Subaru Crosstrek owners have been turning to the aftermarket—or their own welders—to make their high-riding hatchbacks capable of pretty serious off-road adventures.
With the introduction of the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness, they’ll be able to buy that vehicle instead of attempt to build it. Subaru’s taken its lifted hatchback and given it even more ground clearance, better angles for off-pavement driving, and minor powertrain tweaks that make it easier to climb up and over a hill.
After spending a day driving around Zion National Park and on a course used by motocross riders, the TL;DR version is this: The 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness is a more Subaru-y Subaru that’s going to resonate even better with outdoor types for a reasonable price.
2024 Subaru Crosstrek steps it up
Earlier in the year Subaru introduced the new Sport and Limited Crosstrek models with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 182 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. That equates to 30 more horsepower and 36 lb-ft more torque than the base engine, and it probably shaves nearly two seconds off the Crosstrek’s slow 9.0-second 0-60 mph time. It’s still not quick, but it’s not excruciatingly slow.
The Wilderness model takes things a bit further. While there’s no extra power on tap, Subaru swapped out the final-drive ratio from the rest of the Crosstrek model’s 3.7 to a higher 4.11 out of the larger, heavier Outback. Subaru’s team also gave the Crosstrek Wilderness its own set of shift ratios when the manually-selectable paddle shifters are engaged. This gives the Wilderness model more gumption when heading up and over a hill. But a side effect is more snap in the Crosstrek’s step off the line in all driving. It’s not going to shave any time off the 0-60 mph or quarter-mile times, because aerodynamics and physics are still a thing, but it makes taking off from a stop more enjoyable for those who dream about this getting a turbocharger.
Sadly, the CVT, and rest of the powertrain, will still run out of ideas at about 80 mph in the Crosstrek. This isn’t a WRX. The standard Intelligent drive mode is fine for daily driving, but tapping the S button on the steering wheel to engage the Sport mode powertrain profile kicks the transmission’s ratios up a handful of notches to keep things on boil.
Crosstrek Wilderness models gain a transmission cooler to keep things from getting too hot and double the pressure sensor count to two for better communication between the engine management system and trans at low speeds. These two changes, combined with a beefier rear differential and stronger radiator fan, enabled Subaru to increase the Crosstrek’s tow rating from 1,500 pounds to 3,500 pounds.
2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness goes high and tight
Subaru swapped out the Crosstrek’s springs and shocks for taller units. The change takes the standard model’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance to an impressive 9.3 inches. For context, a Ford Bronco Sport Badlands has 8.8 inches of ground clearance and the new 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser has 8.7 inches of ground clearance. While by no means a measure that marks true capability, it does make a vehicle make contact with what’s below, whether it’s rocks, mud, or even snow. The hard mounting points for the suspension didn’t change, which means suspension travel has increased by the same 0.6 inches, according to Subaru. It’s still quite easy to hang a wheel up in the air.
The taller suspension induces a little more lean around corners and softer ride on pavement, but it’s still controlled. On washboard and rough sand surfaces don’t expect anything like a hardcore off-roader’s Fox remote reservoir setup absorbing blows. Speeds will need to be kept in check or else you’ll shake your kidneys and the car until one gives out. Based on my experience outside Zion it’ll be the kidneys that cry uncle first.
Subaru’s given the Crosstrek Wilderness thicker body cladding for more protection. But more importantly it’s swapped out the front and rear bumpers with a new design that’s high and tight in the back with tucked-in corners. In a rather neat move, Subaru’s given the unpainted bumpers replaceable panels, so should one get crunched the entire bumper doesn’t need to be replaced. That’s smart.
The suspension and bumper changes translate to the Crosstrek’s 18-degree approach, 19.7-degree breakover, and 30.1-degree departure angles increasing to 20, 21.1 and 33 degrees respectively. It’s by no means a boulder climber like a Bronco Raptor, but it had zero issue conquering the motocross course at a higher rate of speed than most people will probably drive their own Crosstrek off-road.
A set of Yokohama Geolander All-Terrain 225/60R17 tires provided more grip off-road than the standard Crosstrek’s all-season rubber. I imagine many buyers will swap them for cool looking BFGoodrich K02 or the lighter-than-K02 Toyo Open Country A/T III tires.
Subaru said it added a skid plate up front to protect the vulnerable engine bits, but one journalist smacked it pretty good and noted how thin and flimsy it was.
Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system still runs an open-differential setup. This can lead to issues when a wheel either has no traction or is in the air, as the system will in essence still send the same amount of power to the wheel with little to no traction as the other wheels. Subaru engineered around this with its X-Mode software. In Snow and Dirt mode the system uses the brakes to cut power to the wheels without traction enabling the car to move forward. Crosstreks with the 2.5-liter motor, including the Wilderness, gain an additional Deep Mud and Snow mode.
That second mode does the exact opposite by loosening the electronic stability control system’s reins and allowing wheel slip to get through slick, messy situations like in sand, mud, or rutted trails. It won’t conquer the Rubicon Trail, but in practice it fixes this all-wheel-drive’s system’s biggest weakness that standard X-Mode can only tackle in certain situations. X-Mode can only be enabled while either stopped or nearly stopped (you’re barely moving), and it’ll automatically turn off the second the car goes over 25 mph. If engaged, it’ll turn back on once the speed drops below 25 mph. Subaru engineers need to enable this system for higher speeds as it allows for more fun on dirt and gravel roads. Isn’t this the company that makes rallycross cars that spend much of their time piloted sideways?
Other automakers, looking at you Toyota, should take note of Subaru’s hill descent control. It’s an idiot-proof setup that is automatically engaged when X-Mode is on. As soon as the car crests a hill and or starts heading down a hill the system engages and maintains whatever speed the vehicle was going upon cresting and heading downwards—no buttons to click or variables to check. The system operates more smoothly and quietly than Toyota’s with no clunks or thunks that immediately induce concern.
2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness delivers value
The Crosstrek Wilderness comes with everything you need, want, and then some—from an 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to real hard buttons and knobs, heated front seats, and even adaptive LED headlights. Like other Wilderness models, the Crosstrek variant gains machine-gun-like LED fog lights with a warmer color temp that helps cut through rain and fog in my experience, and it also gets seats covered in water-repellent material that doesn’t feel sticky like marine-grade vinyl. These seats will be easier to maintain than leather and more practical for both family and adventure life.
But while that lifted suspension, high-and-tight bumpers, and all-terrain tires combined with X-Mode’s Deep Mud and Snow are all great, somehow the Subaru team overlooked a front-facing camera. The Crosstrek’s small, and the hood is short with a matte black appliqué to prevent glare on Wilderness models, but it still made cresting a hill or turning down a hill a bit harder without a spotter because I couldn’t see what I was turning into or over.
At $33,290 including a $1,295 destination charge, the Wilderness, which is the most expensive Crosstrek model, undercuts the appealing competition by thousands, such as a Bronco Sport Badlands. A base Bronco Sport costs basically as much as a Crosstrek Wilderness.
Not everyone needs a Wrangler or a Bronco. If you aren’t desert running, boulder climbing, or forging that deep into the unknown wild the Crosstrek Wilderness is more than capable of getting you there, and will do so easier than other stock Subies. Bought, not built.
Subaru paid for airfare and had me sleep in a tent where I killed a spider the size of my palm and saw two field mice scurry across my floor to bring you this firsthand report.
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