Limited Edition Subaru Outback lives for off-road action
By Jim Bray
Subaru's Outback is branching out for 2022, offering a new, limited edition "Wilderness" trim level that ups the off-road ante in a vehicle already known for its non-asphalt manners.
Like most Subarus, the Outback – which arguably came to fame when Australian actor Paul Hogan pitched them back in the 1990's as the world's first sport utility wagon – has a loyal following, and the vehicles are very popular in areas where outdoorsy folk congregate.
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When I was in Alaska about a decade ago, for example, it seemed as if the only vehicles around were either pickup trucks or Subarus. Ditto for rural areas of the British Columbia interior that I've frequented. And of course, city folk embrace them as well, undoubtedly for their all-wheel drive prowess that comes in handy when the roads get less than optimal.
And now, for those whose Subarus are destined to eschew asphalt as much as possible, the Japanese carmaker is bringing in the new "Wilderness" trim level, which increases the car's asphalt-eschewing creds in new ways.
At the heart of Subarus' appeal is its full-time all-wheel drive, which every Subaru except for the sports car BRZ comes with as standard equipment. It's a kind of nod to Audi's quattro system, in that it isn't a front or rear wheel drive car that can send torque to the usually non-powered axle when necessary. Nope, this is a real AWD wagon – Subaru calls it Symmetrical Full-Time AWD – and that's a wonderful feature on road and off because it can take an already good handling vehicle and make it seem as if it's on rails.
Subaru says its 2022 Subaru Outback is built on the Subaru Global Platform, and it can be had with a choice of two BOXER engines, though the Wilderness version only gets one: a 2.4 litre turbocharged direct injection Boxer Subaru says puts out 260 hp @ 5600 rpm and 277 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2000-4800 rpm. This is plenty. Lower trim levels come with a 182-hp, 2.5-litre direct injection four-cylinder boxer.
What's also plentiful is the turbo lag, which is there in abundance! My goodness, you step on the go pedal of this thing, wait a beat, and then the power comes on in a whoosh that would be quite wonderful had it been there when you actually called upon it. It's ridiculous and, depending upon when you need that whoosh, could even be dangerous depending on traffic and the like.
Car and Driver magazine blamed the CVT transmission for this in their review, but I disagree because I've experienced the issue before in a Subaru. It was the 2002 WRX, with a conventional, four speed automatic transmission inflicted upon that supposedly sporty model, and it was practically useless until you got above 3000 rpm. That's what this Outback felt like, to me.
In an age in which turbo engines are practically ubiquitous, this is unacceptable – especially since most of the turbos I've driven don't suffer from nearly as much lag.
The boxer engine (in which the cylinders, rather than being in a V shape or a line, "punch" at each other the same way many classic Porsche engines do) allows for a lower centre of gravity, which also helps handling, but an off-road vehicle probably shouldn't be sports car low, and that's the case here. After all, in a vehicle such as this you're undoubtedly more concerned about such things as not having the bottom of your car taken out by rocks and ruts and things, than you are about sports car-like handling.
Subaru has traditionally offered good ground clearance on its "off road compatible" vehicles – but this new Wilderness edition raises the bar, er, car, even more than its usual amount. They've also added more plastic cladding that not only makes the vehicle look more, well, rustic than it might normally, it also means there's less exterior metal to scratch as you squeeze by the underbrush on that mountain trail you're navigating.
Starting at $41,995 Canadian, the Outback Wilderness comes with only an automatic transmission, alas, and – even more alas, as noted above – it's a continuously variable one, so there are no gears. I hate these, usually, but I have to admit that the Subaru's acts almost as if it's a real automatic, even to pretending to shift its non-existent gears. It does a pretty good job of it, too. It even offers paddles that help sell the illusion. Unlike most CVT's, I could actually live with this one, though I'd much rather have the manual stick shift Subaru doesn't offer on this vehicle.
The suspension is tuned for off-road performance, which means it's compliant rather than sporty stiff. This is fine if you're the target audience for this vehicle, and it isn't as if it wallows all over the place anyway. In fact, it's a decent balance between on and off-road capabilities. That's a win for the Subaru.
Stopping power of the brakes is fine. Subaru says the Wilderness' system uses ventilated discs fore and aft, and active torque vectoring helps keep you on the road (or, in this case, off it).
Further proclaiming its off-road prowess, the Wilderness edition also comes with:
• Raised suspension with increased ground clearance
That's a lot of robustness for those who desire it.
One thing I was pleased to see is that the EyeSight system can be turned off and it won't bother you again. This is a system that, among other things, actually monitors the position of your head to, undoubtedly, keep you from texting or otherwise being distracted while driving. This is none of the car's business and customers shouldn't have to pay for it if they don't want it.
It was turned off when I received Subaru Canada's sample unit, and I kept it that way. My blood pressure appreciated that.
Do we really need our vehicles doing all this monitoring and assistance stuff?
A highlight of the interior for me was the big LCD screen that's on the centre stack. It works kind of like an iPad and it works very well, mostly. Just don't look at it when EyeSight is turned on, or you may risk burning in Hell.
Alas, during my days with the Outback Wilderness the screen, and the instrument panel itself, would shut off periodically for a few seconds. I'd be driving along and all of a sudden, they'd go dark! And then they'd come back on as if nothing had happened. I'm assuming this isn't a feature…
The audio system is fine, and offers both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and you get wireless phone charging as well.
Overall, despite my angst over LCD's that shut off, CVT's that should be shut out, and a turbo that really needs a figurative kick in its pants, the Subaru Outback Wilderness model is a nice vehicle and I can see outdoorsy fans of the brand flocking to it.
And for a price of just over 40 grand, it seems to be a decent value, too.
Copyright 2021 Jim Bray