The trick to driving through deep water, in case you were wondering, is to drive slowly enough to avoid creating a wave ahead of the car that could flood the engine, but fast enough the car doesn’t stop midstream. As you do this it helps to maintain a stern expression, channelling your inner Indiana Jones or any other silver-screen adventurer, so as to at least look as if you know what you’re doing. Unless you want to take a sudden bath, do not – under any circumstances – open the door to check the water level.
If this tip is useful to you – or, if you hope it will eventually be useful, someday – then Subaru would like to introduce you to its new Outback Wilderness. It’s the latest in a streak of new vehicles with aspirational outdoor branding, such as Ford’s new Badlands and Wildtrak Bronco models, Jeep’s latest Trailhawk SUVs and Toyota’s TRD Off-Road package, which is now available even on popular suburban chariots like the RAV4 SUV.
Such rugged-looking machines seem especially appealing these days as Canadians are once again travelling locally this summer, perhaps exploring national parks or finding remote, empty beaches.
Subaru created this new Wilderness model, in part, because customers were already modifying their Outbacks for extra off-road style and ability, says Ted Lalka, senior advisor at Subaru Canada.
It is lifted by 20-milimetres on taller suspension, has shorter gearing, scratch-resistant black cladding on redesigned bumpers, four skid plates protecting the car’s undercarriage, mild off-road tires, and roof rails that can support a tent. Copper-coloured covers on the front and rear hide towing points. A good garage could add most of those modifications too, but the factory-built Wilderness has the added benefit of recalibrated electronic safety systems and a full warranty.
Despite the taller suspension, it handles well, feeling planted through corners without rolling too much. The 260-horsepower engine is gruff but plenty powerful.
The Outback isn’t quite like other mildly-adventurous crossovers, namely the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk or Ford Bronco Sport Badlands. In 1994 the Outback started life as a jacked-up Subaru Legacy station wagon, and has been a staple of Subaru’s lineup ever since. “I remember the engineers at Subaru back then going, ‘wait a second, you’re taking a perfectly capable station wagon that’s lower to the ground and has great handling, and you want to raise the suspension?’” Lalka remembers. That was the early days of the SUV boom and such things were heresy; today, we call them crossovers and they’re everywhere. “[The Outback] turned out to be a huge success,” he says.
In focus groups, people consistently say they don’t see the Outback as a station wagon, or as a traditional SUV, says Lalka. Nevertheless, it has certainly become much more SUV-like over the years, which likely explains why its sales have remained strong rather than dropping off like other wagons. Volkswagen discontinued its Golf Alltrack recently, leaving only more expensive luxury alternatives like the Audi A4 Allroad, Mercedes E 450 All-Terrain Wagon, and the Volvo V60 Cross Country.
No matter how you classify the Outback Wilderness, it’s shocking what this lifted Subaru can do if you’re willing to get it dirty. It climbs rocky hills and fords wheel-deep water and goes places that, frankly, you would never imagine an Outback could. That means the Wilderness is overkill for a typical camping trip and won’t be troubled by even the roughest of cottage roads – but then, the same could be said of the regular Outback too. Those who want slightly more off-roading ability than the regular Outback offers could step up to a Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco for similar money, both of which will out-adventure the Wilderness. So, what’s the point? It’s all about fashion, just like your Gore-Tex sneakers and chunky diver’s watch.
“It can now do even more, but more importantly, it looks the part,” Lalka says of the Wilderness.
Mildly-adventurous crossovers like this Subaru are cars doing cosplay, dressing up as the vehicular equivalent of Hollywood adventurers like Crocodile Dundee or Laura Croft. And, that’s great; the Wilderness upgrades certainly make the Outback look tougher and more utilitarian, but Subaru could’ve taken the idea further to get the full effect. Where’s the bumper-mounted winch, or the rows of spotlights, or the properly knobby off-road tires? The latter would have compromised the handling slightly, but making compromises for the sake of style is something most people are well accustomed to.
And remember, when you do, inevitably, get the car stuck trying to climb a steep rocky hill, have a friend jump out and guide you. The car may get scuffed and scratched, but at least you’ll have a good story to tell.
2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness
Base price/as tested: $41,995/$50,001
Engine: 2.4-litre turbo flat-four
Transmission/drive: continuously-variable automatic (CVT)/all-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 10.9/8.9
Alternatives: Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road, Ford Bronco Sport Badlands, Honda CRV Black Edition, Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, Mazda CX-5 Kuro
Oddly proportioned but rugged. It looks naked without a kayak on the roof and a couple of muddy mountain bikes on the back.
Deep rubber floor mats and water resistant seats welcome dirt and mud. Multiple “Subaru Wilderness” badges are constant reminders to get outside more.
The Outback’s car-like handling is a strength, and while the Wilderness compromises it slightly, it’s so marginal nobody will mind. The CVT gearbox is good, not a deal-breaker like the agricultural CVTs of old.
An 11.6-inch vertical touch screen is standard, but navigation is not. The screen is responsive, but the graphic design is messy and looks cheap. Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-centering assistance are all standard.
The upgraded roof rails can carry much more weight, up to 318 kg when the car is stationary, which is more than enough for a roof-mounted tent.
An even more capable Outback for those who don’t want a true body-on-frame SUV
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.