It wasn't until I found myself behind the wheel of a 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness that I realized just how many Subarus there are out there. At every stoplight, at every corner, at every drive-thru, at the school pick-up line, they're everywhere. On one day I must've counted at least a dozen during my usual, twice-a-day school runs. To me, Subarus had always been overly rugged-looking wagons with loyal followings, but I never really understood what made people flock to them over Toyotas or Hondas. So what gives?
Kristen Lee opened her Subaru Crosstrek review in a similar fashion so I'm not the only one who noticed. There's gotta be a good reason for the popularity, especially considering not all the Subarus I saw were new. A lot of them were, but not all of them. Some were old, some were beat-up, a lot of them were modified, but all of them had some sort of bumper sticker proudly proclaiming whatever the owners were into. Folks just really love their Subarus, whether they're sedans, wagons, or SUVs.
But after wheeling an Outback for a week—the only Subaru I'd ever driven for a considerable amount of time—I finally get what the hype is all about.
2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness Specs
- Base Outback price (Outback Wilderness as tested): $28,270 ($39,965)
- Powertrain: 2.4-liter turbo four-cylinder boxer | continuously variable transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 260 @ 5,600 rpm
- Torque: 277 lb-ft @ 2,000 to 4,800 rpm
- Seating capacity: 5
- Curb weight: 3,896 pounds
- Ground clearance: 9.5 inches
- Off-road angles: 20.0° approach | 21.2° breakover | 23.6° departure
- Cargo volume: 32.5 cubic feet | 75.7 with rear seats folded
- Max towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
- EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city | 26 highway | 24 combined
- Quick take: If you're looking for more interior space, a taller ride height, and better off-road capability than a sedan but don't want to buy an SUV (or spend a fortune), the Outback Wilderness is likely the best choice for you.
- Score: 8.5/10
The Outback is the largest and most expensive wagon Subaru offers, sitting atop the much-loved (and obviously very popular) Crosstrek and Forester. Only the Ascent SUV tops it in terms of size, price, and seating capacity. It is offered in a whopping eight different trims: Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Wilderness, Limited XT, and Touring XT. This specific model, the Wilderness, sports more rugged styling inside and out, and will set you back around $3,000 less than the range-topping Touring XT.
When it comes to the Outback's exterior design, I know what most of you are going to say. The cladding. I threw a photo of it up on Instagram earlier and, unsurprisingly, most comments were about the plastic cladding. If anything, I think the plastic trim that surrounds it makes it look more utilitarian, more Safari-ready. That's the whole point of the Wilderness package. It adds front and rear tow points hidden behind yellow covers, as well as unpainted plastic surfaces on the bumpers and wheel arches so you don't tear up your pretty paint when venturing into the wilderness.
There are other exterior characteristics to focus on, such as the cool-looking, 17-inch matte black wheels, the trim-specific Geyser Blue paint color, and oversized roof rails so you can pack all the gear your heart desires. Compared to the regular Outback, the Wilderness has some serious overlanding vibes that trail-exploring folks will certainly love—and will think look cool, too.
As Kristen found out last summer, the Wilderness' upgrades aren't just cosmetic, they also enhance performance off-road—and boy did she put them to the test. These include tuned front and rear shock absorbers and springs, a raised suspension with 9.5 inches of clearance (versus 8.7 in the regular Outback), and dual-mode X-Mode AWD with settings for snow and deep mud/ruts. Wrapping up the outdoor lover's package is a set of Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires.
Inside, the rugged outdoorsy theme continues, with the front and rear seats wrapped in "Star-Tex" water-repellent upholstery, which in the case of the tester, was a two-tone gray pattern. These easy-to-clean seats and door panels feature yellow accents throughout the cabin, which are also Wilderness-specific. Optional all-weather mats and a cargo mat for the trunk saved the day, considering we saw plenty of snow, ice, and eventually mud in the Midwest during my test.
Like the other XT-trimmed Outbacks in the lineup, the Wilderness is powered by a 2.4-liter turbo four-cylinder boxer engine that produces 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It pairs with a CVT with paddle shifters that simulate an eight-speed transmission when in manual mode. Lesser Outbacks are powered by a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine mated to a similar CVT.
Driving the Subaru Outback Wilderness
The Outback is what I'd call a Daily Delight. It's not fast, though it can be fairly quick once you get used to the CVT's behavior, and it's not exactly the sharpest-handling car you'll ever drive—or the fifth, sixth, or seventh one—but it's got an adequate amount of power and road feel to sort out any situation you may come across. Except for drag-racing our autocrossing, of course.
My daily commute involves all city driving. And living in a downtown setting, the Outback Wilderness' suspension stood out to me, of all things. It's well sprung, well dampened, and as a result, it's a very capable and comfortable commuter that does a great job at softening even the shittiest of roads. Steering feel is on the lighter side—though slightly disconnected if you're wanting to get technical on twisty roads, which I suppose is unlikely for most Outback owners. It does, however, provide for effortless operation whether you're street parking or busting U-turns in downtown streets.
