There are two versions of the Wilderness edition of two Subaru models — the Forester and the Outback.
Each are similar in that they both come standard with additional features that make them more capable of operating in rough conditions, both on- and off-road, than the other versions of these models. These upgrades include a raised suspension and more ground clearance as well as water-wicking interior materials, skid plates and a higher maximum tow-rating (3,500 pounds).
But there are a number of important distinctions that make each of them very different things, too.
What It Is
The Outback is a midsize wagon with more ground clearance (8.7 inches) than most cars have — and more room for stuff than most cars have.
The Wilderness version of the Outback wagon comes with the most clearance — 9.5 inches — as well as a different version of Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system that features a low-ratio crawl mode for additional leverage in rough conditions, an upgraded roof rack that can handle heavier loads and unique-to-this-trim exterior and interior trim.
The Wilderness version of the Forester is almost identically equipped but is very different in that it isn’t a wagon and doesn’t offer the much stronger turbocharged version of the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that comes standard in the Wilderness version of the Outback.
No surprise the Outback costs more, too — $37,695 versus $33,520 for the similar thing in a crossover-shaped package.
You pay more — or less — to get more (or less).
The Wilderness package is new for both of these Soobies.
The same additional capability as found in the Wilderness version of the Forester.
More engine, more power , is standard in the Wilderness version of the Outback — and not available in the Wilderness version of the Forester.
A wagon with the Wilderness version — for those who don’t want another crossover.
What’s Not So Good
The Wilderness version of the wagon costs about $4,000 more than the crossover Forester version.
No option to skip the more powerful turbo engine in favor of the less powerful but less costly non-turbocharged engine you can get in other Outbacks.
A bit less vertical space in the wagon.
Under The Hood
Most Outbacks come standard with the same 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine that’s standard in the Wilderness version of the Forester. It makes 182 horsepower and 176 foot-pounds of torque. The Wilderness version of the Outback comes standard with a smaller, 2.4-liter engine that’s turbo-boosted to make 260 horsepower and 277 foot-pounds of torque.
The Forester Wilderness takes about 8 seconds to get to 60 mph; the Outback Wilderness can make the same run in 5.8 seconds, which is no small difference.
One thing that’s the same about these two Soobies is that both the 2.5-liter and 2.4-liter engines are regular fuel engines, even though the 2.4-liter engine is turbocharged, which often necessitates the use of premium fuel to make the advertised power (and deliver on the advertised mileage).
This is an important sameness given the price of premium fuel.
On The Road
Power is the difference here.
The Wilderness version of the Outback has the heart of a WRX — the high-performance AWD sport sedan that’s the street-legal version of Subaru’s regularly successful World Rally Cup race cars. Both have the same turbo’d 2.4-liter engine, and so performance is very similar.
But capability is very different.
The WRX has about half the ground clearance (5.4 inches) and doesn’t have knobby, all-terrain tires that are standard features of the Outback Wilderness. It is a fine machine to drift in — but drifts are not its thing, nor water.
The Outback can sidle across creeks a half-foot deep.
The Outback Wilderness can also pick its way over ruts growing into small canyons on washed-out dirt/gravel roads that would dent the floor pans of the WRX and possibly leave it hanging, wheels spinning.
At The Curb
There is another more practical aspect of this lifted, wagonized WRX, especially considering the WRX is no longer available in wagon/hatchback form. Like the Legacy, the WRX is a sedan only now, with a very small (12.5 cubic feet) trunk. The Outback Wilderness — being a wagon — has more than twice as much space for your stuff behind its second row (32.5 cubic feet) and more than five times as much (75.7 cubic feet) if you fold down the second row.
This is about the same overall space as in the Wilderness version of the Forester, which is a crossover. But the Forester version’s space is more vertical, due to its taller/boxier design. This gives it a bit of an edge over the wagon version of the Wilderness, in terms of it being a little easier to squeeze/stack/carry taller items in its cargo area.
Another thing you get — and it’s standard — is a spare tire. A real, full-size spare with the same tire as the other four. Not a “mini” spare that lets you gimp to the next service station, which may be far from the wilderness you’re in.
The Bottom Line
More choice is always a good thing — even if it’s not all in the same package.
View the Subaru Outback Wilderness this week.
Eric’s latest book, “Doomed: Good Cars Gone Wrong!” will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.