Subaru unofficially launches a new sub-brand, Wilderness, with this off-road-ready Outback.
It gets an extra inch of ground clearance, better approach, departure and breakover angles, and Subaru X-MODE.
Subaru says pricing starts at $38,120.
Subaru wanted to make a more capable line for its many crossover wagons, so it’s beginning—or will at some point announce that it’s beginning—a new sub-brand called Wilderness and the Outback you see here is the first one.
“For our performance cars we have STI as a halo brand, it’s a sub-brand, and we really wanted to have something like that for our SUVs and crossovers, and that’s where this Wilderness brand came from,” said Subaru engineer/product planner/spokesperson Tim Wood. “It’s a different mission, but a similar concept.”
While the STI is meant to be a WRX performance screamer on gravel or tarmac, the Wilderness sub-brand is meant to go a little farther on an outdoor adventure. Or it will be a sub-brand, eventually.
“We haven’t really said too much,” said Wood. “Other than that the Outback is the first vehicle in our Wilderness family. So take that for what you will, but there’ll be more, we just aren’t really ready to talk about that yet.”
It’s a good idea, regardless. While STI may typically lower a car for better handling, Wilderness will jack it up to go farther off-road.
“You’re getting a lot more capability,” said Wood.
The Outback Wilderness you see here gains almost an inch of ground clearance, so it can drive right over a rock 9.5-inches tall. With that increased ride height come increased approach, departure, and breakover angles. It also gets upgraded suspension, more durable and capable all-terrain tires, and Subaru’s advanced dual-function X-MODE that controls braking and traction control on steep trails surprisingly well.
Let’s start with those tires. I don’t know where you do your adventuring, but out here in the dry, crispy desert West there are thousands of miles of dirt roads that just wander off into oblivion. They’re all tempting, but if you head out there with stock tires with M+S treads, you could find yourself in a world of trouble once your first flat hits you, and then your second flat leaves you pretty much stuck. All-terrain tires are more rugged and offer better grip in dirt. These are Yokohama Geolander 225/65R-17s and not only will they stay together longer, there’s a full-size spare tire in the back instead of dinky compact donut as is found on so many cars today (or a tire patch kit).
The Wilderness trim level also gives you a front skid plate, a 180-degree “Front View Monitor” so you can see things before you hit them, and roof rails that’ll hold up to 700 pounds of pop-top tent and as many occupants as you can cram inside, providing they don’t together exceed those 700 pounds. That’s the static load limit; the dynamic roof rack load limit, that which you can carry while underway, is 220 pounds. The pop-up tent you see in some photos is not an official Subaru option but will likely be a dealer option at any dealer who appreciates an obvious marketing draw. Just imagine having a fully deployed rooftop tent on top of an Outback Wilderness right there in the showroom. I’d buy fake rocks and maybe even a couple fake bears to liven things up.
The Wilderness gets a host of exterior trim features, too: matte-black, anti-glare hood; two tow points front and two rear; and a slathering of Wilderness badges and anodized copper accents throughout. The 17-inch alloy wheels and body cladding are all black, too.
Unique trim continues inside, too, from copper stitching on the Star Tex water-repellent upholstery to “Wilderness” logos embossed on the front headrests. There’s a healthy list of comfort and convenience features inside, too, including 10-way power driver’s seat, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter.
Underhood is the same turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder found on the more upscale Outback, with 260-hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. That gives it a 3500-pound towing capacity, pretty good for a crossover. Imagine hauling a trailer full of dirt bikes or a pop-up camper back there. Subaru has had the best CVT in the business for many years, and it continues here in the Outback Wilderness, the “high-torque Lineartronic” CVT with the so-called eight-speed manual mode that’ll really make you think you’re shifting gears when you pull back on those wheel-mounted paddles.
Subaru says the Wilderness is not a car built for four-wheeling, where the four-wheeling is the point of the vehicle; it’s more of a vehicle to take your through four-wheel territory to get you to the activities you want to do. That may be a polite way of saying it’s no Jeep Wrangler.
“The Subaru owner and outdoor enthusiast buyer mindset is more of, ‘I want a car that’s really capable to get me further out there to do the things that I want to do: the biking, the kayaking, the hiking, the camping,” Wood said. “The off-roading isn’t the activity, it’s the means to get to the activity.”
When you ask Subaru buyers and owners if they go off-road, most say yes.
“We believe we were higher than every other brand except for Jeep,” said Wood.
Subaru is pioneering the idea of a unibody crossover with a little more meaty off-road chops. Others will surely follow, which is good for buyers of crossover utilities who want to do the things shown in the crossover ads, but maybe bad for those who think the vast open spaces are already getting too crowded. That’s okay, it just means you have to drive a little farther in your Subaru Wilderness to get to some true wilderness. And with the setup on this rig, you can do that comfortably and in style.
Let us know what you think about Subaru rolling out a line of Wilderness-trim models in the comments below.