The New Outback Wilderness: Top Takeaways From Expert Car Reviewers
The AMC Eagle is back, baby! Not really. But kind of.
The Subaru Outback, America’s semi-offroady almost-SUV sweetheart, is finally getting the makeover it always deserved as the Outback Wilderness Edition. Based on the current year-old BT chassis Outback, the Wilderness gets a decent brace of revisions but it’s mostly a recalibrated and refocused Outback for people who wish their Subaru wagon could be a little tougher-looking without having to do their own mods. This week the first journos to flop the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness over some rocks have published their first impressions, and the best in the biz have gifted us their thoughts.
For this Review Rundown I looked at a bunch of articles by our friends across the industry to get some different perspective and info on the new Outback Wilderness. This car has clearly stated its intent to hit dirt and crawl over some small rocks, so we’re focusing on what the car is like to drive on some light offroad trails and some technical updates that helps the Outback get to new places that it couldn’t otherwise go.
Here’s the Scoop
The Outback is something close to America’s first love of the lifted wagon… if you don’t count the AMC Eagle. A je ne sais quoi is in the air about these cladded, ruggedized machines, and people can’t get enough; hence the Outback Wilderness. Subtle mechanical refinements and a new exterior treatment elevate the already adventure-oriented Outback into something more capable without sacrificing practicality. At least, that’s the idea.
Now that you’re up to speed on why this car matters, here’s what the car scene experts had to say about it.
On Interesting Tech and What’s New for 2022
The Wilderness has a few subtle mechanical differences from a standard Outback. Some aren’t too major, some would be impossible for the casual Subaru modder to execute themselves. The simple mods include a new suspension setup that lifts the car 0.8-inches with springs and dampers that are actually taller, increasing suspension travel. Some nice body cladding and redesigned bumpers help improve the approach and departure angles of the machine, as well as optional skid plates to protect the vehicle’s belly from nasty rocks, and a redesigned roof rack that supports more static (parked, like if you want to sleep on your roof) and dynamic (in-motion) weight. On the interesting side, the final drive ratio was reduced to 4.44:1 instead of the standard 4.11:1 for better acceleration and torque to the wheels.
Elana Scherr for Car and Driver – “Everything chrome on the standard Outback is satin black on the Wilderness, and important action points, such as tow-hook anchors and roof-rail tiedowns, are a bright anodized copper, giving the Wilderness a pirate’s saucy gold-tooth grin. “Avast, mateys, I’ve come to haul your canoe.” With a tow rating of 3500 pounds, the Wilderness could actually tow a good-sized boat, and the redesigned roof rack can haul up to 220 pounds in motion and support 700 pounds while standing still. Conveniently, that means it can not only carry bikes or kayaks but could also hold a rooftop tent—just don’t try to move an occupied rooftop tent.”
Steven Ewing for CNET Roadshow – “It uses the same 2.4-liter turbo flat-4 as other Outbacks, with 260 horsepower, 277 pound-feet of torque, a continuously variable transmission and all-wheel drive (duh). Subaru increased the CVT’s final drive ratio for the Wilderness — 4.44:1 compared to 4.11:1 — and while this doesn’t result in any additional power, more torque is available lower in the engine’s rev range. Subaru claims this helps the Wilderness climb a 40% grade on a gravel road, and the Wilderness will tow 3,500 pounds, though probably not at the same time.”
Subtle changes continue with different software programming. The X-mode off-road mode has been recalibrated and given clearance to work above 25 mph. Along with that, minor tweaks to interior graphics have been made to reflect the redesigned Wilderness Edition.
Kristen Lee for The Drive – “To better tackle rough terrain, Subaru gave the Wilderness a front skid plate as standard and a dual-function X-Mode for slippery conditions and tuned its suspension for uneven ground. The lift improves approach, breakover and departure angles, too—20.0°, 21.2° and 23.6° respectively. Subaru also changed up the continuously variable transmission a bit to improve low-end torque for everyone out there fretting about overlanding with a CVT. ”
On Off-Road Capability
With a 9.5-inches of ground clearance, the Subaru Outback Wilderness toes right up against the legendary Schöckl mountain bashing Mercedes G-Wagen. Approach, breakover, and departure, however, don’t do the same at 20.0°, 21.2° and 23.6° respectively, though it is more adequate than you think. Still, experts across the industry took the Wilderness off-road on predetermined routes that Subaru planned out, and have plenty to say.
