2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness
In the mid-1990s, Subaru designers and engineers gave the Legacy Wagon some rugged styling and a raised suspension to create the Outback — a model that would eventually be labeled one of the original crossovers between an SUV and a car. Over the years Outback has not only grown in popularity but also in size and capability. And now the Japan-based automaker takes the Outback to a new level with the introduction of a 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness — the most rugged, capable Outback the company has ever built.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNew for 2022
Subaru adds a few new features to the Outback for the 2022 model year — including LED fog lights and rear ventilation — although the new Wilderness is the most noteworthy update. With a base price of $37,995, the Outback Wilderness slots between the Onyx Edition XT and the Limited in the Outback lineup. Most items are standard on the Wilderness — the only option package adds a power moonroof, navigation and reverse automatic braking for an additional $1,845.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceIncreased Capability
The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness literally stands out in the lineup thanks to its 9.5 inches of ground clearance — almost an inch taller than the standard Outback. For comparison, this height is about the same as a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. To complement the raised ground clearance, Subaru equips the Outback Wilderness with Yokohama GEOLANDER all-terrain tires designed to improve performance on muddy, slippery, unpaved roads. The tires are mounted on excusive 17-inch matte-black alloy wheels. This Outback gets a full-size spare tire with matching wheel as standard equipment — a must-have feature when venturing far off the beaten path.

© Subaru of AmericaImproved Off-Road Ride
Subaru engineers tuned the suspension on the new Outback Wilderness with the intention of striking a balance between providing stability on rough terrain without forfeiting ride comfort or handling on pavement. Updated front and rear shocks and springs enable more ground clearance and suspension travel. The additional ground clearance means the Outback Wilderness improves approach and departure angles to 20 degrees and 23.6 degrees, respectively.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll About the Destination
Although the Outback Wilderness is equipped for tackling rough terrain, Subaru expects its customers to use this new ability to reach modestly remote destinations rather than navigate extreme off-road conditions such as the Rubicon Trail. With plenty of storage and a strong rack system, the Outback Wilderness will excel at taking passengers and toys to new locations out in the, ahem, wilderness.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWilderness Styling
Beyond the larger tires and raised ride height, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is easily recognizable as something special in the Outback lineup thanks to a bold, new grille — larger than the standard Outback — that features a hexagonal pattern. Other equipment unique to the Outback Wilderness is an all-new front bumper, front skidplate, hexagonal LED fog lights and a matte-black hood decal.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTough Look
Cladding on the larger wheel arches of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness gives this special vehicle a tougher look that fits well with the larger all-terrain tires. Window trim and exterior badges have a black finish that completes the rugged vibe.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSplashes of Color
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 thanks to this bright color — especially against the Outback’s new exclusive Geyser Blue exterior.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRoof Rack
Not only is the Outback Wilderness more capable when it comes to tackling tough terrain, it can also take more toys along for the ride. The standard roof rack on this new model has 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 rooftop tent on the Outback Wilderness — an item that has become extremely popular for camping and adventuring.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUnder the Hood
Powering the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is a 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer engine that produces 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. According to the U.S. EPA, the Outback Wilderness earns fuel-economy ratings of 22 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. This turbo powerplant also gives the Outback a 3,500-pound towing capacity.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCVT Improvements
The turbo engine of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness gets teamed with 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.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceX-MODE
The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness also has dual-function X-MODE, which 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.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
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, configurable 11.6-inch vertical display screen that integrates well with the instrument panel. The system features Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto. In keeping with the exterior highlights, the Outback Wilderness cabin gets trimmed in Anodized Copper accents as well as copper-colored contrasting stitching. Brushed-aluminum pedals add to the vehicle’s adventurous looks.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll Weather
Seats in the Outback Wilderness get trimmed in Subaru’s proprietary StarTex — a water-repellant material that feels a bit like neoprene. A Subaru Wilderness logo gets embossed on the head restraints; the logo can also be found on the standard all-weather floor mats. A waterproof cargo tray and washable rear seatbacks make it easier to clean up after a day of outdoor play.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNew Accessories
In support of the 2022 Outback Wilderness, Subaru also adds a few features to its accessories catalog specifically created for the new Outback. These goodies include aluminum or steel skidplates to protect the engine, transmission and fuel tank.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSubaru Loves Dogs
Folks who have seen Subaru advertisements on TV know that the brand has an affinity for dogs. The automaker offers a variety of accessories for the Outback designed to keep canine companions happy, including a pad for the cargo area, carriers and a ramp for dogs that are small, older, or have special needs to enter a vehicle.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
With its standard turbocharged engine, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness offers excellent power and good performance. 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. Acceleration is quick — passing on a two-lane road presents no problems — and the Outback has plenty of power on tap.

© Subaru of AmericaHandling
During a press drive near Malibu along the Mulholland Highway, we noticed that Subaru’s adventurous additions to the Wilderness force it to make some compromises in terms of overall handling. Although the ride remains comfortable and enjoyable, the increased ride height combined with the larger off-road tires (less grip) translate to an Outback that doesn’t feel as confident on winding roads when compared with the standard version.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOff-Road
During the press event, we also had the opportunity to venture off pavement on a course set up to showcase the new Outback Wilderness and we were suitably impressed. With X-MODE engaged, the Outback Wilderness has the capability to climb steep inclines of loose dirt, gravel and rocks with complete confidence. The AWD system combined with the torque vectoring and stability control systems help drivers maintain forward momentum in the tricky stuff.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceHill Descent
The X-MODE of the Outback Wilderness also includes hill-descent control, which engages seamlessly when desired and easily dismisses when not needed. During our drive we crested a steep hill with a loose surface; as the vehicle began descending we let off the brake and the system kept us at a steady, slow pace downhill with little drama. Once we reached the point where more speed was required, we simply applied a bit of throttle and the hill descent feature instantly disengaged.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRock Climbing
Recognizing that Outback Wilderness owners will not be using the vehicle for any extreme off-roading or rock climbing, Subaru set up a small rock pile to demonstrate the vehicle’s light off-road capabilities. Thanks to the vehicle’s easily modulated throttle and additional ground clearance, we were able to maneuver the vehicle up and over the rocks with little difficulty.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGreat Escape
The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness would be great fun for car camping and traveling along mountain or forest roads, allowing owners to get a little more distance between themselves and the rest of humanity — and perform admirably in the process.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight for You?
The Subaru Outback has earned a loyal following with 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 adventure a bit farther into the wild in a vehicle that performs all the deeds of an everyday driver.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 8.5
Pros: Standout styling; excellent off-road capability; strong roof rack.
Cons: Lots of cladding; trades a bit of on-road handling for off-road fun.
Bottom Line: Consumers seeking an everyday vehicle with an off-road spirit will love the Outback Wilderness.

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