Why The Subaru Outback Is Great For Off-Road Driving And Who Should Be Buying Them

By Ben Boxer

The Outback has been part of the Subaru family since right around 1996 and has steadily increased in popularity due to its all around solid performance and practicality. You may remember the commercials that began back in the mid-90’s with Paul Hogan showing how well the Outback handled the Australian wilderness. That little station wagon has changed a lot since then.

The 2024 Subaru Outback weighs between 3600-3900 pounds depending on trim level. The non-turbo trims have a 2700 pound towing capacity (enough to comfortably tow a Jayco Hummingbird) and 3500 pounds in the turbocharged XT and Wilderness Edition trims. It has a spacious interior and modern features that you’d expect to find in a Cadillac rather than the country’s most popular camping car. They offer it with various power plant configurations that range from a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder, to a 2.4 liter turbocharged engine that puts out 260hp.

As for off-road performance, the Subaru Outback does really well in most light off-road situations. The Subaru CVT transmission allows drivers to comfortably navigate challenging terrain at lower speeds without worrying about burning the clutch. The All Wheel Drive that Subaru is famous for allows it to pull right through snow, mud, and loose rock without issue. Subaru’s X-Mode system helps safely manage even the most technical sections of trails with ease. The Wilderness Edition has an even more aggressive X-Mode for challenging terrain. However, this car is not designed to be a rock crawler. It doesn’t have the same suspension or frame set up that vehicles built on a truck platform have and isn’t designed for the same extreme abuse. That being said, it handles off-road driving with ease.

The Outback is great for those who want to go to places where the pavement ends that may involve off-road driving. But we don’t suggest it as a substitute for a vehicle with a low-range transfer case and heavy duty axles, such as 4Runners, Wranglers, and Tacomas.

9 Reasons The Subaru Outback Is Good Off-Road:

  • X-Mode helps drivers navigate extremely technical terrain
  • Independent suspension is extremely comfortable on dirt roads
  • 8.7 inches of ground clearance from the factory
  • World-famous all wheel drive system
  • Fantastic turning radius for tight turn-arounds on trails
  • Navigates narrow trails more easily than most wide trucks
  • Built in cross bars for mounting rooftop accessories
  • Wide availability of suspension upgrades and lift kits for added capability
  • Reliability

Who We Recommend The Outback For:

We recommend it for hikers, skiers, snowboarders, photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds who still want great MPG but may need to drive on rugged terrain occasionally. There is no beating the comfort and versatility that Subaru offers. If you want to be able to easily cruise on paved city roads and then head straight to the trails after work, the Outback is a great option.

As previously mentioned, the Outback is not the best choice for someone who’s looking to replace a 4×4. It will do just fine on most off-road trails, but anyone who wants to consistently abuse it in the same manner as a Jeep will eventually be disappointed.

subaru outback wilderness edition with offroad accessories

How X-Mode Helps Off-Road:

Subaru’s X-Mode is an off-road assistance program that comes standard on all current model Outbacks. X-Mode coordinates the throttle, the All Wheel Drive, the CVT, and the traction control systems to deliver maximum control in low-speed, off-road situations. From steep muddy hills, to snow, to sand, the X-Mode system can help drivers safely navigate out of situations that only the most skilled drivers should be able to handle.

Ground Clearance & Suspension Benefits:

Fun Fact: The Subaru Outback arrives from the factory with 8.7 inches of ground clearance while the Jeep Grand Cherokee has only 8.6 inches…

There are a number of things about the Outback’s suspension that make it great for off-road use:

  • Ground clearance for traversing rough trails and deep obstacles
  • Independent suspension for more undercarriage space, and a smoother ride on rough terrain
  • More responsive steering

Although there are plenty of other trucks and heavy duty SUV’s that have more ground clearance than the Outback, nearly 9 inches on a stock setup is very impressive. This will allow you to avoid becoming high-centered in deep snow and sand. You’ll also have more peace of mind when driving near objects that may damage the undercarriage of vehicles – such as rocks or fallen tree branches.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Subaru platform is MUCH more comfortable on uneven terrain due to the independent axle layout. The independent suspension allows the car to handle more like a passenger vehicle on-road and gives the occupants a much more pleasant experience while off-road when compared to solid axle trucks.

