“Come on, come on, figure it out,” I half-shouted at the dashboard. The nose of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness was pointed relatively skyward, three of the four wheels balanced on a mix of dry dirt and rocks as I prodded the throttle. The front right wheel was a foot or more in the air as I worked my way up the steep start of the Peters Mill Run off-road trail.
Paying close attention to my right foot, I poked the skinny pedal gingerly, followed by a more purposeful application. Tires scrabbled, the Outback Wilderness’ extra-special X-Mode all-wheel drive software performed a bunch of calculations, braked a wheel or two, and sure enough… figured it out. We were through.
Subaru claims enough Outback buyers were modifying their not-wagon wagons to make them more off-road capable, but some of their modifications were messing with the calibration of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance system. So, Subaru took it upon themselves to make an overlandy Outback, set up from the factory for more rough-and-tumble driving than the already-capable “normal” Outback and fully supported by a factory warranty. Enter the first of their “Wilderness” lineup, the 2022 Outback Wilderness.
What Is It?
This is a 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness. Based on their street-oriented Outback Onyx XT, it’s powered by Subaru’s turbocharged 2.4 liter boxer four-cylinder that produces 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. Peak horsepower is made up at 6,000 rpm, but the torque peak starts at 2,000 rpm and is carried on to about 4,800 rpm. Power is routed through Subaru’s now-ubiquitous endless-ratio CVT and makes it to the wheels courtesy of standard all-wheel drive.
Outbacks have been pushed as rugged, go-(most)-anywhere wagons for decades, and Subaru amped everything up with the 2022 Outback Wilderness. It’s got as much ground clearance as a stock Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, at 9.5 inches – up about 0.8 inches from other Outbacks. Ground clearance means little if your approach, breakover, and departure angles are lousy, so Subaru improved those as well, now at 20°, 21.2°, and 23.6° respectively. A front skid plate is standard, and additional skid plates for the engine, transmission, and fuel tank are available as Subaru accessories.
The 2022 Outback Wilderness rides on a unique set of matte black 17-inch wheels, wrapped in Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires. Should you slice a sidewall open on a trail, you’ll find a fifth matching wheel and tire under the rear trunk floor, with TPMS and everything. No “donut spare” here.
Subaru modified the axle gearing on the Outback Wilderness as well, changing from 4.11:1 to a shorter 4.44:1 to help with low-speed maneuvers. And while the front and rear differentials remain open, Subaru modified the programming of their X-Mode all-wheel drive software. It’s now got two “Deep Snow and Mud” settings that work either below or above 25 miles per hour. “Ratio control” detects when you’re on downhills and forces the CVT to its lowest ratio while working the brakes.
Should you want to throw a rooftop tent on your Outback, the Outback Wilderness’ roof bars can support more static load than a normal Outback. Up to 700 pounds of people and tent can be secured to the roof if you are parked. Rooftop camping sounds objectively terrible to me, but it’s nice to know it’s feasible.
MSRP of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness comes in at $38,120.
Off-Roading the 2022 Outback Wilderness
I couldn’t have Subaru’s beefed-up wagon for a week and only drive it on asphalt – there’s no fun in that, and it’s not much of a test of the car’s uprated capability. So, Tyler and I hit the highway for a ninety-minute trek to one of few legitimate trails in Virginia. I’m no stranger to Peters Mill Run, having run it in a few of my personal trucks and with a gaggle of cheap and horrible all-wheel drive vehicles two years ago. It’s a rocky trail, one that challenges a crossover like the Outback but not so much that you’ll break things.
The southern entrance to Peters Mill Run is all incline, and you keep climbing for the first mile or two at least. Off-roading is all about “as slow as possible, as fast as necessary,” and I had no desire to install the (useful) spare tire, so Tyler spotted me over some difficult ledges and ruts. While the Outback Wilderness didn’t handle the start of the trail as easily as a built Jeep, the Geolandar tires and X-Mode software put in some work. I’d feel traction shift around as X-Mode sorted out which wheels to brake and where to send power, and with a second or two of the car thinking and me providing enough throttle input, the Outback Wilderness accepted my inputs and got me through.
Past the start of the trail, it leveled out with gentler inclines and declines. Here, rocks are your biggest enemy. Sharp edges are waiting to cut sidewalls, and you have to pick your line carefully at times to avoid scraping the rocker panels. Again, Tyler spotted me in places and reassured me that 9.5 inches of clearance was more than adequate. On descents, I just took my right foot off the throttle once I was at my desired speed, and the CVT slipped into its lowest ratio as the downhill assist light flashed away. It was, more or less, one-pedal off-roading.
We finished the trail behind a lifted, modified “TJ” Jeep Wrangler that had been our unintentional sidekick throughout the day. They were going slow, they said, because the ride in the lifted Wrangler was pretty rough. Tyler and I were very comfortable by comparison, though the water-resistant “StarTex” seats don’t breathe very well on hot days. Body control and ride quality were both excellent given the car’s mission.
With miles of rocky trail behind us, we hit the interstate and set the cruise control.
Highway Driving in the 2022 Outback Wilderness
Tyler made a great comment on our drive back toward Washington, D.C. – the Outback Wilderness does not have any sort of adaptive dampers. You get what you get with its suspension. Despite that simplicity – which we liked – the ride is pretty good both on-road and off-. The same can be said for the all-terrain tire that Subaru paired to the car. It kept the car sure-footed on rocks, but wasn’t too noisy or harsh otherwise.
Road noise and wind noise were both somewhat apparent, though nothing loud or irritating. Subaru isn’t claiming the Outback Wilderness is a luxury car, though, so we gave it a pass. Fuel economy, down from the non-Wilderness Outback XT models, was still “fine” at the rated, achievable 26 miles per gallon highway.
I had issues with Subaru’s EyeSight tech on the highway last year, in a 2020 Legacy sedan. The Legacy wandered in its lane despite the Lane Centering feature, getting uncomfortably close to passing cars one lane over. Unfortunately, the Outback wasn’t any better-behaved. Every other aspect of EyeSight worked very well, but it cannot be trusted to calmly, reliably stay centered in a well-marked interstate lane.
The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is a niche trim level in a very versatile Outback lineup. There is a element of class-less-ness (not a word but stick with me) about the Outback, it’s a well-balanced vehicle that can be equipped nicely for reasonable money. It appeals to a wide spread of income levels and a variety of buyers.
I wouldn’t suggest the Outback Wilderness in particular to every single Outback shopper. If you’re planning to stay fully or mostly on asphalt, you won’t benefit from all the upgrades Subaru has made on the Wilderness. But if your definition of “active lifestyle” includes weekends of trail driving, the Outback Wilderness should be more than capable enough. It’s not on the same level as a Toyota 4Runner or Jeep Wrangler – and that’s the appeal.
As with the “regular” Outback, it’s balanced.