By Kevin Harrison
As it turns out, the Outback name plate has been around for two decades and during that time I’ve seen the wagon based off-roader slowly transform itself into the large crossover it is today.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think I like what it’s become.
The original Outback and subsequent versions to follow was made for those of us smart enough to know that SUV’s and CUV’s aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be. They’re slow, heavy, inefficient, and they can’t take a corner to save their lives. Wagons by their very nature are the exact opposite and is why they continue to make sense today. But there’s a problem. Wagons are about as popular as your local karaoke bar star.
Still, the Outback, with its raised ride height, made more sense as an off-roader and managed to fight its way into self-preservation.
But now it seems it has turned into something we all didn’t want in the first place: a fairly large, awkward looking cross-over.
Redesigned for the 2015 model year, Subaru hopes it will keep loyalists all while offering a more modern spin to attract typical crossover buyers. The question is, did it work? I took one out for a week to find out.
Looks wise, the Outback was never a head turner but I think that was a plus for most Outback owners. The styling retained its wagon shape and roots all while adding some off-road flare with just the right touch of
awkwardness quirkiness. The all-new redesign keeps these elements and then some. The body itself, however, has gotten more CUV-like especially since this is one of the tallest Outbacks in recent memory and definitely the largest. The new front fascia is clean, conservative and classy, but the side profile and rear end styling highlights some of the gawkiness. Those wheels are about as interesting as a gnat and the LED tail lights wrapped around the turn signal look is already getting a bit old. To be honest, I preferred the styling of the outgoing model, but luckily subjectivity such as styling won’t make or break the Outback.
Inside things are much improved with a more logical layout and nicer fit and finish. The new infotainment system now looks as if it was made in 2015, but my big gripe with it is it is, for some reason, angled upward. I’m not quite sure who this benefits and I originally thought its placement had something to do with reducing glare, but glare is a massive problem. The good news is, the system is relatively easy and it responds to commands well once you get yourself out of the sun.
Interior room has improved as well with ample room for both front and rear passengers. Cargo capacity is up a bit as well leaving your pooch feeling as if he is riding in an Escalade. Seriously, this car just makes sense for dog owners, with the tail gate’s lower height for easy canine access and tons of room for your furry friend to lie down or to gawk at fools who bought traditional crossovers. With the rear seats down, you’ll find yourself with as much room for lumber or pretty much anything else your outdoorsy self desires.
The Outback gets two engine choices: the 3.6 litre 6-cylinder producing 256 horsepower and 247 found foot torque. It also comes with my tester’s 2.5 litre 4-cylinder making 175 horsepower and 174 pound foot torque. Happily, in Canada, you can still get your choice of a manual transmission in the 2.5 litre. And if you do opt for the CVT, you’ll find that it is much more refined than traditional CVT’s and it even comes with stepped gears if you want the sensation of shifting gears yourself.
Normally an engine can be let down by its transmission, but oddly enough, the opposite seems to be true here. I am by no means a fan of any CVT, but this one is definitely the best of a bad situation. The issue seems to be more with the 4-cylinder which now seems to be a bit underpowered. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t be wanting for power every single time you drive the Outback, however when you do get a surge of testosterone, it will likely end up being just a tad shy of your expectations.
Now, with that said, the Outback is a superstar on the highway with a smooth and solid ride. There are excellent tech gizmos to keep you in your lane and the adaptive cruise control does a decent job and keeping a safe distance between you and the car in front of you. The Outback will actually stop itself as well if need be thanks to its Eyesight technology, but just make sure it is used how it’s meant to be used; in case the situation ahead of you suddenly changes and you don’t have enough time to react. While purposely testing this feature out, I almost gave myself a heart attack thinking the Outback wouldn’t stop itself only to find out that the Outback apparently has a collage prank sense of humour, stopping just in the nick of time, all while leaving plenty of space from the car you almost crashed into. Thanks for that, Outback (said both sarcastically and quite literally).
Handling is as good as it can be for a raised wagon and is actually an enjoyable car to drive because of it. Relatively speaking, there is minimal body roll and the steering, while numbness can be a bit of a factor, is decently direct. Then there is the X-mode button which, once pushed, would likely embarrass most off-road wannabes you see in every second driveway in the suburbs. In fact, I would wager that it could even keep up with the likes of hardcore off-roaders such as the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner or Land Rover Range Rover. This is because the X-mode reconditions the transmission, all-wheel drive and traction control. This thing is very capable off-road.
As you may know, every Subaru with the exception of the BRZ, is equipped with full-time all-wheel drive making them superstars during mostly any Canadian winter. The price we all pay for that fun in the snow is high fuel bill since all-wheel drive adds weight, which increases fuel consumption. Over the past decade or so, Subaru has been steadily attempting to lower its fuel consumption numbers with lighter weight materials, engine tuning and adding inherently efficient transmissions like my tester’s CVT. The end result is an 11% increase in fuel efficiency over the outgoing model. Officially, the Outback is rated at 9.3 L/100 kms and 7.1 L/100 kms highway. My mixed real world driving produced 9.8 L/100 kms.
One of the Outback’s many tricks is its ability to be quite versatile and an example of this is the roof rails which are embedded to crossover when needed and can be made flush with the roof line when not in use. It’s little things like these that make an Outback, an Outback.
And that’s really the conclusion I have about the new version. Despite looking more like a traditional crossover, it still very much operates the way an Outback should offering good versatility, off-road worthiness, lots of space, and is now more efficient than ever. Just try not to point and laugh too much at your neighbours for going the more traditional crossover route. They’ll get it one day: wagons rule.
Price As Tested: $34,555
- Much nicer interior
- Off-roading prowess
- More efficient
- Standard all-wheel drive
- Lots of cargo and interior room
- Even with improved CVT, it’s still a bit soul sucking
- Engine needs a bit more power
- Redesign now has increased awkwardness
- Glare constantly washes out infotainment screen
- Can get pricey
- Ford Escape
- Honda CR-V
- Hyundai Tuscon
- Kia Sportage
- Mitsubishi Outlander
- Nissan Juke
- Subaru XV Crosstrek
- Toyota Venza
- Volkswagen Golf Wagon
- Volvo V60