There are plenty of reasons why buyers have flocked to the Subaru Crosstrek, especially since the launch of the gen-3 model earlier this year. Now, there are even more incentives to check out the subcompact crossover with the addition of the off-road Crosstrek Wilderness. It offers increased ground clearance and other useful trail-riding features, as Headlight.News discovered during a run in the mountainous wilds near Utah’s Zion National Park.
Since the launch of the original Outback 30 years ago, Subaru has developed a loyal following, especially among those living in snowy and mountainous regions like Vermont and Colorado. Its various all-wheel-drive systems provide an extra measure of grip and security in rough conditions. But, until recently, Subaru products haven’t had the extras needed to take on serious off-road challenges.
That began to change with the launch of the Subaru Outback Wilderness in early 2021, the Forester Wilderness following later in the year. Now, it’s time for the brand’s smallest crossover, the subcompact Crosstrek, to get the same treatment.
Like those earlier models, the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness gets a number of features that expand its capabilities, making it possible to attack rugged off-road trails like I experienced during a long day of wandering through the untamed lands surrounding Utah’s breathtaking Zion National Park.
A lot for a little
Start with an increase in ride height and improved approach, breakover and departure angles. Now, add grippier all-terrain tires. Round out the picture with tech features such as Subaru’s X-Mode which adapts key settings for different road conditions and acts like an off-road cruise control when attacking steep hills.
There’s another reason to love the new Subie: a surprisingly affordable price tag that puts key competitors to shame. The 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness starting at $31,995 and climbing to $39,960 when you check every possible option box. And the starting price doesn’t mean a stripped-down econobox. It includes a variety of useful features, including those all-terrain tires and Subaru’s advanced driver assistance system, EyeSight.
While a little more on-road muscle would be appreciated, the latest entry into the Wilderness sub-brand really delivers what it promises.
Functional design changes
From a design perspective, the Wilderness doesn’t stray far from what we saw with the launch of the third-generation Subaru Crosstrek earlier this year. It’s an attractive little crossover, with a blunt nose, a gently arcing roof line and a softly raked tailgate.
A closer look reveals a few key differences, including those Yokohama Geolandar G015 all-terrain 225/60R17 tires, the same as on both the Outback and Forester Wilderness models. There’s more cladding around the wheel arches, and the revised bumpers, grille and mirror caps are molded-in black, something that should reduce apparent scratches from serious trail duties. There are two recovery tow hooks up front. Underneath, there’s an aluminum skid plate to protect the engine.
On top, a copper-accented roof rack is designed to handle a variety of Subaru — and aftermarket — accessories. That includes a tent package with the roof rated to hold up to 700 pounds when parked, 165 lbs when moving.
Ground clearance has been bumped to 9.3 inches, about 0.6 over the standard-issue Crosstrek — and a mere 0.1 inches less than the Jeep Wrangler (though the Rubicon edition jumps to a full 12.9 inches). Even the Ford Bronco Badlands comes up short, quite literally, at 8.8 inches.
For serious off-roaders, Crosstrek’s approach angle jumps from 18 to 20 degrees with the Wilderness edition, the breakover going from 19.7 to 21.1 degrees, and the departure angle from 30.1 to 33 degrees.
The Wilderness package shares the same 2.5-liter boxer-4 engine found in the Crosstrek Sport and Limited models. It makes 30 horsepower and 36 pound-feet more than the crossover’s anemic base drivetrain.
That’s a good thing — though, at 182 hp and 178 lb-ft, it still could use a bit more muscle. That’s most obvious on-road. Off-road you appreciate the shorter final drive ratio used for the Wilderness continuously variable transmission. The gearbox, incidentally, is surprisingly pleasant, doing a good job of simulating conventional shifts, with little of the classic CVT motorboating.
And even though we might wish for more muscle, the package is good for towing up to 3,500 pounds — up from 1,500 with the Crosstrek Sport, according to Subaru. Credit the oversized transmission cooler and radiator, both primarily designed to keep things running cool off-road.
As for fuel economy, the 2024 Crosstrek Wilderness is rated at 25 mpg city, 29 highway and 27 combined.
Hitting the trails
At 3,417 pounds, the 2024 Crosstrek Wilderness adds 68 pounds to the mass of the Limited edition. It’s not a lot, but you’ll likely notice it when your right foot nails the throttle. The off-road model isn’t anemic, like base Crosstrek trims, but it clearly starts to lose motivation when you reach 80 mph.
The knobbier Yokohama tires, meanwhile, do result in a bit rougher and noisier ride than the all-season rubber used on other Crosstrek packages. And it won’t deal with sharp corners quite as aggressively. But the trade-off is less than expected, adding only a modicum more body roll in turns. Steering is reasonably precise and predictable, with more road feel than many off-road-oriented competitors.
Off-road is where the Crosstrek Wilderness really justifies itself. My circuitous route included a mix of on- and off-pavement driving conditions. These never approached the sort of situations where you’d want to be manhandling a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, but I was clearly glad to be driving the Wilderness package. There were steep hills, deep ruts, loose and shifting sands and even a nasty water hazard left over from the remnants of Tropical Storm Hilary after it rolled through California last month.
My Crosstrek Wilderness rarely stuttered. Only once, when launching up a steep, sand-covered hill, did it struggle to gain and retain grip. There were no boulders to climb, but what obstacles I did face were handily overcome.
Like other serious off-road vehicles, Subaru has made good use of technology to ensure the crossover’s footing. Its all-wheel-drive system, for one thing, has been retuned to minimize wheel spin when experiencing uneven traction conditions — though one can adjust how it works using the X-Mode system’s two settings. In snow and deep sand, for example, you want a bit more spin to help bite down.
X-Mode also includes Subaru’s version of Hill Descent Control. Crest a hill and it will maintain the same speed as you descend. Unless you’ve overdone it, that means you don’t need to flip-flop from throttle to brake. One thing to be aware of is that X-Mode automatically shuts down at 25 mph. But drop below that and it kicks in again.
Tech and more tech
If I could present my wish list to the Crosstrek product development team, (all right, I actually did), a forward-facing camera would be at the top.
That said, the crossover has a variety of other tech features to appreciate, including the latest version of the Subaru EyeSight system. It’s a comprehensive suite of advanced driver assistance systems that here comes standard with features like pre-collision braking, blind-spot sensing, reverse auto-braking and lane keeping assistance.
Crosstrek Wilderness also features a small digital display in the gauge cluster, as well as an 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment system. And it adds wireless versions of both Aple CarPlay and Android Auto. Oh, and while these aren’t really the latest in technology, heated front seats come standard.
Subaru scored with the debut of its Wilderness lineup. While only a small percentage of American motorists will ever deal with something rougher than a gravel road, a growing share of buyers are demanding more rugged capabilities.
You likely won’t take the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness out on the Rubicon Trail, but it clearly can meet the expectations of most buyers. And it adds an additional level of capabilities on-road, especially where motorists might face the occasional blizzard.
Factor in $1,295 for delivery fees and the Crosstrek Wilderness starts at a quite reasonable $33,290. That stands up well when compared to the likes of the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk or Bronco Sport Badlands, among other direct competitors.
Buyers have strongly embraced the Wilderness versions of the Subaru Outback and Forester. Based on my time in Utah, I expect the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness to fare equally well.