2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | May 18, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Subaru deals!

Subaru was among the first automakers to sell a modern crossover SUV. Though the original Outback recipe cribbed from the AMC Eagle by adding all-wheel drive and a lifted suspension to a station wagon design, it proved far more popular than the mid-1980s Eagle. 

Call the Outback’s success the result of good timing if you want to. The first versions went on sale in the mid-1990s just as American interest in SUVs began to ramp up. But that first Outback’s trusty Subaru reliability also played a part, as did its comparatively efficient powertrain and car-like driving dynamics.

Today, crossover SUVs like the 2022 Subaru Outback are the best-selling vehicles in the U.S., and last year the Outback nearly cracked the top 20 list in sales. But Subaru sees an opportunity to improve the model’s appeal, and the result is an Outbacked Outback.

What does that mean? The new 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness takes a standard-issue Outback, adds a lifted suspension, installs more aggressive tires, and wears more dramatic styling. Sound familiar?

The 2022 Outback Wilderness treatment is essentially the same approach Subaru took in 1996 with the original Outback. Only this time, 25 years later, the foundation is the turbocharged Outback Onyx Edition XT instead of the Legacy wagon.

This list defines what makes the new 2022 Outback Wilderness special:

  • Revised front and rear styling for improved approach and departure angles
  • Re-tuned suspension supplying 9.5 inches of ground clearance, an improved breakover angle, and more wheel travel
  • A standard front skid plate
  • Black 17-inch aluminum wheels with 225/65 Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires and a matching full-size spare
  • Exclusive tuning for its dual-function X-Mode traction system
  • Roof rack with 220 pounds of dynamic and 700 lbs. of static load capacity, perfect for rooftop camping
  • Blacked-out window surround trim and an exclusive Geyser Blue paint color
  • Anodized copper accents inside and out, with a black interior headliner
  • Upgraded cargo area lighting
  • All-weather floor and cargo mats
  • Water-repellant upholstery, seatback, and cargo floor coverings

The new 2022 Outback Wilderness slots between the Outback Onyx Edition XT ($35,145) and both the Limited XT ($37,995) and Touring XT ($39,945). It costs $36,995, plus a destination charge of $1,125.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2020 Subaru Outback. This review focuses on the new Outback Wilderness and how its modifications potentially impact its overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the Subaru Outback - Find the best Subaru deals!

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness Green Front Quarter View Off-Road

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 58% of Subaru Outback owners are male (matching the segment), and the median age of an Outback owner is 62 years (vs. 58).

Owners say their favorite things about the Outback are (in descending order) the:

  • Feeling of safety
  • Driving feel
  • Exterior styling
  • Getting in and out
  • Interior design

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Outback are (in descending order) the: 

  • Driving comfort
  • Setting up and starting
  • Powertrain
  • Infotainment system
  • Fuel economy

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the Outback ranked number seven out of eight midsize SUVs.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Subaru Outback Wilderness - Find the best Subaru deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of an Outback Wilderness equipped with the following options:

  • Navigation system
  • Power sunroof
  • Reverse automatic braking

The price of the test vehicle came to $39,965, including the $1,125 destination charge.

Outback Wilderness Design Blends Form with Function

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness White Roof Top Tent

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The Outback Wilderness’s design changes are partly about function and partly about form. It has the popular blacked-out look, taken even further than the Onyx Edition XT with black instead of chrome window surrounds, a matte black hood decal, a black interior headliner, and gunmetal interior trim.

Design changes include a new grille pattern, hexagonal LED fog lights, exclusive matte-finish black wheels, white-lettered all-terrain tires, oversized wheel arch trim, and redesigned front and rear bumpers. The new bumpers improve the approach angle to 20 degrees and the departure angle to 23.6 degrees, while the lifted suspension increases ground clearance to 9.5 inches and raises the breakover angle to 21.2 degrees.

Subaru uses Anodized Copper accents for the Wilderness’s badges and to identify important locations on the outside of the vehicle. They include the front bumper tow hook anchor points and roof rail tie-down points. Geyser Blue paint is available only for the Outback Wilderness, and Subaru claims its rally-racing heritage and the beauty of America’s national parks inspired the new blue hue.

Up top, the Outback Wilderness has a new roof rack with fixed ladder-type cross-bars. Subaru says the more robust rack can handle a 220-pound dynamic load, which is the amount you can carry up there while driving. Better yet, it supplies a 700-pound static load rating, making the Outback Wilderness compatible with a 2-person rooftop tent.

These changes collectively help the Outback Wilderness stand apart from the rest of the lineup while adding a more rugged and purposeful appearance to the existing Outback design.

Subaru Gives the Outback Wilderness Added Off-Roading Capability

Since Subaru bases the Outback Wilderness on the Onyx Edition XT, it has a turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine making 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 277 pound-feet of torque from 2,000 rpm to 4,800 rpm. Subaru says the Outback Wilderness can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard. In the Wilderness, it has modified final-drive ratios that increase torque at the wheels to give the crossover added grade-climbing capability. It has eight programmed ratios to mimic the sound and feel of an 8-speed automatic transmission, and it is partly successful at this endeavor. Paddle shifters provide manual control over the CVT.

