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2015 Subaru Outback

Wed, 22 Oct 2014

Realistically, many enthusiasts give horrible, horrible car buying advice. They will recommend something bizarre, inappropriately high performance, compromised or utterly impractical for a given consumer's needs, and they'll almost never recommend something that makes sense. And then they'll come up with 3.7 million reasons why the leading vehicle someone is thinking about is a bad choice.

Or maybe that's just what I do.

Regardless, if you poke, prod, bother or just get us drunk enough, eventually you'll begin getting honest feedback. And more than likely, we'll tell you, in hushed tones, about the many virtues of very, very boring cars. We'll talk about why the Toyota Camry is actually a pretty decent purchase or we'll explain how spacious and feature laden the Nissan Versa is.

The reason for withholding recommendations of bland offerings like the aforementioned Toyota and Nissan is that there are not really a lot of vehicles that suit the often peculiar whims of the auto enthusiast while also ticking the boxes of the average consumer. Unless, of course, you're looking to drop about $30,000 on an all-wheel-drive crossover, because that's an easy one to answer – just buy a Subaru Outback.

As a high-riding, sedan-based crossover, it'll appeal to your mundane, practical-minded sensibilities, while as a nouveau wagon with a boxer engine and some personality, enthusiasts won't feel guilty about recommending it to you. I came to this conclusion following a long week with a 2015 Outback Premium 2.5i, the brand's mid-range, volume-level entry.

While not a standout looker, it's nevertheless a pretty clean piece of styling.

Prompted by the redesign of the Legacy sedan on which it's based, the 2015 Outback, while not a standout looker, is nevertheless a pretty clean piece of styling. The black plastic accents, added to give some indication of the Outback's above-average offroad ability, are tastefully executed, while its clean grille and attractive headlights and taillights keep the design from being too shouty. And even if it is too visually loud for your tastes, Subaru offers the muted but classy beige-on-beige theme you see above, too.

It's a similar story in the cabin, where Subaru has delivered a clean, eye-pleasing treatment with totally acceptable material quality. A solid-feeling strip of textured faux aluminum complements the soft-touch plastics on the upper dash, while the only really hard plastics are on the lower portion of the center stack. Considering that's kind of a high-use area, as it's home to the cupholders and change tray, it's acceptable.

Functionally, the cloth seats of this tester are quite comfortable both in terms of overall support and cushioning. The upholstery, meanwhile, is soft and grippy, and at least in my mind, it isn't really a downgrade from the leather trim of the upmarket Outback Limited. There is leather, here, on the thickly padded armrest, a small feature that does wonders on a long trip. Visibility is excellent throughout thanks to the higher seating position.

Part of the appeal of the Outback is that it offers near-fullsize space for a midsize price.

Part of the appeal of the Outback is that it offers near-fullsize space for a midsize price. With 108.1 cubic feet of passenger volume (104.5 if, like my tester, your Outback features the optional sunroof), the Subaru easily bests similarly priced vehicles like the Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox and Toyota RAV4 (98.1, 99.7 and 101.9 cubic feet, respectively). The result of that extra space is a roomy backseat, which tops both the Escape and RAV4 in terms of legroom and beats all three competitors in shoulder room. All in all, that second row is no penalty box. Of course, Subaru's smaller Forester more directly competes with the aforementioned crossovers in terms of size, but the bang-for-the-buck factor is strong here in the Outback – the Japanese automaker puts it in a class with more expensive vehicles like the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.

What about behind the back seat? Well, the Outback is pretty well set up in that regard, too, offering up 35.5 cubic feet of cargo space – more than the Equinox or Escape – with a max cargo volume of 73.3 cubic feet. It's easy to access that space, too, thanks a wide hatch opening that's power operated on mid and upper-level models like my Premium tester.

The marquee feature on my volume-level tester is Subaru's latest EyeSight system, which includes such upmarket features as adaptive cruise control as well as safety items like pre-collision braking, lane departure warning and blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert.

The vast majority of buyers select Subaru's 2.5-liter flat-four with 175 hp and 174 lb-feet of torque.

While the top-of-the-line Outback can be had with a 3.6-liter flat-six, the vast majority of buyers select Subaru's 2.5-liter flat-four with 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. Both of those figures reach their peak quite close to the boxer's 6,000-rpm redline, coming in at 5,800 and 4,000 rpm, respectively. Regardless of engine, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) feeds power to Subaru's stalwart symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.

Despite their rather lofty peaks, I didn't really find the Outback wanting for power in most circumstances. Off-the-line acceleration at traffic lights is perfectly adequate, while freeway passing maneuvers are easily handled with a smidge of planning and a slightly aggressive right foot.

In our first drive of the Outback, we estimated that the 2.5-liter engine will hit 60 mph in the nine-second range, which seems rather accurate based on my time with it. While that's not quick by any stretch, from behind the wheel, the Outback feels snappier than that measurement would indicate. Despite its lack of zest, the Outback 2.5 is a reasonably competent tow vehicle. The four-cylinder model is rated to yank 2,700 pounds, outhauling similarly priced, four-cylinder competitors from Ford, Toyota, Chevrolet and Jeep.

The CVT is responsive to throttle inputs, but it won't keep the engine's revs up unnecessarily.

