The 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness makes its adventuring case in long-travel suspension, revised body geometry, and improved transmission parts.
Going up against the Jeep Compass, Ford Bronco Sport Badlands, and Chevrolet Trax, Subaru says its Crosstrek is the only true off-road-ready model in this segment.
For $33,990, the Crosstrek Wilderness might not climb a transparent boulder, but it can get you and your family to just about any place else, no matter the road surface.
We only bottomed out once. Seriously. Through miles of Bureau of Land Management roads, a private off-road park, and even a single-track rock-studded trail, the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness took every dip, drop, and crack with grace and enthusiasm.
Better yet, it was comfortable and quiet while doing it, unlike some other off-road icons we know. The Crosstrek Wilderness is not a Jeep Wrangler—for better or worse—although Subaru positions it as a viable alternative.
The ideology behind Subaru's Wilderness edition models is coming to fruition with the Crosstrek Wilderness, as it adds tough-looking body panels and competitive clearance. This is not just a visual package, I promise.
Yet, the all-new 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness is still a Crosstrek at heart. With a full inner-frame construction version of Subaru's Global Platform chassis that is 10% stiffer, this crossover shares heritage and its 182-hp, 178-lb-ft 2.5-liter flat-four with the Impreza. Get in and go daily, just as Subaru expects of all its pedestrian models.
However, the Crosstrek Wilderness is one of those curious utes where the on-paper performance actually does some justice to its uniqueness. One of Subaru's best qualities has long been its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, which naturally helps the off-road-oriented Crosstrek, but the Wilderness variant also gains some loose surface-specific parts.
A revised final drive ratio (4.11), re-tuned CVT programming (with a crawl ratio), a transmission oil cooler (allowing for 3500-pound towing capacity), and 9.3-inch ground clearance (a result of longer coil springs and shock absorbers) make up the mechanical differences of the Crosstrek Wilderness. That's base Wrangler-level ground clearance.
But some key visual differences on the Wilderness actually serve a purpose, too. To create the approach angle of 20.0 degrees, a departure angle of 33.0 degrees, and a 21.1-degree ramp breakover angle, Subaru has lifted and angled the front and rear bumpers to compliment the 0.6-inch suspension lift. Unintentional bumper damage no more.
What do all these changes amount to on the road? Nothing much, to be honest. Earlier reviews of the Crosstrek praised it for a smooth ride, comfortable new-generation seats, and greatly improved sound deadening. The same is certainly true of the Wilderness, though an ever-so-slightly wavier ride is present on the Wilderness.
Similarly, drivetrain complaints carry over to the Wilderness, with the 2.5-liter FB25D flat-four providing the minimum necessary power and nothing more. In the course of four Subaru press drives this year, we've found it best to leave the 8-speed Lineartronic CVT to its own devices, noting acceleration is bizarrely best without your foot to the floor.
Inside the Crosstrek Wilderness, the interior is nearly identical to other higher-trim Crosstreks. The slightly confusing but responsive enough 11.6-inch Multimedia system remains segment competitive while easy-to-clean Subaru StarTex seat materials are particularly important in the Wilderness.
The only real interior changes include copper-colored trim, a few Wilderness logos, and a stain-resistant black headliner. Plus Subaru throws in a set of all-weather floor mats, making muddy messes a breeze to clean via pressure washer. Finally, the optional Power Moonroof would be a nice star-gazing tool if it didn't buffet so violently.
All of these complaints virtually evaporate as the 17-inch Yokohama all-terrain tires make contact with a loose surface. Romping through rock-jutted single-track trails, loose sand, pits of fresh mud, and graded gravel roads, the on-road mood of the Crosstrek Wilderness becomes downright playful.
And it's playing into the old-school and new-school approaches to off-roading as well. By design, the AWD Crosstrek is capable of handling low traction surfaces at power, but it has electronic tricks up its sleeve, too. Subaru employs the three-variable X-Mode to blend stability control and AWD in tandem for more or less slip depending on the surface encountered.
In practice, the X-Mode system works well and actually compliments the slowly accelerating engine, allowing for a foot-to-the-floor, point-and-shoot approach to off-roading. Rock crawling isn't on the menu for the Crosstrek Wilderness, but a brisk pace down sandy Forest Service roads comes naturally and is giggle-worthy fun.
Similarly, Subaru Hill Descent Control is superb. Set your desired descent speed, let off the brake pedal, and the Crosstrek will take it from there. It doesn't lurch, overspeed, or slam the brakes. It even accounts for extra slippery, potentially ABS-engaging surfaces as well, allowing for a limited and under-control slippage.
Off-roading is rarely a comfortable endeavor for driver or passenger, but the Crosstrek Wilderness kept us planted while climbing a 38-degree grade or threading between bramble bushes and protruding stones. Instead of translating undulation and impact into our seats, the longer-stroke suspension ably soaked up such shock forces.
This isn't the case in a Wrangler or other dedicated off-road rigs, though the Crosstrek has its own limits. And that's largely because of its confused roots. Built on a car platform but deployed as a dedicated adventurer, it's an outlier within its respective class.
Subaru says the biggest Crosstrek competitors are models like the Chevrolet Trax and Jeep's Renegade or Compass—three models that don't have any natural off-road affinities. Yet, Subaru's own performance metrics for the Crosstrek Wilderness appear based on models like the Jeep Wrangler, matching its ground clearance and showing off some of its parallel abilities.
And while the Crosstrek Wilderness should be praised for getting 90% of the way to Wrangler ability, its true competitors are more suited to models like Ford Bronco Sport Badlands. Simply put, it lacks the uncomfortable, old-school hardware that makes the Wrangler an explicit off-road tool.
The Crosstrek Wilderness is quite a bit cheaper than its direct competitors. The Bronco Sport Badlands starts at $39,985, a base model Jeep Wrangler goes for $33,990, and a Jeep Compass Trailhawk tops out at $37,990. With Subaru's base price of $33,290, it's a hard bargain to beat, especially with all the mechanical improvements.
With over 155,142 Crosstreks sold last year, the model is by far Subaru's most popular, and the Wilderness only expands on those characteristics that Subaru owners love. They are a special breed, with 11% biking, 30% hiking, and 22% specifically planning to off-road their Crosstreks.
Wilderness iterations of the Outback and Forester make up 20% of model-wide sales, but we are willing to bet the Crosstrek Wilderness will surpass that rate easily. With an affordable price tag, significant mechanical improvements, and a plastic-clad, Subaru-logo-embossed exterior design, the Crosstrek Wilderness might be the coolest thing Subaru has done in a long time.
Would you be interested in a Wilderness-style model from Toyota, Nissan, or Honda? Or is Subaru unique in successfully selling this concept? Please share your thoughts below.