The 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness proves surprisingly capable

The 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness proves surprisingly capable

Mountain goats appear lopsided, they have goofy faces highlighted by a tuft of hair on their chins, and their heads appear much smaller than their bodies. However, these large beasts of grotesque proportions possess tremendous rock-climbing ability, able to navigate steep cliffs and perch on the narrowest ledges.

And in the automotive kingdom, the new 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness is similarly beguiling. Compared with boxy off-roaders like the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco, the hatchback’s tall stance and small size don’t suggest all-terrain competence, even with acres of plastic body cladding. But our first drive in the Crosstrek Wilderness—which took place largely on trails through the desert surrounding Zion National Park in Utah—revealed a surprisingly agile and dexterous machine, one that was able to climb steeper hills and traverse more treacherous terrain than expected while maintaining… Comfortable on-road behavior of the standard Crosstrek.

The Wilderness badge provides a range of upgrades. Copper accents on the exterior and interior complement the Crosstrek’s design, comfortable seats are wrapped in Subaru’s water-resistant StarTex synthetic material, and rubber floor mats are standard. There are fundamental changes as well. A 0.6-inch lift thanks to a revised suspension with longer springs gives the Wilderness 9.3 inches of ground clearance. This significantly beats other off-road-oriented crossovers including the Jeep Compass Trailhawk (8.6 inches) and Ford Bronco Sport Badlands (up to 8.8 inches). The raised ride height improves approach and departure angles, from 18.0 degrees to 20.0 degrees and 30.1 to 33.0 degrees, respectively. The fracture angle also increases from 19.7 to 21.1 degrees.

This was crucial on Subaru’s challenging off-road course, with its soft sand, soft mud, and steep hills. Despite going up and down dangerous angles, we never heard any disgusting scrapes from the Subie’s front end nor did we end up high on a narrow crest. If we get the clearance wrong, the Wilderness has an aluminum skid plate that protects vital powertrain components. Sometimes we wish we had a forward-facing camera — an essential tool for spotting obstacles in the road ahead and seeing what direction is next when pointed skyward at the top of a hill — as found in the off-road versions of the Forester and Outback. Unfortunately, it is not offered here.

The Wilderness uses the 2.5-liter flat-six that’s optional on the standard Crosstrek, and with 182 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, it’s not particularly quick. Acceleration is adequate around town, but short inclines can become nerve-racking. The Crosstrek Limited, which uses the same engine, needed 8.1 seconds to reach 60 mph in our testing. The Wilderness’s performance should be about the same, though it gets a shorter final drive ratio — 4.11:1 versus 3.70:1 — which allowed it to more easily dart down steep inclines and cruise through deep sand with a determined driver behind the wheel. The trade-off is poorer fuel economy: The Wilderness’s 27 mpg EPA rating is 2 mpg less than the standard 2.5-liter Crosstrek’s estimate.

Although the engine is unchanged, towing rating increases from 1,500 to 3,500 pounds, thanks to a more powerful radiator fan and new oil cooler. This greater towing capacity allows drivers to tow a small boat or camper for outdoor excursions. More adventurous owners can also install a rooftop tent, as the reinforced roof rack provides a static load capacity of 700 pounds.

Like all Crosstreks, the Wilderness gets a version of Subaru’s X-Mode, which reprograms the transmission, throttle, and torque distribution for different terrain. For most of our trip we used the Deep Snow/Mud mode, which adroitly allocated torque to the wheels with the most traction. X-Mode also activates hill descent control when speed is below 12 mph. The crossover’s computers control the vehicle’s speed with confidence, adding a safety net on steep inclines and leaving the driver to focus on steering around pointy rocks and deep ruts. The Crosstrek’s steering feels vague on pavement—especially in long, sweeping corners—but the lighter effort was welcome off-road, reducing fatigue over several hours of exploration.

Much of the Wilderness’s off-road prowess can likely be attributed to the Yokohama Geolandar A/T tires. Larger treads are mounted on black 17-inch wheels, providing adequate traction on loose surfaces and withstanding sharp impacts from rocks. However, the all-terrain tires did not negatively impact on-road handling or lead to a noticeable increase in road noise. Like all Crosstrek models, the Wilderness is a soft-riding machine, and the cushioned chassis helped it feel stable at high speeds on smoother dirt roads.

The extra Wilderness capability doesn’t make the Crosstrek’s price go up. At $33,290 to start, the Wilderness is only $1,100 more than the Limited model and cheaper than all-terrain competitors like the Compass Trailhawk ($37,990) and the larger Bronco Sport Badlands ($39,985). The Crosstrek Wilderness may not climb rocks quite like a Wrangler or hop over sand dunes like a Bronco, and its 2.5-liter engine can handle a few more ponies, but the crossover’s versatile off-road performance proves that the Wilderness is no looks package. It’s more goat than sheep.

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2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness
Vehicle type: Front engine, 4 wheel drive, 5 passengers, 4 doors

price
Base: $33,290

engine
DOHC 16-valve flat-4, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 152 in32498 cm3
Power: 182 hp at 5800 rpm
Torque: 178 lb-ft at 3,700 rpm

moving in
Automatic continuously variable

Dimensions
Wheelbase: 104.9 inches
Height: 176.4 inches
Width: 71.7 inches
Height: 63.6 inches
Passenger Size, F/R: 55/44 ft3
Load size behind F/R: 55/20 feet3
Curb weight (grandfather Estimate: 3,500 lbs

performance (grandfather east)
60 mph: 8.1 seconds
1/4 mile: 16.3 seconds
Maximum speed: 120 mph

EPA fuel economy.
Combined/city/highway: 27/25/29 mpg

Headshot of Caleb Miller

Associate news editor

Caleb Miller started blogging about cars when he was 13 years old, and fulfilled his dream of writing for a car magazine after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University. Car and driver a team. He loves exotic and obscure cars, aims to one day own something exotic like a Nissan S Cargo, and is an avid motorsport fan.

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