Subaru has been worshipping at the temple of CVT for quite some time, so it's no surprise that the Outback's Lineartronic unit can perform its duties without succumbing to most of the demerits associated with these types of belt-driven transmissions. The CVT is responsive to throttle inputs, but it won't keep the engine's revs up unnecessarily. In fact, drive it civilly and you'll have a hard time picking it out from a standard gearbox in the first place – the dreaded stretched rubberband drone that accompanies full-throttle moments is largely absent, and when it does rear its head, it's usually only briefly.

Part of what makes this CVT work, though, isn't just the engineering behind it – it's that it's paired up with a pretty civilized engine. The 2.5-liter may be a boxer, but Subaru has done well to tame this engine type's not-always-desirable inherent characteristics (those types of distinctive sounds and vibrations that might be attractive to enthusiasts but not necessarily to everyday CUV buyers). The flat four sounds smooth and refined from behind the wheel and, as with the CVT, an uninformed driver would find it tough to tell the difference between the noise, vibration and harshness of the Outback and one of its competitors.

There is plenty to recommend about the way the Outback addresses curves.

While it'd be silly to think a vehicle like the Outback is a serious handler, for a spacious, high-riding, 3,600-pound crossover, there is plenty to recommend about the way it addresses curves. Body roll, while expected due to the high center of gravity, doesn't suddenly rear its head. Instead, it arrives progressively and is easy to anticipate, allowing the driver to adjust throttle, brake or steering inputs as needed. There's even some feedback through the MacPherson front/double-wishbone rear suspension, which isn't something particularly expected in this class. You can toss the Outback into a bend with a pretty decent idea of how the all-wheel-drive system and suspension will sort things out, making for just the sort of confident-inducing experience expected of a Subaru.

The ride, meanwhile, is stable at freeway speeds, ironing out expansion joints and other imperfections admirably. On surface roads, it isn't crashy or difficult to live with, reacting well to larger potholes and bumps without transmitting too clearly into the cabin. Impact noises are not an issue, due in large part to Subaru's decision to fit relatively small 17-inch wheels on 65-series Goodyear Dueler H/P Sport AS tires.

Hiding behind those thick-spoke 17s are 12.4-inch front discs with two-piston calipers and 11.8-inch rear discs clamped by single-piston calipers. Pedal feel is soft, and there's more travel than enthusiasts tend to prefer, but it's easy enough to modulate and adjust inputs as needed.

Subaru has managed to eke out 33 miles per gallon with the 2.5-liter Outback.

Subaru has fitted electric power-assisted steering to the Outback for 2015, and while you'll note that Autoblog editors are not normally not crazy about the sensation-sapping but fuel-saving technology, if there's a class where it really works, it's with larger, less dynamics-oriented vehicles like the family crossover segment. The steering effort in the Outback is linear, building weight nicely from an on-center dead zone. Feedback through the wheel isn't exactly telepathic, although much like the suspension, there is more chatter than might reasonably be expected.

Now, common wisdom might tell us that the use of a flat engine and all-wheel drive is not a recipe for great fuel efficiency. However, thanks in part to that CVT, Subaru has managed to eke out 33 miles per gallon on the freeway with the 2.5-liter Outback, a figure that's complemented by a 25-mpg city rating. That's pretty darn impressive for a vehicle that's so spacious and reasonably priced. In fact, this tester offers up better city and highway fuel economy than the four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive competitors mentioned earlier, and it's got an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance. As ever, your real world experience will vary, but I didn't have much trouble matching the Outback's city fuel economy rating, although as my driving was about 40-percent freeway, I estimate I'd have gotten closer to the 28-mpg combined rating.

It's an easy vehicle for an enthusiast to recommend.

A mid-spec 2.5i Premium model starts at $26,995, not counting an $850 destination charge. That's $2,100 over the $24,895 price of a base Outback, but that number includes standard dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, a seven-inch touchscreen display and 17-inch alloy wheels, making it a pretty fair bargain.

For those that want a bit more on their Outback, you'll want to check out the $3,390 package fitted to my tester. It includes a sunroof, power liftgate, a navigation function for the touchscreen display and Subaru's EyeSight system. Those options are also available independently, with the EyeSight system and the sunroof/liftgate combo retailing for $1,695 apiece.

Beyond their ability to move all sorts of stuff and kin, there's nothing particularly exciting about the midsize crossover segment for enthusiasts. Sedans or hatchbacks will almost always deliver better driving dynamics, which isn't exactly a revelation. With the Outback, though, Subaru has delivered more car-like experience while maintaining the abilities and attributes inherent in a crossover body. It's that combination that makes it an easy vehicle for an enthusiast to recommend and for a family to live with.

Vital Stats

2.5L Flat-4
175 HP / 174 LB-FT
0-60 Time:
9.0 Seconds (est)
All-Wheel Drive
Engine Placement:
Curb Weight:
3,593 LBS
2,700 LBS
73.3 CU-FT (max)
25 City / 33 HWY
3 Years / 36,000 Miles
Base Price:
As-Tested Price:

By Brandon Turkus

See also: Acura may go all AWD in bid to mimic Subaru's success, Refreshed 2015 Subaru Impreza priced from $18,195*, Porsche 911 Turbo and Nissan GT-R Nismo star in World's Greatest Drag Race 4.