2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness Review and Test Drive

The top trim level of the SUV offers fun and functionality in a bite-sized package.

Front three-quarter view of a red 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

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View of a sandy road out the windshield of a red 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

Plowing through the sand near southern Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in the new 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness reminds me of driving in the deep snow of a blizzard. The small, Impreza-based crossover SUV's all-terrain tires churn the soft surface, following the ruts left behind by the vehicles that passed prior and resisting my steering inputs to break free and carve new ones. Ripples and ridges pound the suspension, jolting my body and reminding me it's time to get another gym membership.

Eventually, the sand transitions to a dirt and rock trail, the 2024 Crosstrek Wilderness pummeling its passengers as it powers across the rough stuff to an off-roading area featuring steep hill climbs and descents, tight twists and turns, and squishy mud. Nary a squeak nor a rattle interrupts the fun, underscoring the drum-tight construction quality issuing from Subaru's Lafayette, Indiana, assembly plant.

Rear three-quarter view of a red 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

Later, I'm barreling down a smoother dirt road etched into a mesa, with the stunning red rock views of Zion National Park to my right and a billowing cloud of dust behind the fittingly filthy Crosstrek. Pulling onto a grassy patch, the plucky little Subaru scrambles over the substantial lip of the road, demonstrating its impressive ground clearance and wheel articulation.

You feel like you can go anywhere and do anything in a Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness — within reason. That's the point of the new Wilderness model, which the automaker bases on the Crosstrek Sport but with modifications that make it even more capable.

Compared with the Crosstrek Sport trim, the Crosstrek Wilderness model's differences include:

  • Exclusive design, finish, and accent-color details
  • Matte-black aluminum alloy wheels with all-terrain tires
  • Modified drivetrain for improved climbing capability
  • Front skid plate and increased ground clearance
  • Greater approach, breakover, and departure angles
  • More than double the standard towing capacity
  • Water-repellent upholstery
  • All-weather floor and cargo liners
  • Enhanced cargo area utility
  • Added safety features

Subaru positions the Wilderness at the top of the redesigned 2024 Crosstrek trim level ladder and at the bottom of the growing family of Wilderness models. It joins the Forester Wilderness and Outback Wilderness in offering added off-roading capability and sits above the Crosstrek Base, Premium, Sport, and Limited with a price of about $34,000.

My test vehicle had the only option package, which added a power sunroof, a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system. With the $1,295 destination charge, my Lithium Red Pearl test vehicle had a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $35,560. Subaru provided the test vehicle and paid for airfare, lodging, and meals during the evaluation period.

Close-up view of a the side cladding on a blue 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness: The Design

Subaru Wilderness models look rugged and resolute but won't win any automotive beauty pageants. They're designed to get dirty, maximize off-roading capability, and protect against damage, and the automaker uses anodized copper as an accent color to distinguish them from Subies without the Wilderness badge.

Grit and grime are no match for the Crosstrek Wilderness's interior. Plastic surfaces, all-season mats, and Subaru's StarTex water-repellent upholstery make cleanup easier, and the automaker offers numerous protective accessories for people with pets.

Unfortunately, in-cabin storage is in short supply, and the Crosstrek needs more nooks and crannies for stashing your stuff.

Front seats in a blue 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

Dual-zone automatic climate control and heated front seats are standard, but the Crosstrek Wilderness could use a ventilated front seat option and some rear air-conditioning vents. With StarTex, if your clothes are wet with sweat when you get into a Subaru, they'll still be that way when you get out.

My test vehicle had an optional 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, which proved comfortable during hours of driving. The front passenger's seat lacks height adjustment but sits high enough off the floor to provide proper leg support. Entering and exiting the Crosstrek Wilderness is easy, thanks to the lifted suspension and high ride height.

Back seat in a blue 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

Based on my experience, four adults who are each 6 feet tall can fit into a Crosstrek comfortably. Rear legroom is snug, but the softly padded front seatbacks protect knees and shins from painful contact. Subaru provides two USB chargers for the back seat, bottle storage in the door panels, and cupholders in a center fold-down armrest.

In the cargo area, Subaru embeds holders designed for Nalgene water bottles to either side of a standard rubber cargo tray. There are rear seatback protectors to prevent damage and an overhead light to make it easier to find things after dark. You'll find a temporary-use spare tire under the cargo floor.

 Rear cargo space of a blue 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

The Crosstrek Wilderness provides 20 cubic-feet of cargo space behind the back seat and 54.9 cu-ft with the 60/40-split rear seat folded down. Those are not generous numbers. For any gear that won't fit inside the 2024 Crosstrek Wilderness, Subaru offers a robust roof rack and numerous accessories for carrying extra cargo. The roof rack can even handle a 700-pound static load, perfect for the accessory rooftop tent Subaru offers.

Infotainment screen in a 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness: The Technology

In the middle of the Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness' dashboard, you'll find a standard 11.6-inch Starlink touchscreen infotainment system. The automaker has improved the system over the years, and it features physical knobs and buttons for primary stereo and climate-control functions. Otherwise, quickly finding something within the system's menu structure could prove challenging.

The infotainment system includes:

  • Bluetooth
  • Text-messaging support
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay
  • Wireless Android Auto
  • SiriusXM satellite radio
  • Starlink connected services
  • Access to a Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Six stereo speakers

Pairing my iPhone to Bluetooth was easy, and I had no trouble running Apple CarPlay. Subaru offers a native navigation system in the Crosstrek Limited but not the Crosstrek Wilderness. That is a curious decision, considering Wilderness owners are more likely to drive this SUV beyond the reach of wireless connectivity that can render Apple CarPlay and Android Auto worthless. In addition, it would be easy to add a breadcrumb feature to a native nav system, helping you find your way out of the wilderness.

