CHATHAM, Mass. – Subaru describes the new 2022 Outback Wilderness as the most rugged and capable Outback since its launch as a 1994 model. Considering its 9.5-inches of ground clearance, front skid plate, all-terrain tires along with its upgraded and redesigned suspension, it has the parts to live up to this declaration.

The Outback Wilderness tells you it wants to go where the roads might not be paved with from its black wheel-well trim drawing your eyes to the aggressive tires and obviously raised suspension on the exterior to the all-weather floor mats and substantial, rugged StarTex® water-repellant upholstery on the inside.

My lengthy time in the Outback Wilderness did not allow for much more than pitted, undulating gravel-covered roads, but driving this crossover which sits on the line between compact and mid-size (nine inches longer than a Toyota Rav4 and nine less than a Ford Explorer), I felt I could conquer anything mother nature or the terrain threw at me.

This has always been a trait of the Outback since it evolved from the Subaru Legacy station wagon, gaining more off-road credibility with each subsequent generation. The Wilderness goes to the next level for Subaru buyers who want to add even more outdoor adventure to their lives.

The platform is at the base of everything

Subaru began with its global all-wheel drive, independently suspended platform incorporating a Subaru-characteristic boxer (a design characteristic shared with Porsche) — relatively flat engine with two opposed banks of cylinders – engine. This engine design helps bring the overall center of gravity down, helping with handling and balance, not to mention a lower hood line.

The 2.4-liter turbocharged engine puts 260 horsepower and 277 pounds-feet of torque through a Subaru-signature Lineartronic® CVT which includes an eight-speed manual mode with steering wheel paddle shift switches. The transmission has revised lower ratios exclusive to Wilderness model to help it creep through off-road conditions.

This power is transmitted to the ground via the Active Torque Split AWD (all-wheel drive) with electronically managed variable hydraulic transfer clutch; continuously varying front-to-rear torque split based on inputs from acceleration, steering angle and yaw rate sensors; can proactively transfer more torque to rear wheels or in response to wheel slip.

Exclusive to Wilderness model: advanced X-Mode system which optimizes engine output and CVT ratio position, increases Active All-Wheel Drive engagement and uses enhanced control logic for the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system to reduce individual wheel spin to offer even more capability and control on slippery road surfaces and inclines; features Snow/Dirt mode, Deep Snow/Mud mode (under 25 mph); Deep Snow/Mud mode (above 25 mph); Low Speed / Low Ratio Gradient Control can automatically detect vehicle travel on steep gradients and shift to a CVT low ratio comprised of a lower transfer gear ratio and lower first ratio.

The designers gave the Wilderness 9.5 inches of ground clearance (more than almost every compact and mid-size sport utility vehicle) with a redesigned, strengthened suspension to sustain the perils of bad or no roads. They gave it a 23.6° angle of departure and 20° angle of approach to help conquer hills along the way.

The brake system features power assisted four-wheel discs with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBDv), four-channel/four-sensor anti-lock (ABS), Brake Assist Override and Auto Vehicle Hold (AVH). The discs are ventilated at all four corners, 12.4-inches in the front, 11.8 in the rear.

The 17×7-inch matte-black alloy wheels are shod with Yokohama Geolandar A/T 225/65 R17 102T all-season, all-terrain raised white letter tires.

These elements do not add up to a sports car in terms of driving, but the Outback Wilderness was always responsive, whether having to accelerate in a highway passing maneuver or navigating some quick, curving roads. I always felt secure, in control and thanks to the interior fittings, very comfortable.

Standard on the Subaru Outback Wilderness is Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology (ADAS) which monitors traffic movement, optimizes cruise control, and warns when the vehicle leaves its traveling lane. The Automatic Pre-Collision Braking (AEB) feature can apply full braking force and bring the crossover to a complete stop in emergency situations. EyeSight and other safety features in the Outback Wilderness have been calibrated to match its increased ground clearance and extensive off-road upgrades.

Inside a modern environment

The dash is dominated by a 11.6-inch color touch screen flanked by buttons for some key climate-control buttons. The tablet-oriented touch screen provides the controls for the dual-zone climate control and infotainment system. The latter includes SiriusXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The screen will show multiple source views, like radio in the top quadrant, a CarPlay navigation map in the larger center section and the climate-control in a lower area. Once familiar with the system’s operation, moving between functions is easy.

As is the case in most vehicles today, the steering wheel is another control center for infotainment and information services, including the variety shown on the instrument cluster.

The comfortable, supportive seats are heated front and rear, with the driver’s having 10-way power adjustment. Front and rear-seat passenger have USB ports for powering mobile devices.

Solid value with off-roading capabilities

Subaru has grown from a brand that built a cult-like following in the Northeast and Northwest due to its products AWD heritage, reasonable prices and long-term reliability – in other words, the perfect formula for taking on the regions’ weather.

Continued refinement while remaining true to its heritage helped grow the brand, especially with the expansion of the Outback range, the addition of the Ascent (a true mid-size SUV with all the Subaru characteristics), and that of both the smaller Forester and Crosstrek.

The all-inclusive Subaru Outback Wilderness carries a $36,995 base price (destination and delivery add $1,125) which is solid value within its competitive group.

Also, up there comfortably within this group is its fuel economy. I saw 26.5 or so miles per gallon in my varied driving which exceeded the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s 26 mpg highway rating, let alone its 24 mpg in overall operation (22 mpg in the city).

Want to go beyond the pavement without having to buy a large SUV or pickup? The Subaru Outback Wilderness can take you there and still provide comfortable, every-day driving, whether in a commute to a job or running around town or hitting the highway to go across country.

Next week TBR Drives the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe.