- A more off-road capable version of the Outback
- Increased ground clearance
- Upgraded suspension
- Stronger roof rack system
- Priced between Onyx XT and Touring XT models
Subaru Outback people aren’t like typical SUV owners. The ones that buy Outbacks tend to use their vehicles for off-road adventures. And Overlanding (off-road camping) is a trend that Subaru owners have embraced. That means Outbacks are hauling lots of gear to fairly remote destinations for extended stays. To help them make those trips easier, a growing number of Outback owners have been modifying these wagons with lifted suspensions and more aggressive tires.
Well, Subaru decided it should offer a more off-road capable package — right from the factory. Meet the new 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness.
One key to this Outback’s improved off-road performance is the suspension. Subaru raised the suspension by 0.8-inch front and rear by replacing the springs and dampers with taller units. The new setup slightly increased the suspension stroke, too. The taller stance is enhanced with more aggressive Yokohama Geolandar A/T 225/65 R17 tires. Subaru tires are nearly identical in overall diameter compared to the ones on a standard Outback. However, because the Wilderness uses 17-inch wheels instead of 18-inch wheels, those raised white letter sidewalls of the new Yokohamas are taller, helping to provide better compliance and traction for off-pavement fun.
Those small modifications provide the Wilderness with an impressive 9.5-inches of ground clearance. For those keeping score, that’s just about the same as a Toyota 4Runner and other serious 4X4 SUVs.
Turbo and traction
Like the more expensive Outback XT models, the Wilderness comes standard with a strong 260-horsepower turbocharged flat-4 engine with 277 lb-ft of torque. And that mates to the company’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with 8 “speed” manual-shift capability. However, for the Wilderness, Subaru improved the vehicle’s gearing by altering those ratios to deliver improved low-speed control. The final drive ratio has been improved from 4.11:1 to 4.44:1. Subaru says the new gearing helps the Wilderness climb a 40 percent grade on a gravel surface.
The team also altered the programming on the Outback’s dual function X-Mode system but with the same snow/dirt and deep snow/mud settings. X-Mode, when engaged, will bias more of the all-wheel-drive system’s torque to the rear axle. It also changes throttle mapping and automatically engages hill descent control. But most importantly, X-Mode makes the traction control respond more quickly. The Wilderness has fresh calibrations, and Subaru has removed the speed limiter on X-Mode’s most aggressive settings.
Style and function
The Wilderness has a more rugged style on the outside thanks to hex-style foglamps, blacked-out trim, fender flares, a black stripe down the hood (Subaru says to reduce glare), and a new grille.
The most important parts of the design enhancements are the new bumper end caps explicitly sculpted to improve off-road clearance. And that they do just that. When combined with the taller stance, the new bumpers caps boost the approach angle from 18.6 to 20 degrees and the departure angle from 21.7 degrees to 23.6 degrees. The new suspension by itself raises the breakover angle from 19.4 to 21.2 degrees.
Those are numbers that let the Outback explore a little further than before but not enough clearance to follow a Jeep Wrangler (or a 4Runner, for that matter) on a rugged 4WD trail without potentially rubbing some plastic. The Wilderness does come with a fairly hefty skidplate up front, so there is some protection.
Those copper accents you see around the car indicate “use points,” according to Subaru. That means recovery tow points on the bumpers and attachment points on the roof rack. And speaking of that roof rack, it’s an all-new design fixed ladder-type design with a static load carrying capability of 700 lbs. Why is static load significant? Subaru owners love to camp, and those trendy rooftop tents are heavy. This new load rating ensures you can park your Wilderness for the night and sleep up in a rooftop tent without overloading the rack.
Inside and options
The Wilderness carries the copper theme inside, highlighting the steering wheel and shifter with a specific copper-colored trim. The interior is ruggedized with heavy-duty floor mats, aluminum pedals, and all seating surfaces are Subaru’s breathable, cleanable and water-repellent StarTex material. And that material extends to the back of the rear seat to add durability. The cargo hold is enhanced with an LED downlight and a full-size spare tire mounted on an alloy wheel -- so it matches.
The Wilderness comes with just about everything standard. Options are few and include a sunroof and a hands-free power tailgate and moonroof. Subaru will have expanded accessory offerings for the Wilderness, including a full complement of skidplates for around $600.
Safety and fuel economy
Subaru is known for its safety performance. And the Wilderness comes standard with Subaru’s Eyesight suite of safety tech. The team we spoke with said they expect this model to have the same safety rating as other Outback models, namely the highest Top Safety Pick + award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the top 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is rated at 22 miles per gallon city/26 mpg highway/24 mpg combined. The standard Outback turbo, for comparison, is rated at 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined.
Driving on-road and off
The Wilderness rides better than other Outbacks over rough terrain. The soft suspension really soaks up the pavement potholes. And when you bend the Subaru into a set of switchbacks, the taller wagon feels agile and carlike.
However, push the Wilderness a bit harder, and you can feel the body roll a bit on its suspension. And before the tires squeal to let you know you're driving too quickly, Subaru's stability control (VDC) intervenes. This conservative safety calibration is great when you want to toss the keys to your 16-year-old. But for more experienced drivers that want to drive a mountain road quickly, it can get annoying. Thankfully there's a "VDC off" button within the touchscreen menus. We'd prefer a sport mode that splits the difference.
Off-road, the Wilderness will take you over some surprisingly difficult terrain. Its high ground clearance helps the wagon to pass over big rocks easily. And the tires have enough traction for most trails an Outback owner would find. We took the Wilderness up a steep, off-camber climb, and the tires did lose traction and spin. But one push of the X-Mode button (which in Dirt/Snow mode limits wheel-slip aggressively) and the Wilderness was able to divert torque where it needed to go and pull us up. On the way back down, the hill descent control kept us off the brake pedal and made for an easy return to civilization.