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2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness Review
Let's go exploring
SAN DIEGO — I'm a car journalist which means, by industry practice, I love wagons.
They're practical, with ample cargo space like a crossover, but they still provide a sporty and excellent driving experience like a car. I wish there were more wagon options in the US, but they've essentially been narrowed down to a couple of Volvos (one of which I own), a few luxury German options, and the Subaru Outback.
A couple of decades ago, Volvo found that what wagon buyers really wanted was a rugged, off-road-ish option called Cross Country. That trim was so wildly successful that the XC name eventually was applied to the brand's entire SUV lineup, which makes up the bulk of Volvo's sales these days.
Subaru is a little late to that discovery, only recently launching the terrific Subaru Outback Wilderness, which is my test car this week.
The Outback is a very successful formula, especially in cold-weather states: combine a practical, outdoorsy vehicle with lots of room to haul stuff and an easy-to-access roof rack (another bonus of the wagon) with all-wheel-drive and a reasonable price.
The Wilderness takes all that and adds a new suspension, off-road tires, a 0.8-inch lift, and some cool exterior and interior design bits (the most critical part, naturally).
Let's not get too carried away — it's still a Subaru Outback, and owners are unlikely to do anything more strenuous than hitting a washed-out Forest Service trail on the way to an epic trail hike. But this thing is ready for an adventure.
There are functional upgrades, including a front skid plate, plastic cladding on the wheel arches, and off-road tires (including a full-size spare!) — but the visual improvements are far more exciting. It sounds absurd, but adding bright yellow accents (Subie insists they're Anodized Copper) and indicators on the outside really amps things up.
The black wheels and large roof rack combine to give the Wilderness a capable, outdoorsy feel. There's also a big black sticker on the hood that is ostensibly for "anti-glare" purposes, but really it's because it looks fantastic. Inside, you get water-repellant seats and thick rubber floormats, and the overall effect is that of a vehicle ready to get out and explore the world, which is, as we know, the entire idea.
Buying the Outback Wilderness is pretty easy, which is nice. There's a single options package combining a moonroof, larger touchscreen with nav, and automatic reverse braking so you don't accidentally back into things, all for $1,845. With destination and that single option box checked, you can buy a new one for $41,515.
The turbocharged 2.4-liter engine makes plenty of oomph, 260 horsepower, and 277 lb-ft of torque, and Subaru says the drivetrain has been re-tuned for improved low-speed climbing.
The interior gets more Anodized Copper on the steering wheel, shift knob, and elsewhere; and rather fetching Subaru Wilderness imprints on the headrests. If you're into rugged practicality, you'll like it quite a lot. It also has Subaru's terrific EyeSight driver assist tech, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the roof rack is strong enough to hold a multi-person tent.
I almost wonder if the Wilderness should be the standard Subaru Outback, the way Volvo turned the Cross Country trim into its de facto wagon, at least in the US. Anyone buying an Outback is going to be an outdoorsy type, or at least wants to pretend to be, and the Wilderness fits the bill perfectly.