Mountain Wheels: Extra presence in the pumped-up Subaru Outback Wilderness￼
Despite living in the middle of the land that made Subaru what it is today, we in the Colorado automotive media have had issues the last couple of years actually driving or learning much about the company’s new vehicles — my apologies to you Subaru loyalists, as a result.
And while I did recently spend a week in the upgraded Outback Wilderness, the vehicle was a year old, and I can already tell you more (on paper, at least) about what to expect from the new 2024 model than a 2022, in 2023. Most importantly, the all-in 2024 model year price for Wilderness is now $41,225; the base price of my 2022 model was $36,999, or $39,995, with Starlink navigation, power moonroof and reverse automatic braking added.
All that aside, let me offer some opinions on what so many of you enthusiasts already know, and a few observations on the peculiarities that might strike non-aficionados as a little bit odd about the High Country’s favorite vehicles.
The Wilderness Edition is a toughened-up rendition of the contemporary Outback, with a pontoon of cladding around the body that’s pushy in the way an old Chevy Avalanche looks nowadays. For 2024, one of the biggest changes is (reportedly) a redesigned and even more aggressive-looking front fascia, perhaps to keep up with the ongoing, angry-faced weaponization in everyone else’s truck and SUV looks.
To further differentiate it from standard Outbacks, Wilderness is also emblazoned with a series of gold patches, a matte-black anti-glare sticker on the hood and badging to let you know you’ve joined the Wilderness club.
In my recent test, I found that the car’s biggest physical difference — a set of ultra-nubby Yokohama Geolandar off-road tires, which give the vehicle 2/3 of an inch of additional clearance, in conjunction with bigger shocks — are not necessarily your friends on a long, high-speed voyage on dry roads. Subaru says it worked to re-tune the suspension to make it work both on and off-road.
It’s not as off-putting a ride as you’ll find in giant trucks with mud tires, but it’s not exactly smooth and silent. The tradeoff is better summertime mud, dirt and sand grip; on boilerplate ice, they also lacked the bite of real winter tires.
Despite its chunky bravado, Wilderness is really not much different than most of its siblings, besides getting the bigger of two engines, a 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer engine, good for 260 horsepower.
Outback is also not as big as I continue to make out that it is, compared to its much earlier days, but it’s not a tiny vehicle either. And that mass presents itself most clearly in highway driving, where I found that the turbo boxer did not seem to have a sweet spot for long-distance cruising. I needed to do a lot of throttle inputs to keep it pinned at those high highway speeds, where I was sometimes getting only 21 mpg, as well.
Conversely, the turbo is powerful enough to tear away from a stoplight, WRX-style, and seemed a bit sensitive, overall.
For 2024, you’ll also get an improved, 360-degree heated steering wheel, and all models of Outback and Legacy get the EyeSight driver assistance system. Wilderness also gets the hands-free power liftgate, a 180-degree-view front camera (helpful for parking, or your off-roading adventures) and a full-sized spare tire.
EyeSight’s mixture of capability and feedback can be invasive at times, with loud beeping, dashboard lights and a video display with flashing logos as part of its lane-keeping program. Put it in semi-auto mode and it tended to ping-pong back and forth between the painted lines. Reverse automatic braking and, I believe, automatic emergency steering, are also included.
You may find the Outback Wilderness’s 11.6-inch, vertically-oriented navigation screen a bit overwhelming, as well. Its layout requires a learning curve, with accessory commands sometimes a challenge to find (seat heaters, for instance). I had a hell of a time trying to get it to show large-scale maps, but even the smallest stream or creek comes off looking like the Potomac, so … there you go.
Maybe the biggest issue is Outback’s overall size, despite being a station wagon-styled crossover. It’s more tall and thin than wide — you know, unlike those Allroads that I love so much — and the bigger-than-Forester-but-not-much character has likely driven many to the larger three-row Ascent SUV. If you love the Outback but don’t want to be just another Summit County person with a Wilderness, consider that a base Outback starts at $28,895, complete with much of the more expensive models’ features — and a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter boxer engine.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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