INDIANAPOLIS — Subaru Outback customers know what they want: Reliable family transport, all-road capability, fuel efficiency, long-term durability and plenty of space for all their stuff. Judging by sales numbers, people are pretty pleased with their Lafayette, Indiana-built Outbacks. But some owners upfit their Outbacks to go further away from civilization. For them, we drive the just released 2022 Outback Wilderness.
They’re easy to spot with flared fender cladding, black anti-glare hood patch, anodized copper accents, and HEX foglamps. Front and rear facias extend with black plastic, but are shaved closer to the body to improve approach and departure angles on-trail. You might also notice black 17” wheels wearing Yokohama GEOLANDER tires and increased ground clearance from 8.7” to 9.5” – about the same as the Mercedes G-Class. Choose bright Geyser Blue to complete the look.
Much of the interior has the same family-friendly lay-out as other Outbacks, including plenty of space for five, tablet-style touchscreen, and thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. Wilderness flourishes include seats upholstered in Star Tex faux leather, black headliner to hide scuffs, washable rear seatbacks and copper accents on the steering wheel and shifter. Safety tech includes pre-collision braking, lane keep assist, blind spot warning, and rear camera. Rear auto braking is optional.
Behind the facelift is a standard 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s the premium powertrain for Outback, but was deemed necessary for off-roading and confident highway driving. Like other Outbacks, the Wilderness has a continuously variable transmission that can be paddle-shifted through pre-set ratios. Thankfully, designers moved the auto stop/start defeat switch up front on the touchscreen. Towing capacity of 3,500 lbs. and fuel economy of 22/26-MPG city/highway seem reasonable.
Other gear helps when traveling away from paved roads. The most important is Dual mode X-Mode, which enhances the vehicle’s traction, powertrain, and hill descent control to storm up sloppy hills and creep feet-off down the other side. It now stays in Snow/Mud mode above 25 mph for a broader range of traction. A full spare tire with pressure monitor adds confidence as do comprehensive skid plates that are available for about $600. Up top, a sturdier luggage rack holds a static 700 lbs. of roof-mounted tent or other gear.
In the spirit of “a dirty Subaru is a happy Subaru,” we hit the hills of Mt. Holly near Flint, Michigan. Power on, X-Mode managed power between the wheels and clamored right up slick inclines. The enhanced ride height and body mods proved their worth. Using the front camera, I tipped the car over peaks and let hill descent control ease it down. My computer bag hit the floor as I stared straight into the mud beneath me. The Wilderness isn’t designed to bust boulders, but was pretty impressive for what many consider a nice family station wagon.
Most impressive, the Wilderness is still an Outback that not only gets backpacks to trails, but also carries kids and their packs to school and back. The turbo engine and beefy tires make it even more enjoyable during long journeys while its maneuverability makes short work of downtown parking garages. It’s the same safe all-weather family wagon owners have appreciated for decades, only more so. Wherever you’re going, the Outback Wilderness will get you there. Sales begin this summer at a very rational base price of $36,995.
Casey Williams is former auto correspondent for WFYI and the Indianapolis Star plus a contributor to the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Auto Page. He has reviewed vehicles and covered the auto industry for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Broad Ripple. E-mail him at AutoCasey@aol.com; check his reviews on YouTube at AutoCasey.
2022 Outback Wilderness
2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness
5 passengers, AWD Crossover
Powertrain: 2.4-L T4, CVT
Output: 260 hp/277 lb.-ft.
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 17”/17” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Capability
Fuel economy: 22/26-MPG city/hwy
Assembly: Lafayette, IN
Base price: $36,995