Mountain Wheels: Customized Subaru Outback Wilderness ups the off-road capability

Cruising over Boreas Pass, Subaru’s new Wilderness edition of the Outback benefited from more road clearance, chunkier tires and lots of aesthetic tweaks. Photo by Andy Stonehouse / Mountain Wheels

In a world of a million Outbacks — and in Summit County, that is absolutely the case — do you want to slightly stand apart from the crowd, but still enjoy every ounce of Subaru-ness you can?

As a tribute to the growing number of folks I have seen who have actually gone out and lifted their Subarus so they can bolt on truck-worthy tires (good work, by the way), the ever-popular, iconoclastic Japanese brand has now done that for you, fresh off the showroom floor.

The new 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness edition — part of what will be an entire range of Wilderness Subarus — adds a bit of lift and upgraded suspension, a range of aesthetic tweaks and just enough oddity to be a little bit more cool.

I had an Autumn Green Metallic-colored Outback Wilderness last week and took it over Boreas Pass, which I believed would be a good test of its Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires and its 9.5-inch ground clearance. It was priced at $39,965, which also included a full moonroof, the Starlink navigation package and reverse automatic braking.

Like the current regular Outback, the Wilderness comes with a more-than-capable 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer engine putting out 260 horsepower, which allows you to cruise very capably as you bonk along uphill and still get as much as 26 mpg on the highway.

The X-Mode off-road system, which supplements the symmetrical all-wheel drive, is also a dual-function system that can be pinpointed for more technical stuff. There’s also a 180-degree front camera, allowing you to eyeball sketchy terrain, or more easily park at City Market.

The combined upgrades don’t quite put you into, say, 4Runner TRD Pro or Wrangler Rubicon territory, but it’s going to be enough of a boost — even psychologically — for most users. I opted not to try a Bronco-styled single-track experiment, as Outback is still a 191.3-inch-long, 108.1-inch wheelbase family automobile that weighs in at 3,896 pounds: Please send me photos of you doing so, however, as I think that’s what they hope you’ll try with the ruggeded-up machine.

To that end, there’s also a front skid plate, and the 0.8 inches of additional clearance mean that approach, departure and breakover angles have all gone up a few degrees for your own Moab slickrock adventures.

Perhaps the most functional parts of the upgrade are a cabin full of synthetic StarTex waterproof upholstery, meaning you can go directly from your pants-soaking Arkansas River rafting adventure or an unshowered weekend of trails in Fruita and … I guess just hose out the interior. Super-chunky floor mats and a full rear cabin mat tray also add to that versatility.

Like every Tacoma on the road today, the Wilderness has also been upgraded to a fixed, ladder-type roof rack that can handle 700 pounds of you and friends rooftop camping, or hold 220 pounds of gear while you head out to the campsite.

The most striking details about the Wilderness are the looks, which certainly individualize you in a sea of Outbacks — until that turns into a sea of Outback Wildernesses. It’s got a more rugged overall appeal with front bumpers that kind of remind me of those on the long-defunct Isuzu VehiCROSS (Google that one, as the visual is quite striking) and a unique grille, plus 17-inch matte alloy wheels. As per the darkened-out editions popular in other brands, the window frames, lower body trim and roof rails are all black, as well.

The copper-colored inserts front and back cover tow hook points, I believe, and are not some sort of earth-sensing radar system; they’re part of a vehiclewide array of highlights including T-shirt-style tags on the doors. Add a big anti-glare strip on the hood and it’s a pretty radical redo for the very popular sport-utility-adventure-wagon-machine so loved in Colorado.

My only concern was Subaru’s new tall and very, very busy touchscreen interface, which requires you to look down from the road and poke a lot of virtual buttons to bring up information or other pages.

But I did appreciate the CVT transmission and its virtual eight-speed settings, which very capably hold the vehicle at speed during downhill highway drives.

Andy Stonehouse

Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at

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