Review update: 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness gives the people what they want

November 26, 2021

The year is 2021, and Subaru gets it.

The Japanese automaker has delivered a fully-engineered example of what many outdoor enthusiasts dream about, or simply build themselves, in the form of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness.

With a TCC Rating of 6.8 out of 10, the 2022 Subaru Outback lineup is a winner, and the Wilderness model enhances the rugged wagon by giving it more ground clearance, a better ride quality, a new final drive ratio and transmission, better lighting, and more versatility. But the start-stop system is embarrassingly unrefined, the powertrain can surge a bit, the user interface can be somewhat convoluted, and some of the design looks unfinished.

I recently spent time in the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness visiting family in Seattle while hauling my wife and kid through the damp roads of the Pacifica North West to see where this more adventure-ready wagon hits and misses. Here’s what I learned.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Hit: It’s a lifted wagon

The Outback Wilderness is a lifted wagon from the factory. Full stop. That’s a win in the enthusiast realm. That 0.8-inch lift adds up to a total of 9.5 inches of ground clearance, which is over an inch more than a base Jeep Grand Cherokee on a steel suspension (vs air). The lift, combined with Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tires and a softer suspension tune, delivers the best-riding Outback yet. It soaks up speed bumps and water drainage channels with ease, though there is slightly more body roll around corners than one experiences with lesser Outbacks.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Miss: Is this finished?

The Outback Wilderness gets adorned with more plastic body cladding that theoretically helps protect the sides from brush and rock. But it looks unfinished. The shape, similar to what’s found on the Crosstrek, looks as if the designers were outlining the added cladding and then the clock struck 5 p.m. “It’s drink thirty, Team!” The odd shape looks weird, at best.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Hit: Quicker

Under the hood of the Outback Wilderness sits a 260-hp 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 also found in the XT model, but the transmission and final drive ratio is different for Wilderness duty. Subaru spokesperson Dominick Infante told The Car Connection that the transmission has been pulled from the larger three-row Ascent crossover SUV’s parts bin, and the final drive ratio is now 4.44:1 (XT models have a 4.11:1 final drive ratio). The goal was to enhance low-end torque for off-road situations, but a by-product is much snappier power delivery off the line while providing the sensation of more power than the other turbocharged Outback models.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Miss: Surges and unrefined start-stop

The transmission put a spotlight on the turbocharged engine under this Outback’s hood. Pull away from a stop and the turbo spools as the continuously variable transmission acts as if it’s shifting with a torque converter. The result is some surging action that isn’t as smooth or refined as the less powerful flat-4 in lesser Outbacks, which have their own throttle hesitation issues in light traffic situations.

While tolerable, the NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) from the engine start-stop system is embarrassing. At one point I questioned whether an engine mount was broken, but it’s simply the engine’s movement restarting from a stop with the horizontally opposed pistons refiring. The shake is real.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Hit: Wipedown interior

The Outback Wilderness’s seats are covered in a water-repellent material that doesn’t have the sticky feeling of marine-grade vinyl, but is clearly designed to be easier to maintain than leather. It’s perfect for both dirty adventures or family life with little kids. When it got wet from the Seattle rain it was easy to wipe dry and I had no concerns about ruining it. This material just makes sense in an Outback.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Miss: User interface needs help

The 11.6-inch vertically-oriented touchscreen infotainment system in the Outback has gotten better since this generation launched for the 2020 model year. The screen’s interface is more responsive and the system’s capable of multi-tasking such as using Apple CarPlay while displaying the Outback’s audio display screen. But, the user interface is still lacking. It shouldn’t take a minimum of two taps of a screen to turn on the heated seats or steering wheel in a vehicle designed to tackle winter weather head-on. That’s a bad user experience and interface.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Bonus win: Upgraded fog lights

The round LED fog lights found on the Outback Wilderness have a warmer temperature that gives them a yellow light that helps cut through the fog and snow instead of reflecting off it as with bright white lights. While some might feel the two front lighting elements having different colors doesn’t look as good, the warmer light output helped cut through the Pacific Northwest rain and dense fog that set in during one of the evenings.

The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness provides more of what adventure-seeking enthusiasts want in terms of getting to a trailhead or very light off-roading with more ground clearance, a softer suspension, and an upgraded transmission. It won’t, and can’t, compete with a Jeep Wrangler, Ford Bronco, or even a Toyota 4Runner, but it’s more livable and refined for day-to-day living than any of those. Choose your adventure.

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2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Base price: $27,845, including destination
Price as tested: $38,120
Powertrain: 2260-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4, continuously variable transmission, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 22/26/24 mpg
The hits: Lifted wagon, impressive ground clearance, comfortable ride, wipe-down
upholstery, warmer temperature fog lights, quicker
The misses: Embarrassing start-stop NVH, clunky infotainment user interface, unfinished looking body cladding

2022
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2022
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