Both school runs I perform daily are done either near or at rush hour, so I deal with plenty of traffic. I found the Outback's overall dynamics perfect for this type of driving, as the car's acceleration is smooth, the braking is soft yet reassuring, and as I've already stated, the suspension is plush. And when there was ice and snow on the road, I experienced the excellent AWD system that even on all-terrain tires (which aren't always great for icy conditions) kept the car's composure and constantly maximized grip. The Outback felt confident under braking as well as under acceleration, and I really enjoyed kicking the tail out and sliding it a bit—when safe to do so. It may not be a WRX
STI, but the Outback's definitely got rallying in its DNA.
Another feature I truly enjoyed was the alert that pops up in the gauge cluster when the car in front of you has moved after stopping at a red light. This means that if you're fiddling with the finicky infotainment system (more on this later) or looking at your phone instead of paying attention to the traffic light—you know who you are—a beep will save you the embarrassment of getting honked at.
Overall, driving the Wilderness was a very pleasant experience as long as you know what to expect. Despite it looking a bit chunky with its cladding, it drives like a docile station wagon that wants to do nothing else but adapt to whatever you've got going on that day. In my case, that was school runs, grocery runs, dog park runs, and a bit of touring the countryside over the weekend. The additional ground clearance, all-terrain tires, and other extra Wilderness bits make it considerably more capable than the regular Outback, especially here in the Midwest where we can go from zero inches to a foot of snow in a few hours, or constantly deal with flooding. You get actual performance-enhancing hardware for your extra cash, not just colorful body bits.
The Highs and Lows
The Outback Wilderness' biggest pro is its overall usability. It's an excellent package. It's easy to nitpick things and talk smack about the plastic cladding, the CVT, or the meme-worthy stereotypes that come with driving a Subaru wagon, but the truth is that it just makes sense. It gets the job done every day, and it gets it done effortlessly and uneventfully. Of course, should you take it off-road as Kristen did, then things are bound to get more exciting. But daily life with the Outback is just easy-peasy.
Its biggest con is the outdated look and feel of the cabin, including the finicky and cheap-looking screens. The gauge cluster is still mostly analog, with a very small screen between the two gauges still displaying info in Tetris-like graphics. The same applies to the portrait-oriented infotainment touchscreen, which oftentimes requires two taps to recognize an action, and once it does, it reacts rather slowly. Turning on the seat warmers can take more than three taps between opening up the climate menu and then cycling through the different levels of heating, plus one or two more taps because it didn't recognize the first tap. Also, a lot of these buttons on the touchscreen are very small, and it was a real struggle to operate them with bulky winter gloves. Why the gloves? Because no heated steering wheel.
Subaru Outback Wilderness Features, Options, and Competition
Base Outbacks start at $28,070, with $38,120 getting you the Wilderness trim. The test car's final MSRP came to $39,965 and didn't feature much in the way of additional equipment. There was only "Option Package 22," per the spec sheet, which bundles the "Starlink 11.6" Multimedia Navigation System," power moonroof, and reverse automatic braking. The price of this package is $1,845. Should you skip this option, you'll get the same touchscreen just without a navigation feature, and a solid roof.
With the lack of options in the wagon segment, it's tough to find a direct competitor for the regular Outback, let alone the more rugged Wilderness model. The Volvo V60 Cross Country could be one, though it's a more premium offering that comes with a considerably steeper price tag. The Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape are more comparable in terms of price, but lack standard features like all-wheel drive and are solidly in the crossover/SUV territory.
The Outback in Wilderness trim delivers 22 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, making it less efficient than most of its Outback stablemates. For comparison, the range-topping Touring XT delivers 23 city and 30 highway. The lowest-ranking Outback comes in at 26 city and 33 highway. This is the price you pay for heightened ground clearance, I suppose.
Value and Verdict
The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is an excellent fit for folks who are looking for a vehicle with a taller ride height but who also don't want to succumb to crossovers or SUVs. It checks all the boxes for those looking for the comfort, practicality, and all-around versatility the Outback already offers, but want an added layer of off-road performance and ruggedness that's functional and not just fashionable. And if you live in an area where inclement weather is a recurring thing, then its standard AWD really gives it an edge over the competition. As we've already reported, it's also a decent off-roader this side of a Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco and a ton more liveable than the two.
You don't need to shell out the additional 10 grand for the Wildnerness trim if you don't plan on fording shallow creeks in your Outback because the regular one is still just as competent for daily duties. But the Wilderness' rugged styling and its off-road capability truly set it apart from its competitors, as it does the wagon styling. It's a unique vehicle for those looking to drive through life with relative originality, but without sacrificing utility. Because after all, that's what you want your daily driver to be: useful and easy to live with. Subaru gets that. And now I do, too.
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