In North America, in places like the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and pretty much all of Canada, it’s almost certain that you’ll bump into an infinite number of Subarus on the road. They’re a very popular car in each of these areas, and for good reason. Over the years, the Japanese carmaker has carved out a niche of rugged, practical, and safe vehicles that almost always have all-wheel drive. They can tackle head-on whatever weather Mother Nature brings to the table, and their latest creation is the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness. Quite literally, it’s taking an existing Outback tall wagon, and elevating it like you would a classic culinary dish - mostly the same, but better in every way.
For starters, ground clearance is increased from 220 to up to 241 millimetres (9.5 inches) – though Canadians get only 230 millimetres since a skid plate is standard equipment. These numbers are comparable with full-blown truck-based SUVs such as the Toyota 4Runner, and handily beat out vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee by 23 millimetres (nearly an inch). Off-roading variables such as approach, departure, and breakover angles are improved, and the front and rear tracks have been widened. Subaru’s X-MODE off-road assists have also been rejigged to be able to operate at higher speeds.
With the extra ride height thanks to a suspension unique to the Wilderness, we are happy to report that comfort hasn’t been compromised. If anything, the extra height and suspension travel helped to create a more compliant suspension, and a full week of driving on pothole-ridden urban roads in Toronto didn’t reveal any weak spots in the ride. Highway ride remains smooth and stable, and while the Wilderness gets three-peak snow-rated Yokohama all-terrain tires, the tire size remains in line with the regular Outback. While the taller height means a higher centre of gravity, handling in curvy roads does just fine, too.
For families, one of the best things about a Subaru Outback is the ample amount of passenger and cargo space for those needing only two rows (five passengers) of seating. The rear cargo area is cavernous, and rear legroom is perfect for any sort of forward or rear-facing car seat - the ISOFIX/LATCH anchors are easy to reach and completely hide away when not in use thanks to a large flap cover. Whether it’s an active lifestyle that involves the great outdoors, or a need to haul around kids and all their stuff around the city, the Outback has you covered for drivers and passengers of all shapes and sizes.
Not wanting to just change things up on the outside, Subaru has also made some visual improvements to the interior design of the Outback Wilderness. There are anodized copper trim pieces on the gauge cluster, steering wheel, and shifter to match the bumper tow hook and roof rack access covers, and the synthetic leather seating is designed to be easier to clean after experiencing the great outdoors.
Although the Outback Wilderness is just about the best Outback we’ve ever experienced, there are a few drawbacks we do have to report on. The 11.6-inch tablet-style touch-screen infotainment system might look snazzy at first, but it’s most likely the weakest part overall on this car. The system isn’t very intuitive to use, and many common functions (such as the brake “Auto Hold” feature) are buried in a distracting touch screen menu. The automatic dual-zone climate controls are confusing, but functions like an “AUTO” button can be added and configured to somewhat suit driver preferences. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay users are also saddled with an inefficient use of the whole screen – there may be a lot of real estate available, but it’s not used very well. The system is also relatively slow to boot up when turning the car on.
While the tech and touch interface leaves a lot to be desired, Subaru does manage to do great things when it comes to safety. Their EyeSight driver-assist system includes forward-collision warning with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic reverse braking. In practice, the EyeSight system works quite well for highway cruising, and while drivers still do have to have their hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road, the system does take a lot of matters into its own hands, which can help reduce fatigue on longer trips. With a Top Safety Pick+ rating from America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), it’s a pretty sure bet that the Outback is a safe vehicle for families.
Under the hood of all Wilderness models is the uplevel engine within the Outback range – a 2.4-litre turbocharged “boxer” four-cylinder making 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Representing a very healthy 43% and 57% increase in horsepower and torque, respectively, the Outback Wilderness scoots around with plenty of urgency and manages to do it all on regular octane fuel. The continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) does make the most of the ample power available, although like many other Subarus before it, the powertrain combination is not necessarily the most refined. Some do enjoy the boxer engine’s gruff growl – by now it’s pretty much become a personality trait on a Subaru.
At an as-tested price of $41,995 Canadian, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness plants itself firmly in the upper-middle range of the Outback lineup. The exterior improvements do a lot for both function and form, and there is a much higher degree of coolness than the more vanilla trim levels available. Inside, the Wilderness is very well equipped and looks great, but the infotainment is a lower point that could use improvement. Even so, as an overall package at this price point, it’s definitely hard to beat and practically stands within a class of its own. At the end of the day, it’s still one of the better dad-mobiles money can buy.
Jerry Vo cut his teeth in writing as an automotive journalist and is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Having reviewed cars since 2015, he takes pride in providing relevant and technically savvy consumer advice, and is extending that over into reviews in various other categories at Daddy's Digest. He is a proud dad of one and is letting the wonderful journey of parenthood teach him new things every day.