2022 Subaru Outback Review | Going further out back than ever

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The Subaru Outback was already the go-to choice for those who need a vehicle for going on adventures off the beaten path, but want something other than an SUV. Or, perhaps, those who actually see the practical advantages of a wagon over a similarly priced SUV (lower roof for mounting things on racks, larger back seat). That it has more ground clearance than the typical SUV helps its case, too.

Ah, but it obviously wasn’t enough for some. The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness debuts this year as an answer for all those current owners who have been lifting their Outbacks even higher, putting on rugged tires and lamenting the novel swing-in roof rails aren’t strong enough for all uses. The Wilderness does that from the factory and looks extra cool to boot. Should you live in an area where Outbacks are popular, it’ll be like driving an AMG Mercedes … people will notice and acknowledge you have the cool one.

All the others are still pretty great, though, as every 2022 Outback continues to be a great family vehicle choice regardless of how far off the beaten path you’re going to go. It’s wildly spacious and versatility, well-made and well-equipped, reasonably efficient and competitively priced. Even if it’s a wagon, we still placed it among our list of best midsize SUVs.

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What’s new for 2022?

The Outback Wilderness is a new addition to the Outback family for 2022. It basically takes an Onyx XT trim and adds 0.8 inch of ground clearance, Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tires, special black wheels, a matching full-size spare, ladder-type fixed roof rails, hexagonal LED foglights, different bumpers and fender flares, bronze color accents inside and out, and special X-Mode calibration. Elsewhere in the lineup, the base Outback gains standard fog lights and the Premium trim level gets back seat air vents.

What are the Outback interior and in-car technology like?

Nearly every 2021 Outback comes with a vertically oriented 11.6-inch touchscreen (and even that lone exception comes with a pair of 7-inch units, pictured above right). Its functionality isn’t flawless, as the audio controls when using Apple CarPlay are compromised, and the colorful graphics are a bit cartoonish and have an aftermarket look to them. Still, it’s generally easy to use, read and reach. Feature content is excellent as well (see pricing and features section below). Unfortunately, typical for Subaru, stereo sound quality is poor.

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In terms of design, we can’t say the interior is especially attractive, but materials quality is stronger than it was in the past. The buttons and switches have a high-quality feel to them, while even the base trim gets simulated leather stitched together on the dash, doors and center console. There’s also a welcome injection of color found in the Onyx Edition (gray and black “StarTex” vinyl accented in electric green), the new Wilderness (textured “StarTex” upholstery with bronze accents throughout) and the range-topping Touring (tasteful brown leather). The Wilderness also gets special all-weather floor mats with emblems and mountains embossed on them.

How big is the Outback?

Think a wagon is smaller than an SUV? Think again. With its substantially longer wheelbase and overall length, the Outback exceeds the space you’ll find in compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Subaru’s own Forester. This is especially noteworthy for parents with rear-facing child seats (see our Outback car seat space test here).

Cargo volume, meanwhile, is exceptional. True, it’s a bit less with the back seat raised (32.5 cubic feet) than some larger compact crossovers (the CR-V, for instance), but their numbers are a bit deceiving since so much of an SUV’s space is up high in the greenhouse where filling it can block rear visibility and pose a danger due to items flying forward. The Outback’s space, by contrast, is more reliant on its generous width and depth. Its maximum cargo capacity with the seats down also provides greater length, countering the extra height of SUV competitors. In our experience, this makes the Outback more useful overall.

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Even better, most versions of the Outback includes unique roof rails that swing inward to become their own crossbars. There are also sturdy tie-down points front and back, and since the Outback’s roof is lower than an SUVs, it’s easier to load stuff up there. The downside to these roof rails (below left) is that they have a lower weight capacity and limited crossbar placement. As the most hardcore Outback, the Wilderness therefore has stronger, fixed roof rails (below right) to meet more demanding needs.  

What are the Outback fuel economy and performance specs?

The Outback comes standard with a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed “Boxer” four-cylinder that produces 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. This amount is mid-pack when compared to most compact crossovers. Midsize crossovers like the Honda Passport have far more standard power, but also get worse fuel economy. The base Outback engine returns 26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined, which is excellent considering every Outback comes standard with all-wheel drive. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is also obligatory.

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The upgrade engine is designated by the name XT and is optional on the Limited, Onyx Edition and Touring trim levels. It’s standard on the Wilderness. This turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer-four produces 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, which is a far more compelling output. It’s definitely a box to check if you plan on putting all that space to good use and especially if it’ll happen at altitude, where naturally aspirated engines lose power. Fuel economy can still be quite good with estimates of 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined or 22/26/24 for the Wilderness.

