2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness Review -- Easy Wheelin'
Subaru has given its popular Crosstrek crossover its most significant update in quite some time. The little SUV has been changed front, back, and sideways. But the change that grabbed all the headlines involved the expansion of the Wilderness lineup, which now includes the Crosstrek.
If you’ve been under a rock, the brand’s Wilderness models are the most “Subaru” Subaru makes. They’re more off-road oriented than others and often come with a recognizable shade of blue and some coppery-yellow accents. Wilderness models have become immensely popular since their introduction, so much so that during our briefing in a tent outside Zion National Park in Utah, we were told that one in five Outbacks and Foresters are sold as Wilderness models and that figures for the latest Wilderness model would be similar. As we set out into the Utah wilderness to see just how off-road ready a CUV with a CVT is, we were given one last look at what surely looks to be a recipe for sales success.
Disclosure: Subaru put me on an airplane to Zion National Park, tossed me the keys to the new Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness for a day, and fed me while they were at it. We were told that “hot” showers could be expected, and the air quotes indeed proved necessary at the glamping resort we stayed at, where Subaru left us some nice schwag. I’ll be donating mine to friends, family, or the homeless – though the memory of a tepid lever-operated shower in a 50-degree tent will be mine to keep forever.
Aesthetically, Subaru has done everything right with the smallest member of the Wilderness family. It just looks right with a roof rack on it – apparently, it’s supposed to. Subaru tells me that the designers actually started sketching the model with a basket on the roof, so frequent is customers' use of them. Of course, the visual mass is up high with this one, thanks mostly to a total of 9.3 inches of ground clearance. This is largely provided by new shocks and springs, and Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires mounted to a smaller 17-inch wheel.
The Wilderness gets its own unique look thanks mostly to plastic cladding. The logic there is that the stuff is going to get banged up off-road, so it might as well be unpainted and cheap to replace. Even the mirrors are plastic, and if you peek underneath you’ll find a skid plate too.
Updates for Wilderness models can be found inside, too. That coppery accenting worms its way inside, and you’ll find it just about everywhere you look. The floor mat in the rear hatch reads “SUBARU WILDERNESS” in a similar shade, and the seats are trimmed in stitching that matches the color. There’s also a final flash of it on the steering wheel. The whole thing feels more upscale than past Subaru models – a good thing when your brand’s whole schtick is providing a fully loaded product for a few thousand less than the competition’s best stuff. Other “rugged” changes include the seats, which are trimmed in a waterproof cloth/vegan leather mix called “StarTex.” That’s great for outdoorsy types, but it does have a drawback the average smiling Millenial family with a labrador may overlook. Those seats get you nice and sweaty because of their waterproof capabilities. So be prepared to put up with some back sweat in exchange for the ability to hose down your seats.
Storage capacity is standard for a Crosstrek. It’s big enough to fit any number of outdoor toys, and if you can’t fit it, the seats fold if that’s not enough. If that isn’t enough, you can tow it (up to 3,500 lbs). I like that the seats feature the same rubber material on the back as the floor mats, so your gear doesn’t mess up the seats too badly. The headliner is black for the same reason.
The rest of the Crosstrek Wilderness’ guts are familiar Subaru fare. What isn’t used by the company in its other models will be familiar to anyone who’s sat in a new Crosstrek, center touchscreen and steering wheel included. Thankfully, Subaru has finally fixed my biggest gripe with the tech – phone mirroring software like CarPlay now takes up the whole screen, rather than the small block it previously did. This greatly improves usability.
Speaking of tech, Subaru EyeSight, the brand’s suite of active and passive safety features, is standard on Wilderness models. This includes features like pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and more. Knowing its customers, Subaru also ensured the system would work with modified and lifted Crosstreks.
