Call of the Wild-erness
Subaru Outback Wilderness edition ups the off-road ability, doesn’t sacrifice on-road comfort
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This article was published 19/11/2021 (495 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Subaru has made its name through its relentless pursuit of all-wheel-drive perfection, but it’s never really swung for the fences in log-crushing, rock-crawling off-road ability.
It still hasn’t.
The latest Outback, the Wilderness model, takes the concept further, perhaps further than Subaru has gone before, and the Wilderness does hold its own on all but the worst off-road drives, but a Jeep Wrangler it’s not.
Truth is, it’s not trying to be. Though its approach angle (19.6 degrees) and departure angle (23.6 degrees) and 230 mm ground clearance (almost nine inches) are excellent, the Outback Wilderness is a lifted, ruggedized version of Outback rather than a Bronco-beater.
Which is fine: I’d still be more comfortable taking the Outback Wilderness through heavy terrain than a non-Wilderness version. The cladding helps protect paint, while the lifting (it has 10 mm more clearance than regular Outback models) means you’re less likely to turtle and yet the car doesn’t sacrifice much in on-road comportment.
Oh, sure, the rugged tires generate a bit more road noise, but it’s a fair trade.
What impresses me about the Outback is its interior room relative to its footprint and the hole it cuts in the air. It has more cargo room behind the rear seats than a Mazda CX-5, and is nearly the equal of the CX-5 in handling. Its 2.4-litre turbo generates 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque for plenty of acceleratory fun.
It offers that room while being only a bit bigger than a regular Outback, which makes it very carlike in appearance, size and handling. The styling is a bit more butch, with a meaner-looking front fascia, different roof rack, most of what is chrome in other models is blacked out and cladding around the wheel wells provides more protection, too.
It, of course, delivers power to all four wheels through Subaru’s excellent Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Unfortunately, it does so only through a continuously variable automatic. Outback, in all variations, is one of a few models available without a manual transmission option. To Subaru’s credit, Impreza, WRX, STi, Crosstrek and BRZ still have manual transmissions available.
The CVT, which Subaru infamously first offered in the unremarkable Justy, has come a long ways since those snowmobile-on-steroid days. Subaru calls its CVT Lineartronic, and it’s far better today than even five years ago. Most drivers won’t notice: those with sporting aspirations may find it feels a bit more relaxed than a conventional automatic. Such is a perception, however: CVT-equipped cars can and do accelerate as quickly as an automatic, but with the lack of stepped gear shifts, don’t always feel as fast.
The combination is fuel efficient, however: the Outback Wilderness has a fuel economy rating of 8.9 litres per 100 km on the highway, 10.9 in the city.
All this comes with a nearly $10,000 premium over the Convenience model, as the Wilderness starts at $41,995.
If there’s one complaint, it’s that the car relies too much on the massive touchscreen for too many functions, such as disabling traction control or activating heated seats.
The Wilderness won’t follow a Wrangler through the Rubicon Trail, but it looks like it could, and is more capable than most of its contemporaries, so if you’re looking for a crossover with an aggressive off-road look and a carlike feel, you’re not barking up the wrong tree looking at the Wilderness.
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.