David Tracy for Jalopnik – “Though visibility and traction were excellent, the Subaru Outback Wilderness did have a few issues off-road. The shocks topped out often, making a “clunk” noise in the cabin, the accelerator pedal was too sensitive to allow for precise modulation of speed while crawling through complex obstacles, and the hill descent control system left a lot to be desired.
Unlike hill descent control systems that I’m used to, Subaru’s mode doesn’t have a button that allows the driver to adjust speed. As Subaru told me during the press event, the speed with which you approach the decline is the speed that hill descent control will maintain down the grade. The problem that I experienced, and that is shown in the video above, is that if you approach what seems like a moderate grade at a rather high speed, and that grade then becomes steeper than you thought, slowing the vehicle down can become nearly impossible if the terrain is uneven.”
Elana Scherr for Car and Driver – “Where the regular Outback would stuff its nose or drag its belly, the Wilderness cleared. To achieve the underside space, Subaru increased ground clearance to 9.5 inches, 0.8 inch more than the standard Outback. Taller springs also allow more compression travel, and the redesigned front and rear bumpers make a more forgiving hill climber. The end result is a 20.0-degree approach angle, a 21.2-degree breakover, and 23.6 degrees before you scrape the back bumper. It’s not going to take a King of the Hammers trophy home, but you’ll never meet a speed bump you need to brake for.”
Jeff Perez for Motor1.com – “As with the standard Outback, the all-inclusive X-Mode off-road feature comes standard. But Subaru tweaked the settings allowing drivers to exceed the previous 25-mile-per-hour limit, meaning you could drive on the highway with X-Mode on, although Subaru suggests you shouldn’t. Instead, we used the long sandy straights of the ORV park as a way to test this new feature. And as advertised, the updated X-Mode allowed us to flog this Outback pretty aggressively on dirt.
Even with hostile undulations, deep mud pits, and a few large rocks further down the trail, the Outback Wilderness takes it all in stride. Along with all the features already mentioned, the suspension offers more travel and better dampening than the standard version, as well.”
Regarding On-Road Refinement
Joel Stocksdale for Autoblog – “While the Wilderness may not have the absolute trail ability of the American SUVs, it gains back some advantages on pavement, where, if we’re honest, these crossovers will spend most of their time. The big one for the Outback is ride quality and overall quietness. The extra suspension travel and taller tire sidewalls mean that you can float right over giant potholes and cracked asphalt. The car stays smooth and controlled, too, so no worries of feeling seasick.”
Jeff Glucker for Autotrader (Video) – “It’s a tall walkin’ wagon, but out here on Mulholland Hwy, on the twists and turns, it feels nice! It was smart of them to go with a tire that is a nice balance between an all-terrain and an on-road tire. This isn’t on [BFGoodrich] K02s, it’s on Yokohama Geolandars, which are a nice mid-range all-terrain tire. The road-holding is good, and as we’re picking up speed, it remains nice.” Glucker put up a first-drive video on his own channel, Hooniverse, as well.
The Wilderness’s unique visual details, most of which were referenced in the reviews we cited above, are actually kind of cool looking. The wheels, cladding, lights, and decorative trim pieces that are Wilderness-spec specific really stand out once you know what to look for. It’s not an extreme remix; just little upgrades over the regular Outback. Here are a few pictures from Subaru so you can see what the fuss is all about.
And of course if you need to see the car from even more angles, Subaru’s media library has a huge album right here.
It looks like Subaru curated some off-road courses in various locations across the United States with several Outback Wilderness press cars. The west coast tests took place at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, CA, a mountainous course that is mostly trimmed fire roads. East coast testers got access to a seemingly more difficult route with some genuine river fording opportunities and slippery conditions. Both events had many PR handlers present and not many opportunities to push the abilities of the car, though David Tracy seems to have found ways around this.
Once people start getting press loaners, you’ll start seeing Outback Wilderness Editions roaming more difficult trails and different situations with their pilots.