 Infotainment screen showing the EyeSight feature in a 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

My test vehicle had an optional 10-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system, which is impressive for the Crosstrek's price and segment. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the voice-recognition technology, which delivered a hit-and-miss performance.

Subaru equips the Crosstrek Wilderness with the latest version of its camera-based EyeSight safety system.

EyeSight includes:

  • Forward-collision warning
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Automatic emergency steering assist
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Lane-keeping assist
  • Lane-centering assist
  • Adaptive cruise control

In addition, the Crosstrek Wilderness has a rear-seat reminder system, automatic high-beam headlights, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear automatic braking. You also get SOS emergency assistance and automatic collision notification with the standard Starlink Safety and Security subscription package.

I used EyeSight extensively on southern Utah's divided highways and two-lane roads. The adaptive cruise control worked well in this environment, and the lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist operated in a subtle, refined manner. However, the lane-centering assist frequently turned off when two lanes merged into one.

Steering wheel and driver gauges in a 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

The lane-centering assist was also too insistent on maintaining its chosen line in curves, adding an unnatural feel to the steering. In addition, though I was holding the steering wheel lightly at the bottom of the rim, I received warnings to keep my hands on the steering wheel.

As of publication, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed 2024 Subaru Crosstrek crash tests. Check the NHTSA and IIHS websites for updates.

 Engine bay of a blue 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness: The Drive

Subaru equips the Crosstrek Wilderness with the larger of the SUV's two available engines. It is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 182 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, which is competitive in the segment. It pairs with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and a standard all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, and Subaru tweaks the drivetrain for quicker responsiveness, improved hill-climbing capability, and an increase in towing capacity to 3,500 pounds.

In addition, the Wilderness gets a lifted suspension, improving ground clearance to 9.3 inches. This version of the Crosstrek also boasts improved approach, breakover, and departure angles to 20, 21.1, and 33 degrees, respectively. Steering modifications tighten the turning circle by more than half a foot, and the Crosstrek Wilderness sits on matte black 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires. Subaru also adds a front skid plate to protect against damage.

Zion National Park's elevation ranges from 3,666 feet to 8,726 feet above sea level. An internal-combustion engine will typically lose power at higher elevations because there is less oxygen.

Turbocharging minimizes this power loss, and the Crosstrek Wilderness, purpose-built for mountain adventures, needs one. Slap a turbo on the Crosstrek's standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder (Base and Premium trim levels) and consider the problem solved.

Front view of a red 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

While the Wilderness needs a turbocharged engine, the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four is acceptable in everyday driving situations. You won't win any drag races, but you're probably not buying this vehicle if that's your goal. Subaru also builds a satisfying CVT that sounds and feels like a traditional automatic transmission.

During my test drive, the transmission did not call unwanted attention to its behavior. Still, there will be times when you encounter a short freeway on-ramp and fast-moving traffic or simply want to pass slower vehicles on a two-lane road. In these situations, the Crosstrek Wilderness needs to instill more confidence.

That's not the case when it comes to off-roading. Compared with most other small crossover SUVs, the Crosstrek Wilderness makes you feel invincible. Subaru claims the vehicle can conquer a 38-degree grade and offers more ground clearance than rivals, including the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands and the Trailhawk versions of the Jeep Compass and Renegade.

The dual-function X-Mode traction system includes settings for dirt, snow, deep snow, and mud. My test vehicle had little trouble navigating sandy, rocky, and slippery terrain.

Side view of a red 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

In addition, the Wilderness has a standard hill-descent-control system, ensuring that what safely goes up can safely come down. However, when you've climbed a steep hill without knowing what's on the other side, you'll wish Subaru included a front camera system on this SUV. On several occasions, I wanted to use one to improve forward visibility.

The Crosstrek Wilderness's ride and handling qualities are satisfying on the pavement. The steering feels quick and responsive, the brake pedal feels good underfoot and delivers smooth stops, and the ride is comfortable. It feels agile, too, whether parking in close quarters or navigating heavy traffic near the entrance to a national park (or during a commute). In addition, at speeds up to 70 mph, this SUV is surprisingly quiet.

The Wilderness is less fuel-efficient than other versions of the Crosstrek. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it should get an average 27 mpg. My result during a day of traveling in thick traffic at Zion, on wide-open highways nearby and with plenty of time off the pavement, was 24.8 mpg.

Side view of a red 2024 Subaru Crosstrek WildernessChristian Wardlaw

Is the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness a Good SUV?

Subaru buyers on a budget will find plenty to like about the 2024 Crosstrek Wilderness, especially if the backpack-on-wheels aesthetic appeals to them.

It needs a few things, such as a turbocharger, ventilated front seats, rear air-conditioning vents, and a front camera for off-roading. In addition, the cargo area is cramped, but that comes with small SUV territory, and Subaru offers solutions to that in the form of the Forester Wilderness and Outback Wilderness.

Overall, the Crosstrek Wilderness is a fun little crossover with a big personality and lots of utility and capability for the price.

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Christian Wardlaw
My first word was “car.” That’s what I’m told, anyway. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with them. The design. The engineering. The performance. And the purpose. I’m a car enthusiast who loves to drive, but I’m also most interested in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that people actually buy. Anybody can tell you that a sports car is fast. What you need to know is whether or not you should buy that new SUV, and why. My life purpose is to help you make that decision.