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2022 Subaru Outback Test Drive Review

With the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness, the automaker known for all-wheel-driven adventure launches a new family of even more capable SUVs.

7.5 /10
Overall Score

The wilderness beckons and Subaru owners frequently answer the call. They modify and outfit their Subies for improved capabilities in the great outdoors, but in the process, they risk reducing the effectiveness of the carefully calibrated EyeSight driving aids that now come standard on most of the automaker's models. To address this EyeSight calibration problem while giving its owners the improved off-road capabilities they seek, Subaru presents the all-new 2022 Outback Wilderness, the first of several so-themed SUVs planned for the automaker's product pipeline.

Look and Feel

7/ 10

If you look at the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness and think that it sits higher than a standard Outback, you are not mistaken. The Wilderness stretches the notion that the Outback is still a station wagon—in reality, it might be closer to a Jeep. This new version of the popular model offers 9.5 inches of ground clearance, a 0.8-inch increase over other Outbacks. Along with the increased ride height, it also wears more aggressive all-terrain tires tucked under oversized fender protection trim and boasts improved approach and departure angles thanks to restyled front and rear bumpers.

Beyond the tires, cladding, and bumpers, additional design features that help the Outback Wilderness to stand out include a unique grille design, black 17-inch wheels, blacked-out exterior trim with Anodized Copper accents, and a glare-reducing matte black hood decal. The roof rack and roof rail system is new, able to support a 700-pound static load (rooftop camping, anyone?), and Geyser Blue is a new and exclusive paint hue for the Outback Wilderness.

Inside, the cabin is a sea of dark gray and black. StarTex water-repellant upholstery looks like leather but isn't, and while ventilated seats would be nice to have in the Outback Wilderness's heatsink of an interior, you'll need to settle for heated ones instead. A black headliner, Gunmetal Gray interior trim, Anodized Copper stitching and accents, brushed aluminum pedals, and standard all-weather floor mats complete the look. Waterproof rear seatback material and a waterproof cargo tray are also a part of the Wilderness package.

Collectively, these modifications set the Outback Wilderness apart from the standard versions. Not only that, but they also inject some much-needed purpose and personality into the Outback's styling. But is the result appealing? That's up to you to decide.

The Outback Wilderness is a member of the turbocharged Outback family. It lives between the Onyx XT ($35,145) and the Limited XT ($37,995), priced at $36,995 plus a destination charge of $1,125. Subaru also offers a luxury-themed Touring XT ($39,945). Separately, the lineup of normally aspirated 2022 Subaru Outbacks runs from $26,945 to $37,495, plus destination.

Our Autumn Green test car had a power sunroof, a navigation system, and reverse automatic braking, bringing the total cost to $39,965, including the destination charges to ship it to your dealership from Subaru's Indiana factory.

Performance

8/ 10

Every Outback Wilderness has a turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with cylinders arranged in Subaru's traditional horizontally opposed, or flat, design. This is the same engine found in the turbo Outback XT models. It makes 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 277 lb-ft of torque between 2,000 and 4,800 rpm. This is plenty of power for a midsize 5-passenger crossover SUV weighing 3,896 pounds, and it gives the Wilderness a maximum towing capacity of 3,500 lbs.

As far as fuel efficiency goes, the EPA says the Wilderness should get 24 mpg in combined driving. We averaged 21.3 mpg on a mountainous route that included about 1,800 feet of elevation gain from sea level. That figure does not include any time spent off-roading.

While the engine is strong, acceleration would be more pleasing, and the Outback Wilderness would be more engaging to drive if Subaru ditched the continuously variable transmission (CVT) for a dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT). The Outback's CVT has eight programmed ratios and offers paddle shifters for greater manual control over them. Still, this transmission's characteristic droning and soft, mushy simulated "gear changes" make it less than satisfying when you're really hustling. Most of the time, you're not going to be running the powertrain hard, so it's not an issue. But when you do require maximum acceleration, these characteristics detract from the driving experience.

Like all Subarus (minus the BRZ sports coupe), Outback models come standard with all-wheel drive (AWD). What makes the Outback's Wilderness trim level special is mainly related to its wheels and tires and its suspension and traction systems. Subaru lifts the Wilderness to provide a taller stance and a commendable 9.5 inches of ground clearance and bolts on gloss-black 17-inch wheels wrapped in 225/65R17 Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires for maximum grip on gravel and in dirt or mud. These tires work great when you're off the pavement and, likely, in foul weather. On pavement, they limit your ability to whip around corners, but that's not what the Outback Wilderness is about.

Thanks to its redesigned front and rear bumpers, the Outback Wilderness supplies improved approach, breakover, and departure angles at 20 degrees, 21.2 degrees, and 23.6 degrees, respectively. This added clearance, combined with the standard front skid plate and available full underbody skid plating, makes the Wilderness the most capable Outback ever. It also gets revised final-drive ratios for the CVT that allows the Wilderness to scramble up a 40% grade and a dual function X-Mode traction system with Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud modes, plus hill descent control. Better yet, X-Mode remains engaged at speeds above 25 mph, a function exclusive to the Wilderness model.

On pavement, the Outback Wilderness feels quick but soft, responsive but restricted by its tires. Keep the enthusiasm level dialed down to 5 on a scale of 10, and you won't notice any limitations forced by the Wilderness modifications.

