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2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is a better Outback in the city and the wild

Off-road editions can be hit or miss. Some offer a lot more show than go, while others can compromise the vehicle in unintended ways (usually making them significantly worse on pavement). The good news is that the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness’ rugged styling handles the show and its off-road upgrades make it better to drive both on- and off-road. Factor in a price tag that won’t break the bank and the Wilderness represents the best that the Outback can offer.

The Wilderness’ prominent copper accents make it stand out from the other Outbacks, inside and out. On the exterior they point to different usable spots like roof rack mounts or tow hook locations, while on the inside they serve to break up what can be a drab, mono-color design. The interior also features a set of extremely comfortable front seats with dimpled water-resistant upholstery, and the exterior gets black 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires with white lettering.

Backing up these visual upgrades is an additional 0.8 inch of ground clearance, bringing it to 9.5 inches. This pulls up the Wilderness’ approach, breakover, and departure angles to 20, 21.2, and 23.6 degrees, respectively. The front and rear bumpers have been shaved at the corners to keep them out of the way of obstacles off-road as well. 

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Mechanical changes also back these dimensional shifts. The suspension has been softened to account for the added height, while the transmission features a modified final drive ratio of 4.44:1 (vs. 4.11:1 on the other Outbacks with this engine) and a new pressure sensor. Subaru says that the modified final drive ratio is meant to provide better low-end torque for climbing steep inclines, and the new pressure sensor on the transmission provides greater throttle accuracy at low speeds.

The engine is shared with the other Outback XT models, a 260-hp 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 that makes 277 lb-ft of torque. A continuously variable automatic transmission and all-wheel drive with a limited-slip differential come standard as well. 

Though the equipment is familiar, the transmission updates change the nature of the powertrain noticeably. The Wilderness does possess greater throttle dexterity and responsiveness. It climbed a steep 30-degree gravel incline with ease and consistent low end power delivery. But I enjoyed these changes even more on the street. Gone is the low-speed throttle hesitation found in the other Outback models; the Wilderness feels much more lively. The softened suspension also improves ride quality as it glides over bumps in the pavement like they don’t exist. That makes the Outback Wilderness a sneaky good highway cruiser.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

There are a few drawbacks. Moving to an all-terrain tire increases tire noise. The tires and softened suspension sap some cornering ability. Our drive route included a jaunt on canyon roads, where I noticed plenty of tire squeal and a tendency toward understeer. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Wilderness feels “loose” on the road, just a touch more unstable in sharper corners. 

The more aggressive throttle also has some fuel economy drawbacks, Subaru said fuel economy is the main reason the throttle changes won’t come to other Outback models. The Wilderness has an EPA estimated rating of 22 mpg city, 26 highway, 24 combined mpg, which trails the 23/30/26 mpg ratings of other models with this powertrain.

Once the road ends, there are no such hesitations. The added ground clearance, better throttle response, and a solid all-wheel-drive system make the Wilderness easy to drive off-road. It chews up dirt and gravel with confidence. Just point it, hit the gas, and you’ll end up at the top of whatever hill you’re aiming at. The suspension keeps the cabin isolated while rumbling through dirt roads. The X-Mode off-road driving mode has always switched over to Normal mode when the vehicle exceeds 25 mph, but the Wilderness it’s smart enough to go back to X-Mode when the speed drops back below 25 mph.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

The Outback Wilderness isn’t a hard-core off-roader with extreme approach and departure angles, and it lacks low-range gearing, so it still can’t crawl rocks. Subaru was happy to point out that the Wilderness’ ground clearance puts it within spitting distance of other off-road vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler Sport (9.7 inches) and the Toyota 4Runner (9.6 inches). But those vehicles have much greater angles of attack than the Wilderness. The Wrangler Sport has an approach angle of 41.4 degrees, more than double the angle of the Wilderness, and the 4Runner is no slouch either with a 30-degree approach angle. While the Outback Wilderness can go further off the beaten path than other Outbacks, it lacks the suspension dexterity of traditional body-on-frame off-roaders and it can’t traverse larger obstacles like them.

That caveat aside, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is one of the most overlanding ready vehicles that we’ve tested. The 700-pound capacity of the roof rack screams “put a tent on me,” it has the right tires, and it drives well enough on pavement that it won’t make you want to turn around before you get to your isolated destinaion. It’s also priced right. The Wilderness starts at $38,120, making it cheaper than the Outback’s Limited XT and Premium XT model. I’d also prefer it over both of those vehicles, for the performance gains, pieces of copper flair (which I really like), and a comfortable front seats. It’s a complete package that upgrades the Outback in all conditions.

Subaru provided a day of driving in the Outback Wilderness for Motor Authority to bring you this first-hand report.

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