First drive: 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness pushes further into the wild

May 17, 2021

It feels like the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness was constructed out of the fever dreams of a cooped-up adventurer. Which means that the Wilderness arrives at exactly the right time (and the right price) to become the weapon of choice for Outback buyers who are looking to really get away.

This is no simple options package, if you can look past the copper accents that adorn the inside and outside of the Wilderness you will find key performance upgrades that make it the most capable Outback in the stable by a decent margin. This includes added ground clearance, suspension and transmission changes, all-terrain tires, and of course a bunch of added visual cues that let the rest of the world know it’s the outlier Outback. 

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Power me up

The Wilderness shares its 260-hp, 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 with the XT versions of the Outback and it is once again mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. 

Though the powertrain is familiar, the Wilderness does get a modified final drive ratio (4.44:1 vs. 4.11:1 in the other XT models) that is intended to enhance low end torque for better off-road performance. While this is certainly appreciated off-road, it also makes the Wilderness feel a lot more spirited on-road. There’s less of the lag that the standard Outback XT models have off the line and acceleration feels smooth and easy to control.

There’s a price to be paid for this at the pump and that is the reason that Subaru said this type of gearing won’t make it onto the other Outback models (darn). The Wilderness gets an EPA estimated 22 mpg city, 26 highway, 24 combined, which trails the 23/30/26 mpg ratings of other models with this powertrain. It’s a tradeoff I’d make for the performance gains, but I know that’s not the case for everyone, especially those with longer commutes.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

More comfortable on-road

An 0.8-inch gain in ground clearance to 9.5 inches and an off-road focus adds up to a softer suspension for the Wilderness, and as a result it has more placid road manners. Bumps in the pavement become imperceptible and there’s a touch more floatiness while cruising at highway speeds though thankfully, the Wilderness still tracks straight as an arrow. I did detect a bit more tire noise, but that’s the cost of doing business on pavement with more aggressive Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires at each corner. 

The tires and softened suspension also seem to have impacted on-road handling. Our drive route included a tough stretch of high-speed sweeping turns through the canyons above Malibu, Calif., perhaps not the ideal setting for the Wilderness and it got a little bit exposed in those environments. There’s some understeer and you can feel it get a bit squirrely when driven aggressively. In day-to-day driving the Wilderness is better than a standard Outback, but on the kinds of roads you may take to get up into the mountains or onto a trail it will require some extra attention.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

At home off-road

Thanks to the added lift, off-road-critical angles have been raised—to an approach angle of 20 degrees (1.4 degrees more), departure angle of 23.6 degrees (1.9 degrees more), and a breakover angle of 21.2 degrees (1.8 degrees more). The front and rear bumpers have also been reshaped to keep them out of the way of obstacles, and a set of four additional skid plates is also available as a dealer option (only the front skid plate is standard). 

These changes along with the added grip from the tires make driving the Wilderness in most off-road situations a breeze. Our off-road route involved some steep climbs over loose gravel surfaces, steeper descents, and a small crawl over a rock pile. Fundamentally, the Wilderness drives similarly to the other Outback models off-road but the whole process is easier. The throttle feels more manageable, the softened suspension is more comfortable on dirt roads, and the added grip from the tires is a very welcome addition. It turns the Wilderness into a point-and-shoot off-road machine in most circumstances, except for one.

These changes don’t make the Wilderness a true rock crawler, Subaru likes to point out that the ground clearance is close to what you’ll get to in other off-road vehicles like the Toyota 4Runner (9.6-inches) and the Jeep Wrangler Sport (9.7-inches) but its other clearances lag behind. The 4Runner has an approach angle of 30 degrees and the Wrangler Sport, the least off-road oriented of the Wrangler models, has an approach angle of 41.4 degrees—more than double the Wilderness.

Most folks who are looking into a Wilderness for its overlanding capability will be more than happy with the upgrades, especially the fortified roof rack that can hold up to 700 pounds (more than enough for a rooftop tent). But for those looking to go extra, extra far into the unknown, there are still other options out there that have more acumen in that area.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Sitting pretty

The Wilderness is based off of the Onyx Edition XT trim level, granting it a very strong list of standard equipment. The larger 11.6-inch vertically oriented touchscreen with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, heated front and rear seats, all-weather floor mats, water-repellent upholstery, and a power liftgate are all standard. Also standard are many safety features, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and blind-spot monitors with lane change assist. Reverse automatic braking is also available as part of the Wilderness’ only options package, which also adds a power moonroof and navigation for $1,845.

There’s plenty of room for passengers in both rows, the interior dimensions haven’t shifted at all on the Wilderness, so there’s still an impressive 32.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. I particularly enjoyed the Wilderness’ front seats, which get a unique dimpled design and are very, very comfortable. They also stayed reasonably cool on a warm day without ventilation and are worthy thrones for a longer drive, even one on a bumpy road.

Also impressing me was the Wilderness’ price. It starts at $38,120 which is less than you’ll pay for a Limited XT ($39,120) or Touring XT ($41,070) and $1,850 more than the Onyx Edition XT ($36,270). This feels like a sweet spot for anyone looking to get an Outback that will take them further. It’s certainly my choice out of those four models, given its improved performance on- and off-road and the fact that I like its copper colored flair.

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