The Subaru Wilderness brand is like Jeep’s “Rubicon” or “Trailhawk” brand in that it’s meant to represent the most off-road capable version of a Subaru. “A Subaru that can take you farther, loaded with rugged features so you can take on your wildest adventures,” Subaru says about Wilderness. The brand’s latest offering is the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness, an off-road-ified version of the smallest, most efficient tall-wagon in Subaru’s lineup, and while the vehicle offers some meaningful upgrades over the standard Crosstrek, one “upgrade” is currently boggling my mind, and I need to show you all. I am talking about the front skid plate.
Here’s a video of it so you can see for yourself:
A skid plate’s job is to protect underbody components from damage that might occur when driving over obstacles like rocks and tree trunks. Its primary functions are to 1. prevent obstacles from gouging/scratching underbody components 2. Help a vehicle slide over obstacles 3. Take much of the load from an obstacle (i.e. the weight of the vehicle) so that load isn’t borne by the underbody component; this prevents the underbody component from crushing/cracking. Typical underbody components that are often shielded by skidplates are: transfer cases, transmissions, engines, differentials, and steering components.
When I evaluate any off-road vehicle, I always lay down in the dirt and snap photos of the underbody protection. Here’s the front skid plate on a Ford Maverick Tremor (which, admittedly, has its own underbody protection issues), for example:
That skid plate is mounted to the front subframe, and protects the engine and transmission from the elements. When I reviewed the Ineos Grenadier, I snapped these shots of its underbody skidplates, which are bolted to the frame, the frame crossmembers, and to the body:
All of these skid plates prevent components from being either gouged or crushed, as the skid plates are rigidly mounted to the vehicle’s structure. If someone were to drive these vehicles over a rock that was a bit too large, at least some of the weight of the vehicle could be taken by the skid plates without requiring whatever component is underneath to bear that load. This brings me to the Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness
Go to the Crosstrek Wilderness’s consumer site, and you’ll see in big bold letters “9.3 Inches of Ground Clearance with Front Skid Plate, Improved Angles, and Dual-Function X-MODE.” A video clip of a Crosstrek Wilderness driving over rocks in what looks like Moab, Utah is off to the side. When a journalist at the Subaru Crosstrek media drive asked how thick the vehicle’s skid plate is, Subaru’s representative said “Thick enough.” Between the literature and this reply, I figured the Subaru Crosstrek has a real-deal skid plate — one similar to the Maverick Tremor’s.
So I decided to take a peek at the underbody protection of a regular Crosstrek and of a Crosstrek Wilderness — just to compare. The regular Crosstrek doesn’t appear to have much underneath to protect the engine or drivetrain:
The Crosstrek Wilderness, I found, also doesn’t have a whole lot of underbody protection:
But what about that front skidplate? Well, check it out:
I know what you’re thinking: “Surely, Subaru didn’t just rivet this thin piece of sheetmetal to the plastic underbody shield, right?”
Wrong. That’s exactly what they did. Look at this thing:
Watch the video towards the top of this article, and you’ll see that as I push the plastic underbody shield with my hand, the “skid plate” moves with it!
This is, without question, the saddest, most pathetic skid plate I’ve ever seen. Will it help keep that plastic shield from gouging like the front bumper appears to be doing (see photos above) due to the vehicle’s rather low approach angle? Sure. Is it probably a bit stiffer than that plastic shield it’s fastened to, meaning it will do a better job disbursing a load should the Crosstrek Wilderness drive over a too-tall rock? Maybe.
But this is without question the most useless skid plate I’ve ever seen. The vehicle’s approach angle is so low that I imagine few instances where this skidplate would see heavy use, since that front bumper will likely hit the obstacle first. Plus, if that thin skidplate did hit something hard, it’s just going to push the plastic underbody shield up!
I’m not saying this vehicle needs a legit skid plate given its audience, but this is seriously bizarre. A skid-plate that isn’t rigidly mounted to a structural component, but rather to a floppy plastic shield that’s attached to the rest of the car via plastic clips? I don’t get it!
Interestingly, on Subaru’s media site, the company seems to imply that this skid plate is more of a styling element:
To visually communicate the more capable off-road performance, the Crosstrek Wilderness adds exclusive styling with all-new front and rear bumpers, bold hexagonal front grille, larger wheel arch cladding, metal front skid plate, unique hex-design LED fog lights and an anti-glare hood decal in matte-black finish.
But you can barely even see the skid plate unless you’re under the car, so I don’t quite understand this, either. I’m just confused.