If you’re a Subaru fan of a certain age, you’ll remember when the Outback was slightly more robust, taller-flavored than the Legacy wagon. Now, nearly 20 years later, you can’t even buy a Legacy wagon in the US – the Outback pulled out half of Oedipus and killed his father with his own popularity. And so it’s time to welcome an even taller vehicle to claim its claim as the king of Subaru wagons. It’s called the Subaru Outback Wilderness, and while it may look a little awkward perched 0.8 inches taller than its siblings, it has the rugged looks, moves, and features that make it a true candidate, even if you never cross a bumpy path than one to the shops.
- Improved Off-road capability Improve
- Manners unchanged on the road
- Great value
I do not like
- Slightly reduced fuel economy
- Lots of copper
So what’s new? The big story is that elevator. The Wilderness Outback offers a healthy 9.5 inches of ground travel. If you need context, as my colleague Steven Ewing pointed out in his, which matches the clearance offered by the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Few would question the location of that thing.
Mind you, performance after the tarmac finish has a lot to do with the drivetrain and the Wilderness is largely satisfied with the same setup as the regular Outback. That is, open front and rear differentials driven by a continuously variable transmission and a clutch-type center differential. However, a shift to a final drive ratio of 4.44: 1 versus 4.11: 1 in the standard Outback means more torque for low-speed rock crawling. Unfortunately, it also means reduced fuel consumption: 22 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg combined compared to 23, 30 and 26, respectively. In my tests those figures turned out to be accurate, averaging 24.2mpg in mixed driving.
I expected an even greater impact on driving dynamics. Given the reinforced vibe applied to the outside and that extended stance, I thought the Outback Wilderness would be either overly stiff or sturdy enough to scratch its side mirrors on the tarmac in every corner. I was pleasantly surprised that I was wrong.
The Outback Wilderness rides like an even more luxurious Outback, absorbing potholes, frosts, level crossings and everything in between. Despite that, it retains the relatively sharp and responsive feel of a Legacy. It is only in the longest turns taken at speed that the higher roll center begins to be taken into account in the equation, but even then it is a minor consideration. Put simply, the Wilderness drives very well both on and off the road.
Enhancing Wilderness’s off-road capabilities are a slim skid plate and re-tuned X-Mode system. This is Subaru’s nickname for its terrain-focused stability and drive mode system, which for Wilderness remains enabled at speeds above 25 mph.
The other big change is inside, with the interior finished in StarTex fabric. This water repellent material has an almost neoprene-like feel and a honeycomb texture that not only looks firm but feels really tough. I didn’t get the interior of the car you see here properly dirty (this was just a loan, after all), but it definitely looked more than up to the task of the typical Subaru lifestyle, muddy Labrador claws and all.
What’s not a highlight? Well, Subaru’s infotainment system, for starters. Starlink looks more dated by the minute, perhaps even more dated on the giant 11.6-inch touchscreen.is , however, mitigate it to a large extent. Built-in navigation is part of Wilderness’s lone options package, a pretty sparse selection of features that for $ 1,845 also gives you a power moonroof and rear automatic emergency braking.
Subaru’s active safety suite, on the other hand, comes standard. EyeSight has been recalibrated to address Wilderness capabilities and still features adaptive cruise control, centered lane keeping assistance, automatic emergency braking and the usual goodies. It works fine but gives an incessant beep: every time it spots or loses sight of a car in front of you, every time the lane alignment system activates or deactivates, always. It’s functional but annoying.
And what about that look? The Wilderness literally stands out alongside its Outback predecessor, but the visual changes extend beyond the elevator. The extra body coating matches the aggressive look which is also presented by a set of simple yet gripping six-spoke wheels wrapped in sturdy all-terrain Yokohama Geolandar tires. The crystalline pearl white color of my test vehicle is great for showing mud and works well with all that black plastic, but I’m also a huge fan of the hero’s geyser blue color.
What I don’t really like is the anodized copper accents, if only because it’s a very mustard copper shade and things are all over the place. Highlight tow points and constraints? That I can dig. But the steering wheel, shifter and random labels on the door cards are a little too much for me.
Regardless, the interior is comfortable and roomy, front or rear, with 32.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and 75.7 cubic feet if you fold those seats. That’s nearly 50% more cargo space than the longer, more luxurious one.
That Volvo is also a lot more expensive at $ 55,995 after a $ 1,095 destination tax. The Outback Wilderness you see pictured here, with the $ 1,845 moonroof package, came in at $ 39,965 after a $ 1,125 destination fee. It is much cheaper than even the smallest, which starts at $ 46,545. Given the scarcity of wagons in the US market right now, it’s hard to know where else to compare, but a similar option exits at $ 43,305 after targeting $ 1,495. The Jeep will do much better off-road, sure, but the Subaru promises a much more enjoyable trip to the trailhead.
So aside from fuel economy and the $ 1,850 increase on an Outback Onyx Edition XT, you’re not sacrificing much if you had to tick that Wilderness box when ordering a Subaru. The raised suspension and other tweaks make the car more capable, while the rugged good looks inspire adventure with every look, even if today’s quest is simply the commute to work.