The Outback is essentially a wagon variant of the Legacy midsize sedan with additional ground clearance and SUV-flavored styling cues. It offers a comfortable ride, standard all-wheel-drive and a spacious interior along with better fuel economy than comparably sized crossovers.
For the latest model year, the Outback received a mid-cycle update that included a more efficient base engine, mildly revised styling and Eyesight - a new suite of advanced driver assistance systems that's available as an option.
Stylistic tweaks include a redesigned front grille along with new headlamps and a more rugged-looking front bumper. While they add a bit of fresh flair, the changes do little to change the Outback's basic tall-wagon look.
Underneath, the Ouback's Legacy-based structure has been stiffened at a few key points for added rigidity. A larger diameter rear sway bar and increased spring and damper rates and stiffer bushings are said to quell body roll by up to 40 percent. The tweaks add up to more responsive handling dynamics, although the Outback isn't the sportiest ride in its competitive set. It does offer a cushy and comfortable ride, however.
The cabin continues to feature a sleek and modern-looking dashboard along with ample rear seat space. More comfortable seat fabrics were added for the latest model year, while Limited models gain a new wood grain trim. Cargo space behind the rear seats is an ample 34.3 cubic feet, while 71.3 cubic feet are available with the rear seats folded.
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, although the tradeoff is slightly worse fuel economy than comparable front-wheel-drive models.
The Outback's entry-level engine is a 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder. Upgraded for the latest model year with dual overhead-camshafts, the mill now makes 173 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. While that's still middling power for the segment, the mill does return a respectable 24 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway when paired with a continuously variable transmission. A six-speed stick, standard on base models, adds a dose of sportiness to the driving experience but reduces mileage to 21/28 mpg.
More power can be had by choosing the optional 3.6-liter boxer six, which produces 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft. of torque and is paired exclusively with a somewhat dated five-speed automatic. The pair is good for a lackluster 18/25 mpg.
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 and adaptive cruise control.
EyeSight uses two charge-coupled device cameras Subaru says it 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 low speeds below 19 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 19 mph, the system can apply the vehicle's brakes to reduce the severity of an impending impact.
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.
The Outback is available in a total of five trim levels - three with the 2.5-liter four and two with the 3.6-liter six.
The entry-level 2.5i trim comes standard with power windows and locks, A/C, cruise control, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo system with an aux-input jack, iPod control capability and a USB port, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, cloth upholstery and manually-adjustable seats, auto on/off headlights and 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.
The 2.5i Premium adds a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, 17-inch aluminum wheels, two extra speakers for the stereo, a stainless-steel exhaust tip, body-color side mirrors and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
The top four-cylinder trim, the 2.5i Limited, adds the CVT as standard while also bringing an All-Weather Package with 2-stage heated front seats, heated side mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer, leather upholstery, a power-adjustable passenger's seat, dark woodgrain interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, HD radio, a rear A/C outlet and a silver painted shifter with black inlay.
The six-cylinder 3.6R has the 2.5i Premium's features in addition to a variable torque distribution version of Subaru's AWD system, dual stainless steel exhaust tips and larger front and rear brakes with ventilated rear rotors. To those features, the top-shelf 3.6R Limited adds the extra niceties from the 2.5i Premium.
Options include a sunroof, the aforementioned EyeSight package and a navigation system with XM satellite radio and XM NavTraffic that comes bundled with a nine-speaker, 440-watt harmon/kardon sound system.
All Outback models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
One of Subaru's most well-known models, the Outback wagon doesn't have any true competitors - its the last midsize non-premium wagon on the market. Those looking to do some cross-shopping should check out similarly sized crossovers such as the Ford Edge, the Nissan Murano and the Honda Crosstour. More expensive (but smaller) wagons like the BMW 3-Series Wagon, the Audi allroad and the Acura TSX Sport Wagon.