I find the Subaru Outback to be one of the more comfortable crossover type vehicles currently on the market. And, after the addition of the new up-level engine for the 2020 model year, I didn't think it could get any better.
But it just did.
With the new 2022 Outback Wilderness model, you get that awesome engine plus more off-road capability. A lot more.
Let's start with the ground clearance
Subaru increases the Outback's ground clearance to 9.5 inches. That's up from 8.7 inches. Since this is a pickup truck crowd, let's compare that to some of the best-selling trucks currently on the market.
Here are some of the clearances for the base trucks:
Chevy Silverado: 8.2 inches
GMC Sierra: 8.4 inches
Toyota Tacoma: 9.4 inches
Ford F-150: 9.4 inches
But how does that compare to something like the Jeep Wrangler? Well, the Wrangler only bests it by 0.2 of an inch.
That's crazy talk.
There's cladding, then there's cladding
While the Outback always had its fair share of hard plastic cladding surrounding the wheel wells and front bumpers, it seems to have grown exponentially with the Wilderness trim. It reaches up over the front and rear corners of the vehicle, and adds a couple inches over the wheel wells to increase protection on painted surfaces from rocks and loose gravel.
Something else to note is that both the front fog lamps and rear reflectors have been moved up on the cladding to help protect them from damage.
In terms of other off-roading features, the Wilderness model also has 17-inch all-terrain tires, a standard front skid plate and several available skid plates (costing about $129 each) to cover fuel takes, transmissions, etc.
As you can see, Subaru really wants you to find the path less traveled and have some fun doing it - without damaging your vehicle.
I admit I'm not a camper. I went once (actual camping, not glamping) and nearly froze to death - even though I had body warmers attached to every surface and a sleeping bag rated for negative something. It was 55 degrees. Clearly, sleeping on the ground was not my thing.
But I might be willing to give it a go again now that the Outback Wilderness model gets ladder style roof rails rated for 700 pounds in a static position. That's enough for a roof tent, two people and some of their gear. The bigger bonus? You don't have to worry about animals or creepy crawlies.
The moving weight rating is 220 pounds.
Then you have all that washable stuff
Because Subaru recognizes that its owners are likely going out to do activities that will get them muddy and dirty, they've made a lot of their surfaces washable.
First up, the seating surfaces are a water-repellant StarTex (aka leatherette) material. So, they're easy to wipe clean, and won't soak up any liquids dripped from sodden clothes or beverage spills. Plus, the test vehicle I was driving had really cool all-weather floor mats that can be removed, hosed off and replaced.
The best thing, however, is that the seat backs framing the cargo area are also washable. So, muddy bike wheels and gear won't leave a mark.
Oh, and by the way, that's why the headliner is also black - it won't show scuffs or dirt.
But how does it drive?
I have to admit I was a bit worried about those all-terrain 17-inch tires. But, Subaru does a fairly decent job with sound dampening, so there isn't too much tire noise that enters into the cabin. And if you turn on your music? Problem solved.
I absolutely love the up-level 2.4-cylinder turbocharged Boxer engine. It delivers 260 horsepower and 277 pound feet of torque, which makes this vehicle pretty peppy in passing and merge situations.
I fielded a lot of questions on social media about the CVT, and what I want to say is: It's fine. I'm a manual transmission driver, and that's always going to be my transmission of choice, but this high-torque Lineartronic CVT with an 8-speed manual transmission (aka paddle shifters) does a bang-up job.
While this does a fine job on-road, I have to admit I was SUPER impressed with its off-road chops. We went to a pretty cool off-road park near Detroit, Michigan, and I wasn't sure it would make it through some of the obstacles we traversed. Yet it did - and it was fairly smooth in the process. From 40-degree grades to some pretty interesting break-over tests, the Outback Wilderness model tackled them all with ease.
I will note we did have the optional skid plates - in addition to the standard front one - and I was very thankful for them because I know I hit more than one of them while on the trail.
The bottom line on the Outback Wilderness
I kind of want this. Like I said, I've always thought the plain Subaru Outback was super comfy, but with the added off-road chops, this Outback Wilderness takes all things to the next level. There are very few compromises on road, and you get a heck of a lot of off-road prowess.
Plus, when you consider the fact this only costs $3K more than the Limited trim at $36,995, I think this is a total steal.
If you're looking for a solidly comfortable vehicle with a little more off-road prowess AND some OK fuel economy (combined rating is 24 MPG), this is the vehicle you've been looking for.
Editor's note: Driving impressions in this "First Drive" review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Subaru covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.