Subaru’s Plan for Taking Back the Outback’s Throne Has a Fatal Flaw

The forthcoming Wilderness Edition is primed for offroad greatness, but it's missing the biggest thing that matters to outdoor enthusiasts

A blue 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness SUV driving down an off-road trail
Subaru is releasing the Wilderness edition of the Outback later this year.

The Subaru Outback has developed an unshakeable reputation since it hit the market in the mid-‘90s. You know the one: outdoorsy, granola, fan of hiking and bumper stickers, eco-conscious, but in an oblivious kind of way since the station wagon doesn’t really deserve the nature-friendly label. 

While the Outback’s rep has stayed the same, the car-buying world is changing around it. SUVs and pickups are king in the U.S., as evidenced by them taking up 18 of the 25 top spots on the list of best-selling vehicles of 2020, and many buyers are choosing them for their go-anywhere potential. Meanwhile, electric vehicles are the future, according to just about every automotive forecast, and that category actually deserves the eco-friendly moniker. So what’s a humble gas-powered station wagon to do? 

When presented with the Frost-ian conundrum — two roads diverging in the woods, one going off-road, one going electric — Subaru has decided to go with the one less risky. 

At the end of March, the Japanese automaker announced the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness, which the company describes as “the most rugged and capable Outback” in history. Basically, it’s a new trim, one that ups the off-road credibility by messing with the nuts and bolts, like lifting and tuning the suspension for harsher conditions, as well as beefing up the accessories, like Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires and a more substantial roof rack rated at 700 pounds (hello rooftop tent!). And it’s already got the attention of the desired crowd, as the folks at Overland Expo said it is “everything [they] hoped the Outback would become.”

The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness rock crawling
Even with the Wilderness edition, we wouldn’t suggest rock crawling.

Will it be enough to entice outdoor enthusiasts away from the abundance of options on the market today? The Outback has always been an affordable option — currently starting under $27,000 — for adventure enthusiasts who take advantage of their three-day weekends, but now you can get a new Ford Bronco starting at less than $2,000 more. If that doesn’t seem like the same buyer, consider that the Outback, often seen as the last station wagon standing, has moved firmly into crossover territory over the years with new generations (Subaru, for what it’s worth, now classifies the vehicle as an SUV). And last year, for the first time since 2015, the Forester, the more traditional SUV in Subaru’s lineup, outsold the Outback, potentially signaling that Americans are sold on more space. 

There’s also the aftermarket angle. We won’t know the price for the Outback Wilderness until later this year, but estimates are guessing somewhere in the $38,000 to $40,000+ range. The company is justifying that price by offering a direct-from-Subaru adventure machine, so buyers don’t have to take the time, effort or money to assemble one themselves from various shops. This factory-direct approach is something both Ford and Jeep have been pushing hard lately, so it’s only natural Subaru would join in before being left in the dust. 

However, if you’re at all concerned — as many Outback owners seem to be — about the devastating effects of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, our way of life and the wild spaces the vehicles ferry you to, we’ve got bad news. Not only will the Wilderness edition only be available with the less fuel-efficient turbocharged 2.4-liter engine, but it’s also less efficient than the regular turbo Outback. That one makes 23 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, while the Wilderness makes 22 mpg and 26 mpg, respectively. 

That’s not even mentioning the fact that while seemingly every other automaker that even pretends to give a damn about fossil fuel pollution is hard at work on electric vehicles, Subaru is taking its sweet time. The company has previously said it wouldn’t release its first all-electric vehicle until 2025, and even that would be a co-production with Toyota. And while General Motors has plans to go all-electric by 2035, Subaru’s plan is only to offer the option of battery electric or hybrid powertrains on its lineup by then, according to Car and Driver.

The disappointing thing about all this is that Subaru didn’t need to pick between off-road and electric. Just look at Rivian.

Maybe the Subaru Outback cult will stay intact and even grow thanks to the Wilderness edition, maybe they won’t. But one thing’s for sure: there’s officially no reason to call the vehicle eco-friendly anymore. Even Volkswagen is trolling it.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!