a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. The additional clearance also makes room for an upgrade to Yokohama GEOLANDER all-terrain tires designed for better performance on slippery, muddy unpaved roads.
Beyond the larger tires and raised ride height, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is easily recognizable as something special in the Outback lineup via a bold new grille — larger than the standard Outback — that features a hexagonal pattern. Other equipment unique to the Outback Wilderness includes an all-new front bumper, a front skidplate, hexagonal LED fog lights and a matte-black hood decal. During our time in the Outback Wilderness several passersby commented on how good it looked — even local car wash attendants were excited to see “that new Outback model,” and they see a lot of new cars.
Cladding on the larger wheel arches of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness give this special vehicle a tougher look that dovetails well with the larger all-terrain tires. Window trim and exterior badges have a black finish that complements a rugged vibe. The tires are mounted on excusive 17-inch matte-black alloy wheels to complete the look.
To add a bit more differentiation, designers also gave the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness some highlights via a bit of Anodized Copper trim. Tow-hook anchor points as well as roof rail tie-down points stand out in this bright color — especially against the Crystal Black Silica paint.
Under the Hood
A 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer engine powers the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness, producing 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque at a low 2000 rpm. Subaru added this optional engine when the current-generation Outback arrived in 2019, replacing the 6-cylinder unit. This turbo powerplant also gives the Outback a 3,500-pound towing capacity.
The turbo engine of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness gets teamed with the automaker’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission featuring an 8-speed manual mode that can be actuated via paddle shifters on the steering column. The final-drive ratio of the CVT has been increased to 4.44:1, which improves low-end torque at the wheels to provide improved hill-climbing capability as well as quicker response on the road.
With the raised clearance and off-road tires, fuel economy takes a bit of a hit in the Wilderness. According to the U.S. EPA, this Outback earns fuel-economy ratings of 22 mpg city / 26 mpg hwy / 24 mpg combined — a drop of four mpg on the highway and two mpg overall. During our drive both on and off pavement the display reported around 20 mpg.
Subaru updated X-MODE for the Outback Wilderness to provide even more capability. The dual-function X-MODE sets up the vehicle for improved performance via modes for Snow / Dirt or Deep Snow / Mud. A new feature exclusive to the Outback Wilderness: X-MODE can switch automatically from low-speed managed driving to exceeding 25 mph without any interruption in performance or the need to reengage X-MODE when conditions suddenly require it. Active torque vectoring and vehicle dynamics control are standard equipment designed to further improve driver confidence in slick conditions.
In keeping with the exterior highlights, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness cabin also features Anodized Copper accents as well as copper-colored contrasting stitching. Brushed-aluminum pedals add to the vehicle’s adventurous looks.
Seats in the Outback Wilderness are trimmed in Subaru’s proprietary StarTex — a water-repellant material that feels a bit like neoprene. The material feels a little odd at first, although we quickly realized that the StarTex is quite comfortable with an added bonus: it stays cool on hot days, even when surrounded by sheet metal swathed black paint. A Subaru Wilderness logo gets embossed on the head restraints; the logo can also be found on the standard all-weather floor mats that feature a cool mountain design. A waterproof cargo tray and washable rear seatbacks make it easier to clean up after a day of outdoor play.
High Tech Look
When it underwent a redesign in 2019, the Outback’s interior received significant updates. Those improvements continue in the 2022 Outback Wilderness, including a large 11.6-inch vertical display screen that integrates well with the instrument panel. The system has physical knobs for volume and tuning, and actual buttons for climate control, and everything else gets accessed via the touchscreen.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Featuring both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Subaru system can show these smartphone screens while the lower section displays the Subaru audio system. Although it’s big and easy to read, the display isn’t as configurable as it could be. Android Auto can only use the top half of the display, and there is no way to display both maps and media when both are sourced from the mobile device. In this instance the lower half of the display simply remains blank.
With ample legroom and headroom, the rear seat of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness feels both comfortable and spacious. The middle seat seems less cramped than those in other crossovers, so this rugged crossover will easily seat five occupants. The heated rear seats and 2.1-amp USB ports make riding in back even better.
A few years ago Subaru engineers redesigned the rear hatch of the Outback to create a wider opening that makes loading cargo much easier. The Wilderness possesses a surprising amount of cargo space for a wagon/crossover. A quick-release cargo cover keeps items from prying eyes, and when needed the rear seats can be folded flat via a release lever in the cargo area.
When adventurous folks need to carry must-have equipment that won’t fit in the cargo area (think kayaks), Subaru provides a standard roof rack that has been upgraded on the Wilderness to achieve a dynamic (while driving) load capacity of 220 pounds and a static capacity of 700 pounds. The added capacity makes it possible to install a cargo box or even a rooftop tent — items that have become extremely popular for camping and adventuring.
On the Road
With its standard turbocharged engine, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness has plenty of power on tap for strong acceleration. Although we are not big fans of continuously variable transmissions in general, the changes in gearing for the Wilderness’s CVT work well — in fact, in most situations it does not feel like a CVT. That said, at lower speeds the CVT sometimes hesitates as if it were not synching up with the turbocharged engine. We discovered that a more aggressive throttle produces more linear power delivery.
Over years of testing numerous crossovers we’ve come to appreciate the Outback’s value proposition of SUV capability and a carlike ride in one vehicle. Although the ride remains comfortable and enjoyable in the Wilderness, the increased ride height combined with larger off-road tires translate to an Outback that doesn’t feel as confident on winding roads when compared with the standard version.
During our time with the Wilderness we felt the need to seek a bit of, well, wilderness. While heading into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains on pitted forest roads, the Outback Wilderness demonstrated its capability where the pavement ends. In loose dirt and gravel the crossover feels incredibly sure-footed so it provides a confident and comfortable ride. The AWD system — combined with the torque vectoring and stability control systems — help to maintain control, even on high-speed rough corners.
The Subaru Outback has earned a loyal following thanks to its blend of carlike driving, wagon styling and SUV capability. With a powerful turbocharged engine, comfortable on-road characteristics, standout styling and increased off-road capability, the Outback Wilderness takes this proven crossover and provides a new choice for those seeking to get a little more distance between themselves and the rest of humanity — performing admirably in the process.