From the brand that has brought us L.L. Bean versions of its top-selling Outback, Subaru has created another niche product to stretch the automaker’s reach at the same time that others are hoping to hold onto outdoorsy buyers looking to escape the clutches of COVID-19.
Getting away from home, going anywhere that is different, and even better if it’s someplace where other people are not, is driving hyper sales of Jeeps, Ford Broncos and anything that shows a glimmer of off-roading prowess. So, why not the same thing at Subaru, right?
Seriously, in a market going stark mad for $60,000 Broncos (that haven’t even gone on sale yet), $70,000 Gladiators and $80,000 pickup trucks, surely there is a sizeable niche left for a $38,000 Subaru off-road warrior.
The Wilderness Edition expands on the original premise of the Outback wagon: higher ground clearance, more rugged looks, different driving dynamics. The 2022 Wilderness provides much more, including upgraded suspension, almost a full inch of added ground clearance with greater departure and break angles (off-roading acumen), a dual-function X-Mode for the symmetrical AWD system, larger off-road-oriented GEOLANDER tires, StarTex water-repellent upholstery, plus more plastic cladding around the wheelwells (meh) as well as some strategic copper-colored accents for front and rear tow hooks. The copper accents extend to the car’s interior, too.
Think better off-road capability, not Rubicon Trail pounding, and you’ll grasp the engineer’s intent here. The grippy tires don’t howl on pavement but really help in the dirt; the added ground clearance definitely helps when the trail gets gnarly, plus the heavy-duty roof rack is rated for 220 pounds of dynamic cargo, or 700 pounds of static employment — meaning a roof-top camper package (an option) is quite viable.
The beefed-up X-mode adds Snow/Dirt mode and Deep Snow/Mud mode to help those Yokohama tires. There is a front camera to help miss close obstacles, and what hiker, kayaker or biker won’t appreciate the water-repellent seat upholstery after grinding through their favorite pursuit.
Left at the curb is the standard 182-hp boxer four engine, replaced by the eager 260-hp turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer engine, teamed with a revised CVT automatic that tries to replicate a conventional eight-speed automatic. The engine is a dogged workhorse and produces all of the right sensations: quick, refined, powerful. The CVT will work great transporting you to the mall, but without dedicated and selectable gears, plus the yawning gap between partial throttle and full-throttle responses at highway speeds, perhaps Subaru should consider bestowing this wannabe Land Rover with a proper gearbox. EPA ratings are 22/26/24 mpg, with a realized 22.5 mpg.
Inside, you get all of the best of Outback — open, roomy cabin with ample people and parcel space. Visibility is very good. Seat support is top-notch. Second-row passengers, no complaints. The flexible cargo hold nails every request. Power liftgate, multiple power ports, privacy glass, LED cargo light, all-weather mats, power driver’s seat — all included. Wilderness is the Outback workhorse that buyers have loved for decades.
Like other models, the Wilderness also gets Subaru’s enhanced EyeSight safety portfolio that features a giant vertical screen centered in the dash. On one hand, it provides a wealth of detail and apps; on the other hand, it provides a disconcerting level of detail and distraction. And the EyeSight portfolio covers any electronic driving assists you might need; braking for errant pedestrians, lane centering and lane changing, blind-spot and rear cross-path detection and much more, all supported by bells, whistles, blinks, buzzers and warnings that will make you think that your mom, grandma and NHTSA are along for the ride reminding you to behave, do the right thing and follow the rules.
Which is somewhat of an oxymoron given the mission of the Wilderness to forsake the norms of life, get out and explore untapped frontiers, stretch your paradigms on living. Thankfully, with some deliberate acts, you can turn off many of the nanny-state interventions and not have the car blink and beep at you around the campfire.
The Subaru Outback was a top 10 favorite pick last year. It would be hard to find a better overall value for any New Englander’s transportation needs. The new Wilderness model expands the lineup and gives adventure enthusiasts a practical and less expensive choice to get out there and find yourself, away from life’s norms.