Off the pavement, however, the Outback Wilderness comes into its own. We sampled the vehicle on groomed yet challenging trails on private land in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu. In this environment, it proved both capable and adept at climbing and descending steep hills. It crawled over carefully placed boulders with a spotter providing guidance, and it squeezed through narrow sections of trail lined with dry brush.

Overall, with the Outback Wilderness, you give up some outright grip and handling on the pavement in exchange for the ability to cross more challenging terrain at higher speeds and with less concern. If you don't need what this vehicle supplies when the road ends and the wilderness begins, you're likely to want the standard Outback.

Form and Function

7/ 10

Subaru wraps the Outback Wilderness's seats in dark gray StarTex upholstery. StarTex is a water-repellant simulated leather that prevents water from soaking into the seats. It also prevents sweat from doing the same thing, so if you're sweaty when you get into the Outback Wilderness, you'll still be sweaty when you get out of it.

In cold weather, this is not a problem. And Subaru supplies heated front seats to help combat the chill on winter days. But when it's hot and muggy out, the kind of hot and muggy that makes a dark interior feel like the inner crater of an active Kilauea when you get into it, StarTex is not your friend. Ventilated seats would be a terrific addition to the Wilderness.

The testing day was a hot one, and while the seats kept my backside damp the entire time, the Outback's effective dual-zone automatic climate control cooled the front half of my body without a problem. The driver's seat offers 10-way power adjustment, ensuring a comfortable position behind the steering wheel, while the front passenger enjoys 8-way power adjustment.

The rear seat room is generous for two adults or three kids. In addition to plenty of space for knees, feet, and heads, the Outback Wilderness supplies rear air conditioning vents and dual USB charging ports. However, StarTex covers the back seat, too, causing the same discomfort issues as it does in the front. For cold days, though, the back seat is heated.

Storage space is good for front-seat occupants and adequate for people riding in the back seat. The cargo area measures 32.5 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 75.7 cubic feet with the rear seat folded flat. Subaru covers the seatbacks with waterproof material, and the Outback comes with a waterproof cargo tray. Subaru also provides LED lighting for the cargo area to help adventurers see after nightfall.

Outback Wilderness models also have a more robust roof rack. It holds a 220-pound dynamic load, which is 70 pounds more than a standard Outback. More importantly, it supplies a 700-pound static load rating, which facilitates rooftop camping for two people.

Tech Level

6/ 10

Every Subaru Outback Wilderness has a portrait-oriented 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment and climate control system. It dominates the center of the dashboard, and while Subaru supplies physical knobs for stereo volume and tuning and physical buttons for temperature control and defogger systems, everything else requires the use of the touchscreen.

This wouldn't be troublesome if the voice recognition technology responded to natural voice commands, but it doesn't. Learn the proper prompts, and the technology is more agreeable to use. Or, you can simply connect and use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which have superior voice assistant functionality.

Subaru says the target buyer for the Outback Wilderness skews male, mid-30s, and educated with a higher level of income. Why this version of the Outback doesn't have a better sound system is a real mystery. Subaru offers a 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system with Limited XT and Touring XT trim. It should be optional for the Outback Wilderness.

One thing any leader of an active lifestyle can appreciate, though, is the Outback's PIN code entry technology. This allows you to leave the key fob inside the vehicle while you run, bike, swim, or surf, and then you can access the vehicle using a PIN code upon your return.

Safety

9/ 10

One of the primary drivers behind the Outback Wilderness is to preserve the efficacy of the standard EyeSight advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).

Powered by two cameras mounted behind the windshield near the rearview mirror, EyeSight supplies adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, lane-centering assistance, and a driver monitoring system. This technology is carefully calibrated based on factory specifications, so when Subaru owners modify their vehicles, they could render EyeSight less effective. The new Wilderness treatment addresses this situation.

Additionally, every Outback Wilderness also has steering-responsive headlights that help the driver to see around corners and curves. The Wilderness also receives a blind-spot warning system with a lane-change assistance function and a rear cross-traffic warning. What's unavailable for the Wilderness is Subaru's DriverFocus distraction mitigation technology, which is available only with Limited and Touring trim.

In use, the Outback Wilderness's EyeSight technology is terrific. It qualifies as a Level 2 ADAS, and during testing on California's Pacific Coast Highway, it proved itself quite effective at maintaining safe following distances and keeping the vehicle centered in the intended lane of travel. Moreover, it doesn't irritate or become burdensome, though the beeping as it acquires new vehicles ahead can seem excessive after a while.

Crash-test results for the 2022 Outback Wilderness were not available as this review was written. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, standard Outbacks earned a "Top Safety Pick+" safety rating for 2021. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2021 Outback a 5-star overall rating.

Cost-Effectiveness

8/ 10

The 2022 Subaru Outback features a starting MSRP of $28,070. Pricing on the Wilderness trim starts at $38,120. For less than $40,000, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness offers the best of both worlds.

During the week, it capably serves as a comfortable daily driver, and the worse the weather is, the better it seems to perform. Whether you're battling a brutal Nor'easter or dealing with the chilling effects of weeks of Seattle rain, the Outback Wilderness is a rolling refuge from Mother Nature.

Then, on the weekends, the Outback Wilderness is ready to explore parts unknown or to head to favorite locations on the beach, in the mountains, and anywhere in between, and with as much gear as you can pack into it or strap onto it.

Granted, the Outback has performed these roles for more than 25 years. But now, with the Wilderness treatment, it handles the job better than ever.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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