What’s the Outback like to drive?

The Outback’s steering is quite numb on center, which doesn’t promote a sense of driver-machine control. It’s easy to turn at low speeds, and actually well-suited to loose off-road surfaces, but for those hoping a wagon will be more involving to drive than a small SUV, the steering is a real letdown. And it actually gets worse. The Wilderness has Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tires, which look cool and are certainly beneficial off-road, but on road, they create a squishy, delayed response off center (as is typical for all-terrain tires) and significantly reduce grip on pavement. The amount of slide we experienced in a damp hairpin turn was almost comical.

As for the Wilderness suspension, the ride is a acceptably firmer than the notably soft tuning you’ll find in other Outbacks. We didn’t notice a degradation in handling due to the lift, but that’s because the tires didn’t really give us the opportunity to push the thing. No Outback is ultimately much of a handler. At the same time, though, you can tell that it’s lower and wider than the small SUVs it’s bound to be compared with. That’s a good thing for those of us who prefer the feel of driving a car and being a bit lower to the ground (even if the Outback has more ground clearance than most SUVs at 8.7 standard or 9.5 for the Wilderness). Its longer wheelbase also helps provide a smoother, more composed ride.

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The base engine provides sufficient power, and the CVT helps keep revs relaxingly low at dawdling, around-town speeds. Push it, however, and this engine quickly loses steam and wails as the CVT does its best to keep revs beneficially high. Though it attempts to create a more traditional driving feel by simulating upshifts, it does so at unusual times that doesn’t exactly mitigate the unusual feel and sound of a CVT. These attributes remain in the turbocharged XT, but are at least mitigated by the more powerful engine that doesn’t have to work as hard. That said, the turbo engine is also a bit old school in its power delivery. It feels pretty pokey and slow until about 3,000 rpm, and then bam, the turbo kicks in. We’re guessing this is more the result of promoting good fuel economy by limiting boost at low rpm rather than old-fashioned 1980s turbo lag.

What other Subaru Outback reviews can I read?

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness First Drive

The full scoop on the Outback Wilderness with more detailed information about its special features and what it’s like to drive.

How much is the 2022 Outback price and what features are available?

Pricing starts at $28,070, including the $1,125 destination charge. Remember that the Outback comes standard with all-wheel drive, which typically carries a $1,500 premium or more in other brands’ cars.

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Standard equipment is generous. Besides the abundant safety tech described in the section below, you get allow wheels, steering adaptive LED headlights, fog lights, automatic climate control, a rearview camera washer, roof rails with integrated tie-downs and crossbars, two 7-inch touchscreens, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio and a four-speaker sound system.

As is usually the case, stepping up to the second trim level rung is a good idea. For an extra $2,250, the Outback Premium extras include a power driver seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped wheel, dual-zone climate control, rear air vents, a cargo cover, the vertically oriented 11.6-inch touchscreen, two rear USB ports and six speakers.

As we see it, the main reason to step up to the upper trim levels is to gain access to the XT turbo engine upgrade. Among those, we think the Onyx Edition is the one to get, mostly because its water-repellant “StarTex” vinyl upholstery will wear better and is easy to clean (and it’s cow free). As for the Wilderness, its compromised on-road handling would give us serious pause, but we can’t deny the appeal of its special looks and increased capability.

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All prices include the $1,125 destination charge.

Base: $28,070
Premium: $30,270
Limited: $34,720
Touring: $38,620
Onyx Edition XT: $36,270
Wilderness: $38,120
Limited XT: $39,120
Touring XT: $41,070

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

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What are the Outback safety ratings and driver assistance features?

Every 2022 Outback includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, a rear seat occupant reminder and adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the base trim and standard on all others. The DriverFocus distraction mitigation system is optional on the Limited and standard on Touring. We describe it in the video below.

These systems all accomplish the task of keeping you safe, which is the point. However, they are also a bit over-eager and vocal about their warnings – there’s an awful lot of beeping and blinking lights. Comparable systems of rival brands tend to do the same jobs with less annoyance.

Government crash ratings are a perfect five stars across the board. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also named it a Top Safety Pick for its best-possible crash protection and prevention ratings. Its headlight ratings were also better than most and its LATCH child seat anchors received the best-possible “Good+” rating (part of that is the fact the Outback has a rare middle LATCH anchor).

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