Outback Wilderness vs. RAV4 TRD Off-Road: A Middleweight Bout for Trail Hegemony

Outback Wilderness vs. RAV4 TRD Off-Road 27 photos
Photo: Subaru/Toyota Motor Co.
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The Outback was already a popular choice for those looking for a versatile vehicle, but Subaru promises that the new Wilderness variant will turn it into a full-blown off-roading machine. Let’s take a look at its capabilities and how it stacks up against Toyota’s RAV4 TRD Off-Road.
Subaru finally revealed the rugged Outback Wilderness a week ago, sending adventure-seeking fans of the brand into a frenzy.

Visually, the beefed-up vehicle sporting extra cladding along with the exclusive Geyser Blue paintwork looks awesome. Its spec sheet is equally impressive for a vehicle that sits right on the boundary between a wagon and a crossover.

When it comes to wagons, it has no competition, and it wouldn’t be fair to place it in that category; it has crossovers in its crosshairs, mainly Toyota’s RAV4 TRD Off-Road.

In terms of styling, the latter is also a beefed-up version of the standard model that offers various exclusive upgrades to do a better job on harsh terrain, but does it stand a chance against the new Outback Wilderness?

Round 1: Powertrains

Subaru Outback Wilderness
Photo: Subaru
Under the hood, Subaru has placed its powerful 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four which delivers 260 hp (194 kW) at 5,600 rpm and 277 lb-ft (376 Nm) of torque at just 2,000 rpm. That’s 57 hp and 43 lb-ft (54 Nm) of torque more than what a Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road makes, and the latter figure is attainable at 5,000 rpm.

To make things even clearer, the Outback Wilderness produces only 18 hp less than the bigger and heavier 3.5-liter V6-equipped Tacoma TRD Off-Road while beating it in terms of torque by 12 lb-ft (16 Nm).

Although the differences in horsepower and peak torque are largely insignificant out on the trails, the fact that the Subaru can reach its maximum torque potential at much lower rpms will undoubtedly make it more capable.

Toyota RAV4 TRD Off\-Road
Photo: Toyota Motor Company
The RAV4’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder is mated to a solid eight-speed automatic, whereas the Outback’s flat-four is linked to a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). Some might argue that this gearbox is its Achilles heel because CVTs are perceived as being sluggish and unreliable.

Early versions of this particular transmission have a relatively bad reputation, but Subaru says it has revised current models, and the one used on the Wilderness is adjusted to achieve an equivalent final drive ratio at the front wheels to improve low-end torque.

I’m not too thrilled about this gearbox since I didn’t like how it performed on the 2020 Outback I got to drive, but until we get our hands on the Wilderness model, and put it to work on some difficult trails, we should give Subaru the benefit of the doubt.

In terms of estimated towing capacity, the powertrains enable both models to howl up to 3,500 pounds (1,588 kg), which comes in handy if you want to transport a couple of dirt bikes, a UTV, or drag another vehicle out of the mud or snow.

Round 2: All-Wheel-Drive Systems

Subaru Outback Wilderness
Photo: Subaru
While Subaru’s CVT’s efficiency and capability in off-road environments leave room for debate, the same cannot be said about its proven Symmetrical AWD system with Active Torque Vectoring and Vehicle Dynamics Control.

To maximize traction in adverse conditions it comes with an upgraded rear differential with a final drive ratio of 4.44:1 and a revised version of the X-Mode management system including Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud modes.

The RAV 4 TRD Off-Road uses a similar system called Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive, but unlike engine output and torque, we don’t have any figures to compare it with Subaru’s system, so we’ll have to wait until we can perform a side-by-side test to see which one does a better job.

Round 3: Suspension

Subaru Outback Wilderness
Photo: Subaru
For the Wilderness model, Subaru has tuned the four-wheel independent suspension system found on the standard Outback.

It features longer shocks and springs to provide more suspension travel as well as 9.5-inch (24 cm) of ground clearance. Combined with the redesigned bumpers, it gives the vehicle an approach angle of 20 degrees and a departure angle of 23.6 degrees.

Toyota’s crossover SUV has a "TRD-tuned" system that includes an independent MacPherson layout on the front, while for the rear wheels, it uses a multi-link setup.

Toyota RAV4 TRD Off\-Road
Photo: Toyota Motor Company
However, the red-painted shocks, which the manufacturer tells us are ‘unique’ when compared to other RAV4s, and the matching springs only offer 8.6-inches (21 cm) of ground clearance.

Its bumpers are also redesigned but mainly on an aesthetic level. Combined with the vehicle’s shape, that results in a modest 19-degree approach angle and a 21-degree departure angle, figures shared with the rest of the RAV4 lineup.

Those who have tested the TRD Off-Road on rough terrain emphasized that the suspension setup is a major drawback that prevents it from living up to its name.

Round 4: Off-Road Oriented Extras

Subaru Outback Wilderness
Photo: Subaru
To further improve the Wilderness’s off-road capabilities, Subaru fitted it with a set of bulky 17-inch alloy wheels finished in matte black along with Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires.

It also comes with a full-size spare, a big metal skid plate to protect the engine, and its seats are wrapped in water-repellent material.

The RAV4 TRD Off-road comes with 18-inch alloys, Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires, and a stainless-steel front skid plate. Toyota only provides a temporary spare, which is fine for a standard RAV4 but disappointing for an off-road-oriented vehicle.

Winner by Unanimous Decision: the Subaru Outback Wilderness

Subaru Outback Wilderness
Photo: Subaru
On paper, the Outback Wilderness is superior to the RAV4 TRD Off-Road in about every way when it comes to rough terrain capabilities.

We still have to see them go head-to-head out on the trails but judging by the spec sheets, the Subaru may embarrass its Japanese rival on difficult, rocky terrain.

The RAV4 TRD Off-Road is available for $35,980, excluding fees or taxes. Subaru hasn’t revealed how much the Outback Wilderness will cost, promising to release this information "later this year," but we expect the figure to be somewhere around the $39,000 mark.
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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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