Essentially a wagon version of the Legacy midsize sedan with additional ground clearance and SUV-flavored styling cues, the Subaru Outback offers a roomy cabin, a sure-footed all-wheel-drive system and excellent fuel economy relative to its size.
For the latest model year, the Outback gets a new range-topping trim level called Touring, reverse auto braking, and high beam assist.
Though it debuted before the term had been coined, in retrospect the original Outback was one of the first crossover vehicles to hit the market, combining efficient and wieldy car-based mechanicals with the styling, elevated ride height and versatility buyers had come to appreciate in SUVs.
Several decades and redesigns later, the Outback continues to deliver that same cocktail of characteristics, albeit with a host of modern updates. Outside, the familiar "rugged," SUV-like styling cues are in evidence, including oversized fog lights, imitation skid plates and tough-looking black plastic trim. But the overall look is sleeker than it was in the past thanks to details like shapely headlights, crisp swage lines and a handsome hexagonal grille.
Inside, the clean, functional dashboard houses a 6.2-inch touchscreen that integrates a high-definition rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, the audio system and Subaru's Starlink infotainment system. The latter provides access to Aha, which offers tens of thousands of stations of Web-based content like Slacker, MOG and Rhapsody. Starlink can also help keep Subaru owners stay connected to the social network via Facebook and Twitter news feeds in audio.
Mid- and high-end models get a larger 7.0-inch display with extras like SMS text messaging capability and iTunes tagging, and both setups offer tablet- and smartphone-inspired swipe and scrolling gesture functionality.
High-quality materials adorn the Outback's cabin, while passengers both front and rear enjoy stretch-out space. Cargo capacity is also a major Outback strong suite - 35.3 cubic feet of stowage space are available behind the rear seats, expanding to a capacious 73.3 cubes with the rear seats folded flat.
Like all Subaru models except the lightweight BRZ sports car, the Outback comes standard with all-wheel-drive. In combination with an SUV-like 8.7-inches of ground clearance, the drivetrain is a boon for wet and wintry-weather traction.
The Outback's entry-level engine is a 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder that produces 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. While that's middling power for the segment, the mill does return 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway - those are impressive figures that best what some smaller, front-wheel-drive crossovers can eke out.
More power can be had by choosing the optional 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder, which churns out 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft. The big six is good for 20/27 mpg.
All Outbacks feature a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Taking advantage of existing camera-based technologies, Subaru has grouped an entire suite of driver assist systems under the EyeSight moniker for the latest Outback. For an in-depth explanation of EyeSight, visit our Spotlight On: Subaru EyeSight article.
The EyeSight package includes pre-collision braking assistance, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure and sway warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert.
Now in its second generation, EyeSight uses two charge-coupled device cameras Subaru developed in house to closely monitor vehicles, pedestrians, traffic lanes and other potential obstacles. Unlike cameras offered on some other vehicles, Subaru placed its EyeSight system above the Outback's windshield near the rearview mirror.
At speeds below 31 mph, EyeSight can bring a so-equipped Outback to a complete stop if it detects an impending collision with a pedestrian, bicyclist, vehicle or other obstacle. Above 31 mph, the system can apply the vehicle's brakes to reduce the severity of an impending impact. A novel reverse automatic braking technology that warns the driver if he or she is about to hit an obstacle while backing up, and automatic applies the brakes if necessary.
Subaru recently added color recognition technology to EyeSight, which allows the setup to recognize vehicle brake lights and red traffic lights and automatically brake accordingly.
In addition to that active safety technology, the EyeSight package's adaptive cruise control helps drivers maintain a set distance from other vehicles on a highway. Its lane departure and sway warning systems alert drivers if they unintentionally start to wander within their lane or make their way into another lane.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Outback is offered in five trim levels called 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 3.6R Limited, and Touring.
The entry-level 2.5i comes standard with A/C, cruise control, Starlink Bluetooth connectivity, a 6.2-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/HD Radio stereo with AUX and USB inputs, automatic headlights and windshield wipers and 17-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.
To those features, the 2.5i Premium adds heated front seats, a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, two extra speakers for the sound system, SirusXM satellite radio and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The 2.5i Limited brings leather upholstery, a 10-way power-adjustable front passenger's seat, heated rear seats, imitation matte wood trim, a power rear tailgate, a 12-speaker, 576-watt Harmon Kardon premium stereo, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, a proximity key and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The 3.6R mirrors the 2.5i Limited's features but adds the more powerful six-cylinder motor.
Finally, the Touring model benefits from a dark gray grille, 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome accents, specific roof rails, brown leather upholstery, wood trim, piano black inserts, and a heated steering wheel. The Outback Touring can be purchased with either the four- or the six-cylinder engine.
All Outback models come standard with dual front, front side, front seat cusion, and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
Options include the aforementioned EyeSight safety suite, while upper-trim Outbacks are fitted with blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert. The latter warns the driver of approaching traffic in backup situations.
The wagon is a dying breed in the United States. However, Outback buyers can also look at the Volvo V60 Cross Country, the smaller Volkswagen Golf SportWagen, and the more expensive BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon.