MALIBU, Calif. – About half a century ago, a power company fleet manager wandered into a Subaru concession in northern Japan. Looking for a vehicle for power line maintenance in the region’s mountainous and snowy terrain, the manager finally spoke Subaru in the construction of world’s first four-wheel-drive wagon.
This cart has spawned generations of surprisingly capable successors, and one could argue that one of them, the raised AWD wagon known as the 1994 Countrysidelaunched the modern CUV infatuation. Fast forward to today and the current Subaru Outback is bigger and more crossing than ever before, catering to outdoor families who recognize how useful its distinctive capabilities can be for their adventures. Still, there are outdoor families who enjoy traveling further into the backcountry than others. These are the people who have already lifted their Outbacks farther and put more aggressive rubber on them. The new 2022 Subaru Outback Nature is for them.
More than just a trim level, the Outback Wilderness is the first offering from a new Subaru sub-brand. It will be to overlanders and vanlifers what the STI is to canyon-digging speed demons. Right away, it’s obvious that the Wilderness is more rugged than a standard Outback but, crucially, it’s more than just a looks package.
The Outback Wilderness increases ground clearance over the Outback by 0.8 inches, from 8.7 to 9.5. It’s seriously big. This comes with more suspension travel and a slightly wider track thanks to the exclusive matte black 17 x 7.0 alloys. The rugged Yokohama Geolandar All-Terrains 225/65-R17 that come with them even sport raised white lettering as a throwback to the original Outback.
In addition to the suspension, redesigned bumpers help the Wilderness get off the beaten path. Approach angle improves by 1.4 degrees to 20 degrees, ramp rollover angle increases by 1.8 degrees to 21.2, and departure angle increases by 1.9 degrees to 23 ,6. None of these additions are enough to make it a rock crawler (Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee are even better, just like the Ford Bronco Sports), but they are nonetheless significant increases over the regular Outback and further solidify its off-road advantage over softer crossovers like the Honda CR-V and basic Toyota RAV4. Additionally, the corners of the bumper are beveled to help slide over obstacles when cornering.
The Wilderness models build on the Onyx models, which means the 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer comes standard. Delivering its 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 277 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm through a smooth, lag-free CVT, and there’s no reason not to expect the same thing here. Although power remains unchanged, Wilderness riders may notice more low-end torque, the result of an increased final drive ratio of 4.11:1 at 4.44:1. Subaru says this allows the vehicle to climb grades of up to 40% on a gravel surface. As a result, fuel economy suffers a bit, though, dropping to 22 mpg city and 26 mpg highway (from 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway). The off-road tires and higher ride height almost certainly contribute to that drop as well.
To really get owners off the grid, the roof rack system is a sturdier fixed ladder frame architecture that replaces the “Swing-n-Place”. Notably, it allows for a static weight of 700 pounds, which can support accessories like a roof-mounted tent. And in case you get a flat tire far from civilization, there’s a full-size spare under the cargo area, not a space saver.
The Wilderness comes with an upgraded plastic and aluminum underbody cover to protect the engine. However, if you want to try your hand at rock-strewn trails, Subaru will also offer optional skid plates to protect the engine, transmission, fuel tank and differential (see gallery) in either aluminum or steel, depending on the part. Pricing isn’t final, but a Subaru spokesperson told us the complete package should cost around $500, not including installation.
Additionally, a slightly improved X-Mode system is exclusive to the Outback Wilderness (and presumably future Wilderness variants of other models). Typically, this system – which helps in low-speed situations like climbing uneven surface inclines, controlling hill descent and traversing low-traction surfaces – would disengage at around 25 mph. Wilderness models have a higher gear setting that works beyond this cutoff, and X-Mode can switch between the two for smoother off-road riding without power interruption.
Some of the visual cues in the Wilderness models will also help in backcountry riding. For example, the matte black stripe on the hood prevents reflections. The hexagonal LED fog lights are said to be very powerful and match the hexagonal pattern of the exclusive grille. Copper-colored plates indicate anchor points and tie-downs on the roof rack.
Wilderness models also receive an exclusive color, Geyser Blue, which is said to be inspired by a mix of the Subaru World Rally Blue brand on sporty models and green to represent nature. This will be the flagship color, also available on future Wilderness spin-offs. Other Outback colors are available on the Wilderness except Abyssal Blue and Crimson Red. More aggressive side cladding, blacked-out window trim and exclusive badges complete the exterior touches.
The exterior-focused upgrades continue in the cabin as well. Water-repellent upholstery covers the seats (the Wilderness logo is obviously embossed in the headrests). The headliner is finished in a darker material, Subaru says, so contact with dirty bikes or other gear is less likely to result in visible stains. The rear seatbacks also feature waterproof material, and the cargo area includes a waterproof tray covering the cargo floor, so feel free to throw in all the wet camping gear you want. The floor mats are also heavy duty rubber that display a Wilderness logo.
The Wilderness interior is further distinguished by the same copper-colored accents that appear on the exterior, including around the steering wheel and shifter, as well as the stitching. Brushed aluminum pedals give the floor a sporty feel, and most of the interior parts that would normally be chrome are gunmetal gray instead.
Here on the west coast we have seen a marked increase in the number of Lifted Subarus prowling the streets. Whether Outbacks, Crossings, or even the occasional Loyal, a trend is emerging. One of the benefits of ordering a factory-tuned vehicle, however, is the fact that safety sensors like Subaru’s Eyesight system, which includes lane centering and adaptive cruise, have been calibrated specifically to compensate for the new height. .
Pricing has yet to be announced, but a premium over the Onyx’s $35,145 is expected. Subaru has always been popular with nature lovers and its customers are loyal. With the popularity of overlanding expanding what people are willing to do with their cars, Subaru is smart and well positioned to capture a slice of that market. After all, the company that created the off-road wagon segment should be able to bring back some buyers who would otherwise scour Craigslist for a used vehicle. land cruiser or Westy Vanagons.
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