Size Benefits Of The Outback:

One of the things that makes Subarus so great when exploring off road is the ability to fit down narrow trails. When 4Runners and Pathfinders have to stop, our Outback is almost always able to keep pushing forward without any damage. It’s not uncommon in many areas to find old abandoned forest roads that are overgrown. Being able to not only drive further up them, but to be able to turn around in a tight spot is extremely helpful.

Outback Turning Radius

The turning radius on Outbacks is 18 feet. Compare that with something like a Toyota Tacoma which has a 20.3 foot radius. That will help get you out of a lot of hairy situations when out on remote roads in the wilderness.

Approach Angle

Because of its smaller size, the Outback has the ability to manage uneven terrain much better than longer vehicles. This will allow you to avoid damaging your exhaust system, engine components, and bumpers. However, if you are debating between a Forester and Outback, this is one area where the Forester has a slight advantage due to its length and body styling. But both are fantastic cars for outdoor use.
subaru outback 36R with lift kit and offroad tires next to cactus

Built-in Features That Are Perfect For The Outdoors:

With 79 cubic feet of cargo space and over three feet of head room, the Outback is one of the best options for outdoor explorers, overlanders, and weekend adventurers. Plenty of room to store hiking equipment and recovery gear for the trails. We have even put a mattress in the back of a Subaru and camped overnight in it. Anyone much taller than 6 feet may want to consider bringing a tent though.

The Outback also has built in crossbars that swing out and can be used to mount snowboard racks, bike racks, roof baskets, spare tires, extra fuel, or recovery boards. The best part of these crossbars is that they lock back into the roof rails to be stowed when not in use.

lifted subaru outback on method race wheels in the forest on all terrain pirelli tires

Ability To Upgrade Suspension & Wheel Setup

With the wide popularity of the Outback, there are now multiple suppliers who offer affordable lift kits and off-road accessories for it. With a basic lift kit for under $400 you can get an additional two inches of suspension height and then fit an even bigger tire underneath the car. Most mechanically inclined folks with a DIY spirit can install one of these kits in about a day with basic hand tools. 

Once you’ve upgraded the suspension, wheels, and tires, you will likely be somewhere at around 12 full inches of ground clearance at the rear diff. We’ve lifted our Subarus and have really enjoyed them.  We’re excited that there are so many options out there for the platform now and know you’ll have no problem finding a great kit for your Outback.

Plan To Lift Your New Outback?

After you purchase a new Outback, you’ll likely want to begin modifying it with off-road parts. We’ve created a collection of the best lift kits out there for them. Read this article to help you decide which lift kit may be best for you:

lifted 2020 subaru outback xt with off road tires climbing a hill


One of the most important things when in the backcountry is knowing that your car will have no mechanical issues. While you can’t 100% guarantee that a car won’t have a problem, you can minimize it and Subaru has proven themselves as a reliable vehicle manufacturer.

Not only are Subarus fun to drive, they can also last decades. In fact, Experian Automotive has found that 97% of Subarus sold in the last decade are still on the road today. One could argue that Subaru owners are just statistically more meticulous with maintenance. But we think it’s also an indication of their dependability. Our content manager has owned three Subarus with over 250k miles on them that were still running great before they were sold.

The Bottom Line:

In conclusion, the Outback is fantastic car that can reliably handle mild off-road use. Outbacks can be driven on gravel and dirt roads with ease. Small ditches and washed out roads can be navigated easily with the correct tires and a small lift. We’ve been very impressed with some of the obstacles we’ve seen Subarus conquer easily.

While they are very capable, it’s also important to remember they are not for those who want a dedicated rock crawler. For someone looking to run difficult 4×4 trails, a vehicle like a Jeep or Toyota may be the correct choice.