Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness review: a tough little charmer Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness review: a tough little charmer

Published: 02 Oct 2023

Why does this car look like something out of a Patagonia catalog?

Because that’s exactly the customer it’s designed for. Meet the Crosstrek Wilderness, a higher-riding, butcher-looking, adventure-seeking version of Subaru’s trusty compact SUV. It builds on the success of the Forester Wilderness and Outback Wilderness – rugged do-gooders that now account for roughly 20 per cent of their models’ sales.

Is it just an appearance package?

Hardly. Though that tough-guy updo is definitely part of the appeal. The Wilderness has 9.3 inches of ground clearance – an 0.6-inch increase over other Crosstreks – in addition to resculpted bumpers, new foglights, mega wheel arch cladding, and a stronger roof rack. Oh, and those bumpers are unpainted and Subaru says they can be easily replaced. That’s helpful for when you inevitably bash one on a big rock or tree stump.

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There’s more Wilderness-y goodness inside, too. This Crosstrek has waterproof seat fabric that kind of feels like vinyl, but at least the chairs themselves are comfortable. Neat bits of gold contrast stitching mimic the accents on the SUV’s exterior, and heavy-duty floor mats are on hand to deal with whatever mucky stuff you pick up on your boots while you’re out hiking or biking or kayaking or whatever.

Oh, so this little guy will off-road?

Sure will. The higher ground clearance and redesigned bumpers improve the Crosstrek’s off-road geometry. Where a Crosstrek Sport has approach, departure, and breakover angles of 18.0, 33.1, and 19.7, respectively, the Wilderness bumps those up to 20.0, 33.0, and 21.1. No, it won’t be able to hang on the same trails as a Ford Bronco or Jeep Wrangler, but it’ll get you pretty darn close.

The Wilderness also comes with a beefed-up version of the Crosstrek’s X-Mode all-wheel-drive system, with playful-sounding Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud settings that alter the programming of the traction control and torque distribution. You can really get this thing dirty; it loves to be tossed around on dirty trails, and the standard 225/60 Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires will get you through all but the nastiest conditions.

What’s more, the added ride height and chonky tires make the Crosstrek a bit more eager to be driven fast down packed dirt or gravel roads. No, this isn’t some kind of rally-ready compact ute. But you can fit it with accessory mud flaps available at Subaru dealers. Those, plus some gold wheels, will go a long way toward letting you fulfill your Petter Solberg fantasies.

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How’s the engine?

Erm, not great. The Wilderness gets the 2.5-liter flat-4 from the Crosstrek Sport and Crosstrek Wilderness, which has 182hp and 178lb ft of torque. That’s definitely an improvement over the base Crosstrek’s 2.0-liter engine, but 182hp makes for a pretty pokey little SUV. It’s slow off the line and the continuously variable transmission will drone at high revs if you need quick acceleration. But at least the Wilderness has a higher final drive ratio than other Crosstreks – 4.1:1 instead of 3.7:1 – which gives you a little more low-end torque.

The good news is that Subaru beefed up the transmission cooler and improved the radiator fan for the Crosstrek Wilderness, so in addition to being better equipped to take a beating on dusty trails, this thing can tow a bit more, too. Normal Crosstreks are rated to pull a max of 1,500 pounds, but the Crosstrek Wilderness can do 3,500. That’s enough for a small trailer and a jet-ski.

Do you have to drive it off-road or will it work on paved roads, too?

The Wilderness is actually better than other Crosstreks here – honest. The all-terrain tires make for a cushier ride, and they don’t come with a bunch of obnoxious tire noise. The steering has lots of feedback and there’s great visibility from the driver’s seat. Subaru even reworked the programming of its EyeSight driver-assistance suite, so things like radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and pre-collision braking take into account this SUV’s higher ride height. Good stuff.

How’s the interior?

Clearly designed to be destroyed, but I mean that in a good way. All of the plastics look and feel like they’ll last forever, and you can just imagine the waterproof seat fabric being covered in mud and wet dog hair. Some of the Crosstrek’s controls feel a little outdated – like the high/low switches for the heated seats – and there’s no way to unlock the hatch from inside the car. It’s not an electronically opening liftgate, either, which is kind of an annoying omission for a new car in 2023.

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Fold the rear seats flat and the Crosstrek has 54.7 cubic feet of space, and the Wilderness has a removable and washable cargo mat, which I’m sure will come in handy after you throw all your gross outdoorsy things into the back after a long day of, I don’t know, whatever people do out in the, um, wilderness. The cup holders are big and the door pockets are generous, too, so bring as many Clif bars or water bottles as you want.

What about the tech?

The Crosstrek Wilderness has an 11.6-inch touchscreen standard, which certainly looks cool and is larger than the displays you’ll find in other small SUVs. The operating system, though – yikes, that needs work. Subaru’s Starlink infotainment suite uses low-res graphics, it’s slow to respond to inputs, and the menu structure can be a little confusing. The good news? Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and both connect wirelessly.

What’s all this go-anywhere granola goodness cost?

$33,290, including a mandatory $1,295 delivery fee. That’s not a lot of money, all things considered, and the only available upgrade is a $2,270 option pack that includes a Harman/Kardon stereo, moonroof, and power driver’s seat. The Crosstrek Wilderness’ closest competitor is one of Ford’s little Bronco Sport models, and the good ones are much more expensive. I’d way rather drive this Subaru than a dumpy little Jeep Compass, too.

Subaru’s gonna sell a billion of these things, huh?

Hey, no company knows its customers like Subaru, so it’s hard to imagine Crosstrek Wildernesses not flying off dealer lots. It looks good, it’s priced right, it’s got lots of functional upgrades, and – more importantly – it’s exactly what buyers have been asking for.

The Wilderness is going into production as you read this, and it’ll be built alongside Subaru’s other 2.5-liter Crosstreks at the automaker’s plant in Indiana. Now that you’ve Wilderness’d most of the SUVs, Subaru, how about doing something similar to the turbocharged WRX?

Photography: Michael Shaffer

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