2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness: What better way to kick off summer than with an off-road test at a resort in the Catskills? Plus, the Outback Wilderness did some real dirty dancing — in the mud, over logs and rocks, into water.
Price: $36,995 to start.
Marketer’s pitch: “It’s not just an appearance package,” Subaru reps told journalists in the warm-up act.
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver says, “It’s wider, tougher, and standing taller but still a comfortable, pliable ride with plenty of station-wagon utility.”
Reality: Nobody puts this rock-climbing, water-fording baby in a corner.
What’s new: Checking out the new edition of the Subaru Outback at an Upstate New York mountain resort had journalists and PR reps reminiscing about the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing. The movie is set in 1963, in the waning days of those once-popular summer resorts.
Sold as a sexy dance movie with a hot-and-heavy romance, the $214 million-grossing film offers more than was shown in the the movie trailers. Deeper stories of class conflict and women’s rights are woven in, surprising Mr. Driver’s Seat and the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat on a recent streaming nostalgia trip.
Just as Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) needed time to practice the lifts in the big dance with professional dancer Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), so it goes with Subaru giving fans everything in an SUV, after more than 20 years of Outbacks.
The Wilderness offers more than just a roll in the mud. Subaru reps outlined how the company aimed for excellent off-roading with its higher ground clearance, upgraded suspension, all-terrain tires, and advanced X-Mode for increased capability, but still wanted very good everyday performance.
Now that I identify more with Dr. Jake Houseman’s crusty dad perspective — before Jerry Orbach morphed into even crustier Lenny Briscoe of Law and Order fame — I listened to Subaru’s presentation and thought, “Yeah, right.”
Up to speed: Forget about the base engine, the 2.5-liter, 182-horsepower four that propels lesser Outbacks. That’s the Billy Kostecki (Patrick Swayze’s wingman) of Outbacks. The Wilderness gets the Johnny Castle power, the 260-horsepower turbo four that’s been used to great success in many Subarus.
Mr. Driver’s Seat roared around Upstate New York, but not without obstacles. First, other journalists were ahead of me, but they soon left the planned route from resort to off-road sites.
Then, the locals on two-lane highways also decided 35 was the new 55. At one point, I had a legal passing lane and four cars to hopscotch. I swallowed hard and kept an eye out for a place to squeeze back in if needed. I needn’t have worried — the Outback Wilderness went well past legal speeds before I knew it.
Shiftless: The high-torque version of the CVT is shiftable. It works nicely in shift mode, or in automatic.
On the road: The Outback Wilderness shimmies through slalom-style mountain highways along mountain side roads with plenty of hairpin turns. Baby may have thought she had fun with Johnny on stage and off (elbows reader), but she hadn’t tested the Outback Wilderness yet.
Off the road: Subaru wanted us to try every feature in the advanced X-Mode for mud and snow.
I’m no off-roader, and if there hadn’t been guides along the way, I may have parked. And even wept. But like Baby climbing on stage for the first time, there was no turning back. (For those of you who never thought they’d see me compare myself to Jennifer Grey, we’ve now reached peak Driver’s Seat.)
The X-Mode offered fantastic hill descent control — don’t touch the pedals. The Wilderness scales through water — slippery, rocky water no less — so high that my feet got splashed. (Oh, the poor fishes.) Over rocks, into mud, bouncing on logs, my next thought: I’m glad this isn’t my car.
For footwear, Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires offer better steps on muddy or gravel roads. A full-size spare is standard, for the inevitable backwoods broken tires.
Driver’s Seat: Super comfortable for climbing rocks and flying over mountain roads and highways, but no seat ventilation meant things heated up during the Wilderness dance. Dirty Dancing remains a sultry experience.
Friends and stuff: Should you have to bring along big sister Lisa (Jane Brucker) and her latest boyfriend, the rear seat is comfortable and spacious.
When Marjorie Houseman (Kelly Bishop, aka Emily Gilmore) needs to bring along all that luggage, the Outback Wilderness has plenty of cargo space — a whopping 32.5 cubic feet in the back and 75.7 with the rear seats folded.
(But there’s still not enough room in this car for Johnny and Dr. Houseman. Those two are like the Sturgis family tomcats, who periodically meet as they roam about the house and commence snarling.)
Play some tunes: The Starlink sound system operates as easily as a Subaru stereo always does — left and right knobs handle volume and tuning, and an easy-to-operate 11.6-inch touchscreen takes care of the harder functions.
Playback was almost perfect, and “Hungry Eyes” and “She’s Like the Wind” never sounded better.
Keeping warm and cool: Buttons control temperature and some basic settings, and then it’s off to Mr. Touchscreen for the complicated stuff. But it all is easy to use on the fly.
Fuel economy: EPA suggests 22 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. My experience with this engine shows it can be more thirsty than the regular Subaru power plant. Feed either engine whatever.
How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Outback reliability to be 3 out of 5.
In the end: The movie easily became a metaphor for the Outback Wilderness: There’s more to this than meets the eye. Fortunately, the Outback Wilderness comes with none of the Dirty Dancing hokiness.