Open the graphic-clad hood, and you’ll find the same 182 horsepower, 2.5-liter flat-four as in a number of other Subarus. It’ll be mated to the same continuously variable transmission that drives all four wheels, as in a number of other Subarus. Torque is an acceptable-for-the-size 176 lb-ft. This is on the more powerful end of the spectrum for the segment, matching the Ford Bronco Sport to within a few digits, but falling some 20 horsepower short of the Jeep Compass engine. However, load the car down with gear, and this athleticism could give way to asthma.
Regardless, power isn’t the star of the show. Wilderness models get even more mechanical changes to make them more suitable for, well, it’s in the name. This includes a more powerful radiator fan. Other changes include a shorter 4.11 final drive ratio, a transmission cooler, and an upgraded rear differential to better handle the elements.
The Wilderness also makes use of Subaru’s X-Mode system and hill-descent control. The former is special programming for the all-wheel drive system that comes in two varieties. Snow/Dirt and Snow/Mud modes use a brake-based torque vectoring system to get power to the wheels that have the most traction. In the Snow/Mud mode, this means allowing more slip in the system to get you through the tough stuff, while the other is more restrictive, focusing more on outright traction.
Let’s talk money while we’re here. For all this tech, you’re spending $31,995 MSRP. There is an optional upgrade package that you really ought to get, too. For $2,270, plus $1,295 for delivery, you’re looking at a $35,560 car. That optional package gets you a 10-way power driver’s seat, a 10-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system, and a power moonroof. In all, it’s pretty competitive considering the Bronco Sport Badland’s $38,390 price point.
To drive the Crosstrek Wilderness, in almost every situation but the extreme, is to drive a Crosstrek. If you’d like to know what that’s like, I will direct you to Chris Tonn’s lovely review of the 2024 Crosstrek. With its more off-road-focused tires and suspension, I’d consider this a feat all its own. However, the Wilderness is really all about the scenario in which the outdoor enthusiast will want for just a little more sauce. As with the previous Wilderness models, the Crosstrek happily provides.
Subaru set up a little off-road course for us to test this out on. It consisted of grades that, from the cockpit, felt more like the side of a skyscraper than a 45-degree incline, deep rutted roads, and muddy terrain. Starting with that last item, it is perhaps where the Crosstrek felt its most uncertain. Bathing the Wilderness in the slippery stuff made it very apparent that you’d want some more serious tires – not that the Yokos are going to break up the band.
X-Mode makes just about everything else easy – though it’s worth keeping in mind that Subaru’s own car had better perform on the course Subaru picked. It handled steep inclines with little fuss, and the traction control system could be felt working at its hardest only in very few scenarios. I’m extremely impressed with the way the Crosstrek handled itself off-road. The steering makes it clear where your wheels are pointing, and the extra clearance and protection are going to be enough for all but the most serious off-road aficionados.
I’m also happy with the car’s on-road manners. It’s just a Crosstrek, after all. While the seats could be more breathable and softer, the cabin is quiet, and the ride is smooth over anything but the nastiest pavement. Really, it’s almost impossible to fault the Crosstrek save for the above (and the occasional groan of the CVT).
The Wilderness trim is exactly what Subaru needed. I’ve got no witnesses, and everyone who drove the Crosstrek Wilderness alongside me has probably said the same thing at some point, but I said years ago that Subaru should lift the Crosstrek further because they’d sell enough to start building STI models again. Well, they have, and it looks like selling every last one of them is exactly what’s about to happen.
[Images © 2023 Chase Bierenkoven/TTAC.com]
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Chase Bierenkoven has been writing about cars in his head since he was a child. Now, he does it for real, covering automotive news and producing reviews for outlets like Edmunds, Forbes Wheels and CarBuzz. Chase's career as an automotive journalist began in 2020, and he has already written scores of road tests. Some favorites of Chase's include the Dodge Challenger 392, Mazda Miata, Kia EV6 and Bentley Bentayga. Outside his work with cars, Chase is often found justifying his latest broken German sports car to anyone that will listen or enjoying the outdoor spaces of his native Colorado.
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