2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness vs. 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback: A Tale of 2 Off-Road Trims

With the off-road trim of the modern Subaru Outback coming our way, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is bringing rugged vehicles back to the line-up. For a while, everything got blobby and bland, especially in 2013. But this isn’t the first time Subaru has created an off-road trip of one of their vehicles. In 1994, the Subaru Legacy Outback hit the streets, but how does it compare to the Outback Wilderness?

The 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback introduced the sport-utility wagon

For this article, we’ll be using the 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback as our example, but it’s important to note that the first Outback debuted in 1994. But it didn’t earn its infamous two-tone paint job until 1995, and the beefier 2.5L engine and raised suspension until 1996. But we’ll cover that later.

The 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback is a lifted version of the Subaru legacy and came at a time when larger SUVs started ruling the market. After all, station wagons would begin to disappear in the states. But the Subaru Legacy Outback was marketed as a sport-utility wagon. And it outran the competition with the help of Paul Hogan, star of the 1986 movie Crocodile Dundee.

And sales were strong, with 20,000 units sold in the first nine months of the ad campaign. But as the years went on, the Outback name morphed into another overweight SUV clogging up the roads. Only now is Subaru beefing up the off-road capabilities of their vehicle.

The 2022 Subaru Wilderness brings off-roading back to the forefront

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness
2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness | Subaru

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While you could take your regular 2022 Outback on the trails, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is more oriented toward the dirt. While the tweaks are relatively simple, they improve the Outback Wilerdness’ off-road performance ten-fold.

The rims shrank an inch, allowing for fatter Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires to be used. The suspension is raised by almost an inch, and the tech inside was modified for more off-road tasks. For instance, the CVT transmission was adjusted for better low rev performance off-road, and the X-Mode, which diverts power between the wheels, was improved.

All this, while still being a strong road car. Because at the end of the day, these are off-road-oriented vehicles, not purpose-built for the job. So how has the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness improved since the 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback?

1996 Subaru Legacy Outback and 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness: specs, engines, and transmissions

Front Ends Of 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback (Top) and 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness (Bottom)
Front Ends Of 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback (Top) and 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness (Bottom) | Subaru
Vehicle Model2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness1996 Subaru Legacy Outback
Price Range$36,995$22,490 – $23,290 (When New)
Engine Options2.4L Four-Cylinder Turbocharged Boxer Engine2.2L Four-Cylinder Boxer Engine/2.5L Four-Cylinder Boxer Engine
Horsepower260 horsepower135 horsepower (2.2L), 155 horsepower (2.5L)
Torque277 lb-ft140 lb-ft (2.2L), 155 lb-ft (2.5L)
TransmissionContinuous Variable AutomaticAutomatic or Manual (2.2L), Automatic (2.5L)

In 1996, the Subaru Legacy Outback had two available engines: a 2.2L that made 135 horsepower, and a 2.5L that made 155. But both are easily squandered by the 2.4L turbocharged engine in the Subaru Outback Wilderness, which boasted a mighty 260 horsepower.

However, the real kicker in features is the transmission, especially in cars that should be off-road capable. With the Subaru Legacy Outback, you could have a manual, but only with the 2.2L engine. Meanwhile, the Subaru Outback Wilderness uses a CVT transmission, which is basically a rubber band rather than actual gears.

And while they’re cheaper to build, easier to maintain, and smoother on the road, not being able to select a real gear can be a sacrifice off-road. While you do have paddle shifters, you aren’t shifting into gear, you’re shifting into one part of the power band. But despite that drawback, the Outback Wilderness is no slouch on the trails.

1996 Subaru Legacy Outback vs. 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness: offroad capabilites

1996 Subaru Legacy Outback (Top) and 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness (Bottom)
1996 Subaru Legacy Outback (Top) and 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness (Bottom) | Subaru

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By the numbers, it’s plain to see that the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness clobbers the 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback offroad. And one stat I waited to throw in until now is ground clearance. On the Subaru Outback, you’re looking at 7.3 inches (up from the Subaru Legacy’s 6.1-inch ground clearance). On the other hand, the Subaru Outback Wilderness boasts 9.5 inches of ground clearance, up by an eighth of an inch.

And while both models have all-wheel drive, that’s about where the Legacy Outback’s technology ends. Simply put, it’s a raised wagon, with no manual lockers or fancy gadgetry to make it more capable. whereas the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is literally coded to be more off-road-oriented than even the normal Subaru Outback.

What I find funny is that, in reality, the new 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is an offroad trim of an offroad trim of the original Subaru Legacy wagon. It’s trim level inception and can get confusing if you think about it too much. But what matters is that the new Subaru Outback Wilderness is bringing that philosophy back. The philosophy of creating an off-road trim, just like the 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback did 26 years ago.

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