Maybe it isn’t fair to compare a Subaru Outback to the new Ford Bronco. No doubt about it, the new Bronco is red-hot right now, and for hardcore off-roading, it’s the perfect vehicle. Unfortunately, most Broncos will be relegated to hopping curbs at the mall parking lot. But let’s say you’re an off-roader who wants a vehicle to drive every day with reasonable fuel economy and comfort. The new Subaru Outback Wilderness edition just might be the ticket. It has the chops to attack reasonable obstacles at the off-road park – with the ability to grab groceries and cruise the highway with comfort.
One unexpected feature of the Wilderness wagon is its 9.5-inch ground clearance, which puts it in line with a regular Jeep Wrangler. The suspension was also tweaked for improved stability on rough terrain with additional suspension travel. We liked the throwback Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires for better performance on muddy or gravel roads. A standard full-size tire is stored under the cargo area, giving owners confidence on the trails. We really appreciated the ride on New York City’s wintertime potholed streets. The Subaru even took the old cobblestone streets of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood comfortably.
Toughness and Sensibility
The Outback Wilderness looks the part, too, with rugged front and rear bumpers, a front skid plate, a matte hood decal to reduce glare, and big wheel-arch cladding. Elements such as the tow hooks are accented with a trendy anodized-copper finish. A 2.4-liter boxer engine powers the tough wagon with 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired to a CVT transmission that has been tuned for off-road use to provide power to the right wheels at the right time. According to Subaru, the addition of a pressure sensor improves control accuracy at low speeds. The user-controlled X-MODE dial includes Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud modes. The EPA gives the Outback a 22 city/26 highway mpg rating, which, while not stellar, certainly trumps the economy of designated off-roaders short of a Hummer EV or hybrid Wrangler. It can even tow 3,500 pounds.
The toughness theme continues on the inside with copper-colored contrast stitching on the seats and a copper accent on the steering wheel. The seats are wrapped in Subaru’s proprietary StarTex water-repellent material, with the Subaru Wilderness logo embossed in the headrests. Like most modern Subaru vehicles, the technology is highlighted in the center of the dash via an 11.6-inch portrait multimedia system. All of the usual multimedia tech is there, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a cool X-MODE display that features a roll-angle indicator to help the driver navigate unfamiliar terrain.
Innovation in the Safety Suite
To keep things safe, Subaru has implemented the latest version of its EyeSight Assist suite of driver assistance technologies. The company was one of the first to implement automatic emergency braking, which Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistics show reduces the rate of rear-end crashes up to 85%. The core of the EyeSight system is its set of dual color cameras that flank the rearview mirror. They continuously scan the road for unanticipated danger. In addition to emergency braking, the system also offers adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist/sway warning and pre-collision throttle management. That technology, like its emergency braking sibling, reduces power from the engine to minimize the possible impact and frontal damage if a collision is impending.
The Outback Wilderness is a great choice for anyone who wants something a little different from a CUV yet craves the toughness the soft-roaders can’t provide. Only one thing’s missing: a high-end audio option. That’s surprising because Subaru has long-standing partnerships with manufacturers such as Harman/Kardon, Rockford Fosgate and even McIntosh. The standard six-speaker system includes four speakers in each of the doors and two tweeters on the dash. It’s fine to get you going, but a specialty mobile electronics retailer can help upgrade the system to something more trail-worthy that also provides bass. Fortunately, there’s plenty of room in the Subaru cargo hold for a subwoofer system better suited to fun expeditions on the trail.
Coming in at just under $38K, considering its capabilities and fuel economy compared with its competitors, the Wilderness just might be the vehicle that seems to do everything well – including having a comfortable ride.