If you make an AWD crossover or compact SUV in 2021, you’re legally obligated to release some kind of adventure edition. It must have plastic body cladding. Any chrome bits must be replaced with black bits. Upgraded fog lights are mandatory. AT tires legally have to come standard. The headrests must, we repeat, must, have the edition’s name stitched into the faux leather that’s also water repellent. There must finally be unique badging that tells everyone, hey, you get, like, out there out there. Think, the Toyota TRD Pro edition RAV-4, the Trailhawk Jeeps, and the new Badlands version of the Bronco Sport.
But what if you’re Subaru and you make the Outback, which is already the adventure version of a regular family hauling wagon? Do you just slap some mountain logos on it and call it a day? Or do you actually listen to customer input and make substantive improvements?
It appears Subaru has done the latter with the new Wilderness edition of the Outback, just unveiled this morning. We haven’t driven one yet (though we’ve asked, believe me), but based on the new reveal today, this is the Outback hardcore Subaru off-roaders have been asking for.
Full reveal: I am a dedicated Outback owner. I will soon be writing about all the wonderful things I’ve done to and with my Subaru. But, I’m also deeply suspicious of adventure-washing and approached this reveal with trepidation. But these changes look meaningful and welcome.
Let’s dive in.
Ask anyone who drives an Outback off-road and they’ll likely have two complaints. One, the approach and departure angles are, well, not atrocious but definitely challenging. The Outback has a long snout that makes dipping into steep wash and stream crossings dicey. Same deal out the back when exiting big dips or beginning a steep climb. The second is that the transmission is continuous variable geared for highway mileage, which means if you really push it climbing ultra-steep trails, it can go into protection mode to limit heat buildup, which limits power output. (There are ways around this, but as a default it can be annoying).
Neither of those constraints are really that big of a deal for a soft-roader like the Outback, which is far more likely to use its impressive AWD and ground clearance for driving in deep snow and on rough Forest Service roads than crawling over nasty trails, but still, those are really the only significant limits for where the Outback can realistically and safely take you.
So the Wilderness addresses those head on.
The front and rear bumpers are shortened and re-angled. The Wilderness edition also has 9.5 inches of ground clearance, nearly an inch more than the regular Outback. Combined, those two upgrades provide an approach angle of 20 degrees, a breakover angle of 21.2 degrees, and a departure angle of 23.6 degrees. Each of those numbers is a couple degrees better than the run of the mill Outback.
Then, there’s an improved gearing for the Wilderness edition, allowing it better low-speed climbing and the ability to climb a 40 percent grade without the transmission throwing up its hands and bailing.
Boom, just like that, the Wilderness edition is significantly more capable than the regular Outback.
To go along with those upgrades, Subaru added beefier longer-travel suspension, a metal skid plate up front to protect the sensitive underbelly, new electronic drivetrain modes that will help traction in dicey conditions, and standard Yokohama Geolandar AT tires, same ones I run on my rig.
Finally, in a less-heralded but important upgrade, the roof rack can support 700 pounds, a huge improvement that’s designed to support roof top tents. Yakima and Thule won’t like this, but it means you won’t need to shell out hundreds of dollars to buy a burlier roof rack system if you want to throw a rooftop tent up there (and you do).
Now, there are already Subaru fanboys in forums arguing that these changes aren’t significant enough, that you can do all this in the aftermarket.
That’s not at all true.
I have more ground clearance on my Outback than standard thanks to a 1.5-inch lift kit. I installed metal skid plates. I have bolted on a tough roof rack that can support a tent. But I can’t improve the angles without fabricating a whole new bumper, front and rear. I can’t reprogram the ECU for cooler drive modes. I can’t install new gears in the differentials to improve crawling.
Those are the real upgrades, the ones that will be noticed by hardcore users who frequently put their family haulers in places they weren’t really designed to go. Until now, that is.
Subaru hasn’t released price or availability information yet, so we don’t know whether it’s really worth it or not to buy one of these things. There’s also a legitimate question to be asked here, which is that as the Outback becomes more capable off-road, it approaches the territory of real-deal off-roading SUVs and trucks, so why wouldn’t you just get one of those instead? I’ll be trying to answer that question in a later essay, but for now, these are welcome additions to a terrific adventure platform.
Definitely, this one is more wilderness-er.