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Meet Subaru's First-Ever Wilderness Trim The Rugged Leone 4WD Wagon

The 2022 Subaru Outback and Forester Wilderness trim levels were not the first. Check out the Rugged Leone 4WD that started it all 50 years ago.


You thought the 2022 Outback and Forester Wilderness trim levels were Subaru's first rugged off-pavement models. The Leone 4WD Estate Wagon started the off-road all-wheel-drive craze 50 years ago.

It started on September 1, 1972, when Fuji Heavy Industries, maker of Subaru vehicles, introduced the Subaru Leone 4WD Station Wagon creating the all-wheel-drive vehicle niche for the small Japanese automaker. It was small and ugly, and the automotive world didn't know what to think. But those with active lifestyles loved the first-ever passenger SUV.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness, 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness
photo credit: Subaru Corporation first introduced the Leone Estate 4WD Wagon in 1972

The vehicle was ahead of its time

The Leone 4WD Station Wagon was the world's first mass-produced four-wheel-drive passenger vehicle. This model created the passenger Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) 4WD category that makes up a significant market segment around the globe today.

No one knew what Subaru's Leone 4WD Estate vehicle would lead to when it hit the market in 1972. The 4WD Leone created a niche market that continues today around the globe with the all-wheel-drive 2022 Forester compact SUV, Outback midsize SUV, Crosstrek subcompact SUV, and Ascent 3-Row family SUV.

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness, 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

The small 4WD multi-purpose vehicle caught on in snowy and mountainous areas, proving popular among a younger generation of skiers, camping and hiking enthusiasts, and others who enjoyed an outdoor lifestyle.

Subaru developed this niche market with three core values; all-wheel-drive, Boxer engines, and safety technology. Subaru Corporation says they created this new category by "responding to customer requests from an early stage and releasing innovative car designs that give owners a greater degree of freedom." It's the same philosophy that drives the Japanese automaker today.

Subaru Corporation is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its Leone 4WD Station Wagon and its iconic symmetrical all-wheel-drive system this year. The latest off-road technology in the 2022 Outback Wilderness, 2022 Forester Wilderness, and other models evolved from the Leone 4WD Station Wagon, the automaker's first Subaru Wilderness vehicle.

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Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. Check out Subaru Report where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Photo credit: Subaru