Subaru Outback vs. Jeep Wrangler – Finding the better sand machine.

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Which performed better?

Jeep’s reputation for off-road prowess needs no introduction. They’re capable, period. Even with four bald tires. If you own a Jeep, especially a Wrangler, you don’t have worry yourself to death about getting stuck, unless you’re really trying to. But Subaru owners might be a little bit less confident in their vehicle’s off-road prowess. Sure, it has AWD, but does it have enough ground clearance and capability to handle deep sand that are reserved for trucks?

Cape Point out past the lighthouse was the real litmus test for the Outback. With four passengers, a dog and a cargo carrier – AKA hamburger – on the top, the Subie was carrying some serious added weight. Even at capacity, the Subie handled the deep, rutted sand with aplomb. Yes, it bottomed out a bit, and occasionally dragged bumper, but it’s turbocharged 2.5 liter Boxer engine had no issues supplying the power, and its Symmetrical AWD system didn’t even break a sweat in soft stuff. The engine did run a little hot at first because we consistently had the RPMs high enough to get the turbo spooling. In the sand, momentum is your best friend, and we made sure to not stray from it. But once we backed off the RPMs, the heat dissipated, and the Subaru was running at normal temps even with a full load.

Once unloaded, the Subaru performed even better. Off the line, the Jeep had much quicker acceleration due to its lower axle gearing, but once the Subaru’s turbo spooled, the Outback shot past the Jeep like it was standing still. Traction wise, the Subaru did a much better job of distributing torque with its 225/55 series Firestone tires, displaying virtually zero wheel hop or slippage under full throttle.

The Jeep on the other hand, with its Goodyear Wrangler tires, had significant wheel hop and slippage. It was a tooth-rattling, herky-jerky experience – essentially what you would expect from a rough, ready and rugged Jeep. Despite the rough ride, the Wrangler was no doubt more confidence inspiring in the sand However, this was only due to its ground clearance. Drivetrain wise, it was quickly becoming clear that the Subie had a smoother, more sophisticated and capable system in the sand.

But as it is with most off-roaders, eventually we got a little too complacent with the capabilities of the Subie, and got it stuck. We tried taking it through some really deep, soft sand from a dead stop, and it only got about 100 feet before bogging down. But the stuck wasn’t due to the shortcomings of Symmetrical AWD, it was because the Subie was too low to the ground. Had the Subie possessed two more inches of ground clearance, it would have walked right through.

The Subie Earns Props

Once out to Cape Point, we parked the Subie amongst a line of pickups, and much to our surprise, one after another beachgoer approached us, amazed to see Subaru in the midst of 4×4 trucks.

One of the guys, a dyed-in-the-wool Outer Banks native, walked up to us holding a fishing rod in one hand, and a Coors in a Koozie in the other. He cocked his tanned, wrinkly head to the side and gave a confounded look.

“Is this thing your guyses?” My brother and I looked at each other equally confounded. The vernacular these people use is awestriking. After a moment of ciphering, I was still confused.

“Um…yes?” The man chugged the remainder of his Coors and cast his line into the water.

“Uh huh. Well, it ain’t no Vista Cruiser with snow tires, I guess, but I’ll give you boys credit sure enough for bringin’ her out here.”

Vista Cruiser or not, the Subaru exceeded our expectations. Yes, the Wrangler and Outback are different vehicles for different buyers, but overall, the Subie proved its mettle as a more capable, comfortable and versatile sand machine. The only element it lacked was ground clearance, easily remedied with a number of different solutions.

If you’re looking for a vehicle that can drive 700 miles of pavement in comfort, carry a full family with cargo and get almost 25 mpg on the highway while still satisfying your thirst for off-road adventures, the Subie wins hands down. Just make sure to bring a tow strap and a tire gauge.

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  • David M. says:

    We took our 2006 Outback 2.5i out onto that very same beach and the one just before “S-turns”. It did just fine getting us where we wanted to go but it is definitely not designed to play in the sand much, at least not OBX sand which is notoriously deep. It’s a great car for all environments but it isn’t great at any in particular aside from snow and ice. We never let any air out of the tires and we had to avoid deep ruts but aside from that she was sure footed. The Outback fits the offroading a majority of vehicle owners will do and for the rest there are the alternatives that fair much better and they are almost all body on frame with a low range transfer case. No one gave us a beer for our efforts either….

  • Kurt G. says:

    Actually, it should read “Subie Pulled From Sand by Tundra”

    Kurt G.

  • Solid says:

    The section The Subie Earns Props should be renamed Subie Pulled From sand by Wrangler.

  • BOb says:

    Be careful about renting cars with E-Zpass, there is a company called E Tolls/HTA
    this is in bed with your state’s toll authority and out there to make an illegitimate profit.

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