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2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness: In it for the long haul

A summer afternoon spent playing in the mud and on mountain roads with Subaru’s off-roadier option yielded great delights. But a weeklong test showed the vehicle is not without its compromises.

The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness performs well in the woods and on the highway. But it gobbles up the gas, and why so much body plastic?
The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness performs well in the woods and on the highway. But it gobbles up the gas, and why so much body plastic?Read moreSubaru

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness: Summer love was never more fun …

Price: $39,965 as tested. A package featuring Starlink 11.6-inch multimedia system, power moonroof, and reverse automatic braking added $1,845.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes that it has “cushiony ride comfort, easy-clean interior, rooftop is tent-ready,” but not “more body cladding than a medieval knight, mushy CVT transmission, thirstier than a standard Outback.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Adventure, elevated.”

Reality: … but you know winter had to come.

Coming down from those mountains: Our original test in the Subaru Outback Wilderness happened in the Catskills in the mud, conjuring up images of Dirty Dancing and main characters Johnny (Patrick Swayze) and Baby (Jennifer Grey).

But that kind of head-over-heels love often comes with a painful and embarrassing wake-up call.

What’s new: The Wilderness trim raises the ground clearance and adds all kinds of off-road features to the large Subaru SUV.

Bursting the bubble: Because I’d already written a glowing review of the Outback Wilderness, let’s accentuate the negative. I’ll be working a little out of order here — and being kind of nitpicky.

» READ MORE: Subaru gives the 2022 Outback Wilderness all the off-road moves

Fuel economy: The single-day first test and time spent on the trail didn’t allow for good real-world mileage numbers, but this week’s test sure did. I find 21 mpg less than I would want to live with.

Night shift: The high ground clearance meant we spent our first night trip having other drivers flash their high beams at us. Sadly, our low beams were on.

Also, seeing inside is not much better, as the interior lights are very direct and subtle.

Play some tunes: While sound from the Starlink system is solid if slightly tinny on occasion — about a B+, and dials operate volume and tuning — the attractive, large touchscreen can be a bear. Changing base-midrange-treble settings is especially difficult.

Keeping warm and cool: Though changing the temperature can be done with buttons outside the touchscreen, other heater settings show up as just a small couple of touchscreen icons in the main screen; more intense adjustments take you to yet another screen. None of it is as easy or eyes on the road as three dials would be.

Up to speed: The Outback Wilderness remains the fun and energetic companion that sprinted through the hills of upstate New York. On Chester County’s country roads and even on the highway to Philadelphia — which was AC/DC’s working title for the classic rock tune, true story — the 2.4-liter turbocharged engine never lacked for neck-snapping abilities. The tall Outback SUV leaps to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, according to Motor Trend.

Shiftless: It performs those feats whether the driver keeps it in automatic mode or decides to “shift” the “gears.” And either way, the transmission is mainly smooth.

But somewhere between the engine and CVT, the power can occasionally be a moment’s hesitation away. It only cropped up on rare occasions. Still, the car likes to be pushed. I imagine I drove the highways with more enthusiasm on a day devoted to splashing the Outback Wilderness into the water and mud.

On the curves: The Outback Wilderness is still as fun as ever on winding roads. Highways are smooth and comfortable, and not a lot of road seams or bumps are transmitted to passengers.

On the highways: I didn’t get the Subaru Outback onto limited-access highways in my New York test, but I found that in trips to King of Prussia and Philadelphia the SUV were smooth and steady. There’s plenty of passing power as well.

Driver’s Seat: The Outback Wilderness remains a welcoming cabin, with a comfortable and supportive seat, easy controls, and a pretty enough look. The orange touches inside and out are polarizing, I’m sure, and I’m anti.

Friends and stuff: The rear seat is comfortable and has plenty of headroom, legroom, and foot room for the corner passengers. The center seat perches a bit from the others, the hump is a bit intrusive as is the console.

The Outback Wilderness also added roof rails that can hold up to 700 pounds, so Subaru has been showing it off with a tent attached.

Cargo space is 32.5 cubic feet in the back and 75.7 with the rear seats folded.

Where it’s built: Lafayette, Ind.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Outback reliability to be 3 out of 5.

In the end: The Outback Wilderness remains a companion for the long haul. Too bad it eats so much, and Subaru doesn’t offer an option to lose the black exterior plastic and orange interior trim.