Subaru has let loose a new subbrand—Wilderness—for the outdoorsy type.
Roof racks matter, and the Wilderness package includes a 700-pound-rated monster.
It’s all about the subbrand. Way back in the early '90s, when Subaru was conjuring its 1995 models, it jacked up the Legacy station wagon and added some body cladding and two-tone affectations to create the Outback. It was a new subbrand of the Legacy. Now, oh so many years later, long after the Legacy part of its name has faded away, the Outback just isn't Outback-ish enough for overlanders, boondockers, and KOA habitués. So for 2022, Subaru introduces the even more Outbacky Outback: the Outback Wilderness.
Subaru showed the Wilderness model to journalists in Southern California, where it crawled up on a rock pile. But we weren't allowed to drive it.
The package includes many of the modifications overlanding Outback owners are already making, but it executes them with factory polish and some crash-tested peace of mind. So the suspension is sent skyward 0.8 inch to produce a total of 9.5 inches of ground clearance. Compared with the normal Outback, the front approach angle improves from 18.6 degrees to a full 20.0, the ramp break-over angle goes from 19.4 to 21.2 degrees, and the departure angle jumps from 21.7 to 23.6 degrees.
Those are good numbers for what is still a unibody car with a raised suspension. And that 9.5 inches isn’t too far from the 9.7 inches that the Jeep Wrangler Sport offers on its standard tires. But the Wrangler Sport four-door’s 41.4-degree approach, 20.3-degree break-over, and 36.1-degree departure angles should help put that in perspective. The Outback Wilderness will be fine traversing muddy trails, getting past a random stone outcropping, and heading across meadows, but serious rock climbing is still best left to serious off-roaders.
All Outback Wilderness models will leave the Indiana assembly plant wearing model-specific wheels wrapped in 225/65R-17 Yokohama Geolandar A/T rubber. It's a more aggressive off-road tire than used on other Outbacks but shouldn’t demand much in the way of compromised on-road civility.
Mechanically, little has changed. Subaru's turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-four, rated at 260 horsepower with 277 pound-feet of torque, powers the Wilderness. The transmission remains a continuously variable automatic capable of simulating a stepped-gear trans when selecting the manual mode. The b0xer-four still feeds Subaru's renowned all-wheel-drive system. Subaru shortened the final-drive ratio from the regular Outback's 4.11:1 to 4.44:1.
Visually, the Wilderness is distinguished by angled-for-clearance front and rear bumper covers, copper-colored accents, a unique grille, fancy schmancy hexagonal fog lights, near-Pontiac-spec side cladding, and a front skid plate. There's also an "anti-glare" flat-black hood decal. We're a tad skeptical of its usefulness, given the decal is centered on the hood and doesn't span the entire width of the nose. But we'll investigate when we get a chance to review the beastie.
The interior is finished in Subaru StarTex, a fabric that repels water. Logo-embossed floor mats, a dark-colored headliner, and gunmetal accents (versus chrome in the regular Outback) distinguish the Wilderness. And Subaru installed a waterproof material to the back of the second row so that when you fold it forward, your new load surface can adequately deal with mud and other schmutz.
Also good news is the presence of a full-size spare under the cargo-hold floor. When the going is tough, putting the spare on won't mean compromised performance.
Of all the new Wilderness stuff, the most useful may be the roof rack, which is rated to carry 700-pound loads. For those of us who travel with 600 pounds of Bush's Baked Beans when we boondock, this is comforting news indeed.
Subbrands are always incremental improvements on existing products. Will Subaru extend its new Wilderness moniker to the Forester? Ascent? Crosstrek? Is it too much to hope for the ultimate conglomeration of Subaru subbrands: a WRX STI Wilderness?
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