It's the best of what Subaru is famous for.
Subaru knows what it's doing. Despite some complaining about yet another high-riding crossover/faux-wagon/SUV like the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness, we're sure the company is going to sell every one it makes. Most customers want on-road comfort (even if we found the vehicle a little floppy on the highway in our first drive), as well as off-road capability, and we'll accept that the Outback Wilderness gives buyers that. But quickly, let's go through what an Outback Wilderness is.
First, it gets a one-inch higher ride height for a total of 9.5 inches. It comes with Subaru's X-Mode off-road driving modes as well as a front skid plate, all-terrain Geolander tires, upgraded suspension, and the company's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Extra black cladding sets it apart from the standard Outback, as do copper-colored accents on the tow hooks, roof rails, and elsewhere. It keeps the same 2.4-liter boxer four making 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque.
In our second drive with the Outback Wilderness, we must have been in a better mood because its on-road manners bothered us much less than they did back in May. It still won't carve corners but with less general wind and a straighter path to mid-Michigan, we found it much easier to control at speed.
The steering has medium weight, and with that extra suspension travel, potholes are hardly noticed. The steering ratio seems a touch too slow, but that's better when dodging boulders using the front camera. Mid-corner bumps still make the body wiggle and move, but if you're not driving at 9/10ths, you probably won't even notice.
The assisted driving tech is better than most and seems to improve every time we use it. The EyeSight system is standard across the range with adaptive cruise and lane centering, and it seems to ping pong between the lines less than we remembered. It took less added steering input to keep the system going and we used it for a good 30 minutes on our hour-long drive.
On the trails, the Outback Wilderness felt both faster and more agile. We covered surfaces ranging from grass to two-tracks, tight forest trails, and mud. And the Wilderness lapped it all up. We were a little disappointed that the X-Mode functions only worked up until 25 mph, as we had enough space to get some real speed when necessary. Approach and departure angles improve from 18.6 degrees to 20.0 and 21.7 degrees to 23.6 degrees, respectively. You get an extra 1.8 degrees of breakover angle too, for a total of 21.2 degrees.
We were extra impressed around the tight trails, where the Outback was able to maneuver around fallen logs, scratchy plants and into clearings we didn't think were big enough for a car. There were a few instances of three-point turns, but that won't be much of a problem in most cases. The only place we didn't take it was down the steepest hill at the back of the trail site, as that would necessitate driving over logs larger even than the Outback's ride height.
The best part about the Wilderness, besides the paint and copper accents, is the versatility. That obviously applies to driving, but also bringing cargo around comfortably and conveniently. The Wilderness has 32.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats in place and more than 75 cubes with the second row folded. That's on par with many bigger SUVs, and with the protective mats and rear seat protectors, you can throw anything in there without worrying.
We stacked it up with mechanic's tools, a weed whip and trimmers, a couple gas cans, a cooler and a few more pieces of lawn equipment without having to jiggle stuff in. We could probably even have doubled our stow.
On the tech side, the Wilderness gets a Starlink 11.6-inch screen, which is Subaru's best effort in infotainment so far. It looks good and the middle screen swipes quickly. It's also home to the HVAC and X-Mode settings, and where the camera displays video when you're creeping along off-road. Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, as is four months of Sirius radio.
We may have been a little hard on the Outback Wilderness in our first drive, but we do like our cars sportier most of the time. Its competitive set is made up mostly of SUVs like the Hyundai Santa Fe, and off-roading titans like the Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Grand Cherokee, but the lower roof gives the Outback a handling advantage.
The Volvo V60 Cross Country might be the closest match, with a wagon body and extra ride height. It comes in about $8,000 more than this Outback but is much more luxurious inside and out. This one starts at $37K, and we'd feel a little better beating it up on the trails than we would a Volvo.
The more we think about it, the Outback in general and this Wilderness specifically are ideal. The Wilderness rides high enough to give a good view of traffic, is quick enough to not be annoying, is big enough to carry a family's gear, and is capable enough off-road to get 95% of buyers farther than they ever imagined. It's Subaru, distilled.