Subaru calls the Outback the “world’s first sport-utility wagon,” an apt description for a vehicle that popularized the idea of an all-wheel-drive station wagon with increased ground clearance as an alternative to a sport-utility vehicle. It was, in many ways, the stimulus for the development of crossover utility vehicles that are now all the rage.
Subaru owners are famously loyal because of the ease with which the Outback can handle bad weather and country roads. It’s as reliable as an old pair of boots yet it’s plush enough to feel at home in city confines.
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The fifth-generation Outback has grown up considerably and is now about as big as most midsize SUVs. It is offered in four trim levels and with the choice of a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine or a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine. Both engines are “boxers,’ with horizontally opposed cylinders in a configuration similar to a Porsche 911 or an air-cooled Volkswagen. The 2.5i has 175 horsepower and the 3.6R has 256.
Prices for 2017 models begin at $25,645. The six-cylinder starts at $35,870 for the Limited and $39,070 for the Touring. The 2018 models will be slightly more.
The test vehicle from Subaru’s press fleet was a 2017 2.5i Touring with a sticker price of $36,870 and it was equipped with heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, power sunroof, power tailgate, navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity, keyless ignition and safety items such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking that detects objects behind the vehicle and applies the brakes.
Subaru pairs its engines with its Lineartronic CVT, or continuously variable transmission, and all-wheel drive. I’m not a huge fan of the CVT transmission because the lack of individual gears can sometimes make the vehicle feel a tad lazy but shifting into manual mode gives six distinct gear ratios. A benefit of the CVT is efficiency and fuel economy for the 2.5i is rated at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway.
All-wheel drive has been a staple of the Subaru brand for 35 years and the system used with the CVT “transfers power to the wheels with the most grip should slippage occur,” according to Subaru. Hill descent control and hill start assist are standard.
The Outback’s towing capacity is 2,700 pounds regardless of engine choice but the six-cylinder would be much better if you want to pull a small camper. I have an acquaintance who uses his Outback to pull a teardrop camper and he reports that it works very well.
The Outback has ample headroom and comfortably contoured seats. Attractive textures and large gauges make up the instrument panel. The Starlink smartphone connectivity system integrates audio streaming, text messaging capability, and iPod compatibility.
The standard 60/40-split rear seat folds down to open up 73.3 cubic-feet of cargo space.
Subaru’s EyeSight system consists of stereo cameras that integrate adaptive cruise control, vehicle lane departure, and pre-collision braking.
When using cruise control, the vehicle automatically adjusts speed to maintain distance behind the car ahead. If that car slows or stops the Subaru will also slow or come to a complete stop without any input from the driver. In stop-and-go traffic, the Outback slows down and speeds up with traffic without the driver touching either the gas or brake. If the vehicle comes to a near stop, the driver has to take over and accelerate back up to speed.
It’s interesting to note that what started as a small station wagon back in the middle 1990s has morphed into the spacious, comfortable and competent vehicle of today without sacrificing its rugged nature.
2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring
Engine: 2.5-liter, 175-hp four-cylinder
Transmission: Lineartronic CVT
Wheelbase: 108.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,856 pounds
Base price: $35,995
As driven: $36,870
MPG rating: 25 in the city, 32 on the highway