Naturally, since it’s a Subaru, the Outback Wilderness has standard all-wheel drive. In this case, it’s the automaker’s active torque split AWD that sends 60% of engine power to the front wheels and 40% to the rear axle. Depending on driving style, road surface, terrain, and other factors, the AWD continually adjusts power delivery to maximize traction at all times. It can send up to 100% of the power to either axle. 

Subaru’s X-Mode traction assist technology is also standard, and the Outback Wilderness has the most sophisticated version of it. In this model, in addition to dual-mode settings including Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud, it remains active in whatever mode the driver selects at speeds over 25 mph.

Suspension changes include revised shocks and springs, providing the added 0.8-inch of ground clearance over a standard Outback plus longer wheel travel. Subaru tunes the Outback Wilderness for compliance, so it feels a little soft on the pavement. But the setup is perfect for this Outback’s natural habitat.

The final pieces of the puzzle include the 225/65R17 Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires and a front skid plate. Subaru supplies a matching full-size spare wheel and tire, complete with tire pressure sensors. Full underbody skid plates are optional.

Outback Wilderness Interior Includes Water-resistant Everything

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Apparently, Subaru expects Outback Wilderness owners to get wet. Whether the moisture source is snow, sleet, slush, storms, the sea, or the owner’s sweat, the cabin is prepped to repel it.

This imperviousness to water starts with the standard StarTex simulated leather. It wraps around a 10-way power-adjustable driver and 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, each of which is heated. It also covers the back bench seat with heated outboard seating locations. 

The StarTex material is soft and looks good, but without front seat ventilation, it traps wetness, keeping you damp well into a drive. The front seats are otherwise comfortable, and the rear seat offers plenty of room and support for two adults or three kids. Air conditioning vents and USB charging ports help to keep passengers happy.

Open the rear liftgate, and the Outback Wilderness has a rubber, water-resistant cargo tray. Waterproof materials also cover the rear seatbacks. So go ahead and load your soggy canine pal into the Outback Wilderness. Subaru even sells a ramp for your pooch to use to enter and exit the SUV.

Cargo space behind the back seat measures 32.5 cubic feet. Fold the rear seat down, and the Outback Wilderness offers 75.7 cubic feet of volume. And, just in case you’re planning to add extra people to the overnight camping trip, the cargo floor is 75 inches long from the front seatbacks to the liftgate. 

There are special cosmetic touches within the Wilderness, too. Copper stitching and accents tie the cabin to the Outback’s exterior, chrome is banished in favor of gunmetal gray, the pedal covers are brushed aluminum, and a black headliner replaces the gray one used in other Outbacks. According to Subaru, black shows fewer scrapes and smudges.

Outback Wilderness Trades Paved Road Handling for Dirt Road Prowess

Driving time in the Outback Wilderness was brief but telling. On a mountainous route near Malibu, California, the ride was soft, and handling on twisty roads proved squishy. You’re not going to confuse this vehicle with a sports wagon on winding stretches of blacktop marked with a double-yellow centerline.

On Pacific Coast Highway, the Outback Wilderness was more agreeable to drive, and its standard EyeSight collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) worked remarkably well. 

The 11.6-inch infotainment system’s voice recognition capabilities were not as impressive. Also, unless you want to change stereo volume, tune to a new station, adjust the temperature, or activate the defoggers, you’re going to need to interact with the touchscreen or learn the specific voice command pathways to success. Or just bypass Subaru’s software and use the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto voice assistants.

Climbing back into the mountains from the coast, the turbocharged engine supplied effortless acceleration and power. The CVT can drone a bit, however, and using the paddle shifters isn’t terribly rewarding. The official EPA fuel economy estimate is 24 mpg, and we averaged 21.3 mpg. If you’re a flat-lander, you’ll likely see a better result.

On groomed but challenging trails on private land in the Santa Monica Mountains, we had a chance to put the Outback Wilderness through its paces. In short, for a crossover SUV based on a car platform, it impresses. 

Aside from occasionally delicate sounds coming from the suspension and an underbody scrape while scrambling across some carefully arranged boulders, the Outback Wilderness capably ventured up, down, and across terrain that many people simply wouldn’t attempt in a standard Outback.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Subaru deals!

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness Green Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Subaru will undoubtedly find success with the younger, male, educated, and more affluent buyer it targets with the new 2022 Outback Wilderness. From its more rugged appearance and stance to its genuinely improved off-roading credentials, this overlander is ready to rock right out of Subaru’s Indiana factory.

Given this ideal customer, though, it’s odd that Subaru doesn’t offer the 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system available with Limited and Touring trim levels. It seems like a natural upgrade for this youthful, active, outdoorsy type of buyer.

And for the daily Monday through Friday commute, sweat-wicking, ventilated front seats would be great to have, too.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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