There was time when Subaru catered to a much smaller demographic of customers, mostly on the extreme edges of the country, that appreciated its rather rugged attributes at the minor expense of typical passenger car comfort. Then came the Outback which for fifteen years has led the company slowly into the mainstream American car buying consciousness with an increasingly refined combination of Subaru All-Wheel-Drive and everyday family truckster capabilities. So the question is whether the 2010 Outback is the latest example of all that makes Subaru unique, or a car that has drifted too far away from its roots.
It must be frustrating for Subaru to witness a variety of companies attempt to siphon off potential customers with the crossover promise of car-like performance and SUV utility. After all, they practically invented to concept and many of these new contenders are merely pretending to be a legitimate All-wheel drive choice. Nevertheless, as a result of this increased pressure, several models including the Tribeca, Forester and Outback, have grown larger and taller in an attempt to appeal to this emerging market.
Each All-wheel drive model comes in base, Premium, and Limited trim levels. For 2010, Subaru has pared back engine choices to two, with the turbocharged 4-cylinder eliminated for the Outback this year. The remaining options include either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder on the 2.5i model that produces an equal amount 170 horsepower and torque, or the Outback 3.6R version that predictably uses a 3.6-liter six-cylinder that achieves 256 horses and 247 lb-feet of torque. If shopping for an Outback, don’t be scared of the “base” engine, which despite its rather meager numbers on paper, has been retooled this year to deliver more power at lower speeds, a complaint of the previous model. Transmission choices with the 2.5i are between a new six-speed manual transmission or an adequate CVT with a paddle-shifted Sport mode and six “virtual” gears that convinces us that not all CVTs are annoyingly ambiguous. Acceleration may be similar, but even as a $1000 option on base and Premium models, fuel economy with the CVT is significant enough to warrant consideration despite our preference for traditional shifting. 3.6R models make use of a revised five-speed automatic, which along with the larger engine propels the car to 60 mph in as little as 7.2 seconds. Unchanged in any configuration is the use of Subaru’s venerable full-time Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system.
What is apparent in all iterations of the Outback, is the positive performance improvements that have accompanied the streamlined and updated powerplantrevisions. Along with a stronger, stiffer body and attention to ride quality, the Outback is according to testers, the smoothest, quietest, and more comfortable version yet. As a result, little to no reluctance should be had in using the Outback for commuting and roadtrip duties. However, despite its improved hard pavement manners, where the Outback really shines is as a solid and confident off-road companion. The perpetually tweaked suspension seems capable of as much abuse as can be thrown at it, with rigorous driving and cornering off-road that had some testers question whether the Outback was really one of Subaru’s Rally-derived vehicles. Perhaps the most important aspect for those who intend in making their Outback a frequent facilitator of their outdoor pursuits is the vehicles segment-leading 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
None of the engine/transmission choices is disappointing in terms of fuel efficiency, though clearly those who are most concerned by this will be drawn to the 2.5i with CVT. It produces 22-city/29-highway mpg which improves upon last year’s 20/26 numbers that the 2009 2.5i with four-speed automatic achieved. Similarly, the 3.6R model delivers a solid, and improved 18 and 25 mpg in city and highway driving.
Opinions on styling vary wildly depending on who you are or who you ask. For those of us that actually thought the BRAT or Baja were pretty cool, the Outback is neither particularly unique or especially attractive. Though most would agree even if they do not like its style, it does portray a high quality image.
In comparison to comparable sedans, the increased ride height and size give it a bit of character, but it remains decidedly more car-like than many other mid-size crossovers. This may be may be a turn-off for those not ready to give up their SUV for a wagon. Even with a wider stance, pronounced wheel arches and an edgier exterior, the revised sheet metal of the newest Outback may not be enough for male buyers who still think it looks too feminine.
Subaru takes great pride in their cars abilities in transporting people’s stuff, and for 2010 they have attempted to make the Outback even more capable in that regard. One particularly important aspect is roof storage, which the automaker has revised to allow the cross bars for the standard roof rails to swing back out of the way and lock into the side rails when unneeded in order to decrease wind noise and aero drag. A small, but important detail in the redesign of this system was the ability of owners to use Subaru roof accessories that they already own.
Inside, the Outback’s interior design is attractive adheres to standard ergonomics, and with an appropriate level of fit and material finish that you’d expect at this price point. In comparison to the previous version, overall length drops 0.8 inch, but with a 2.8 inch wheelbase stretch and at least a 2 inch increase in width, and roofline height, the result is a noticeable expansion of passenger and cargo space. While the expanded width is welcomed by all passengers, the addition of at least 8 cubic feet of interior volume is especially evident in rear-seat legroom which boasts an extra 3.9 inches. Redesigned front bucket seats are of a high quality and very comfortable, while the rear bench seats have an adjustable backrest feature. When folded, the Outback’s 34.3-cubic-foot cargo area can be expanded to an impressive 71.3-cubic-feet.
Subaru has equipped the interior with Legacy-style touches that include a solid list of standard features including air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, an electronic parking brake system that incorporates Hill Holder circuitry and a new trip computer display. Limited models also feature leather upholstery, a new 440-watt harman-kardonaudio system (a Premium option) and an optional voice-activated GPS navigation upgrade that brings a backup camera, Bluetooth and iPod/USB inputs.
Option choices are not overly complicated, especially on the base model which only has the choice beyond standard equipment of CVT. The 2.5i Premium adds a power driver’s seat, 17-inch wheels and tires, fog lamps, and as optional equipment, an All-Weather package with heated seats, heated mirrors, and wiper de-icer, the CVT, a sunroof, and a 440-watt Harman/Kardon stereo with built-in Bluetooth phone connectivity. The 2.5i Limited has the CVT, the Harman/Kardon stereo, the All-Weather package, and dual-zone climate control as standard, along with optional sunroof, a navigation system with an eight-inch display, a rear-view camera, and Bluetooth music streaming. All 2.5i’s are available with Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle spec for an extra $300.
The 3.6R gets larger brakes and much of the 2.5i Premium’s equipment. The 3.6R Premium adds the All-Weather package, a power driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and upgrades to the stereo and sunroof as options. An upgraded stereo and sunroof are the only options. The Limited is equipped with a similar assortment of features as the 2.5i Limited and has the same options.
Subaru has managed to keep price increases over the years at a minimum. Meaning, that while their vehicles were once viewed as coming with at a slighter higher-than-average price, they are now perceived as being a good value pick. It’s hard to argue with that given that a base 2.5i comes in at $23,690, while at the top end a 3.6R Limited starts at $31,690. In the end, the 2010 Outback is alot like previous Suburus, which is a good thing.