Test Drive Notes Library
- Great niche. This is the perfect car for most of America. Certainly suburban America. The Outback remains a great alternative to an SUV. It’s got all wheel drive, good ground clearance and seating height, versatile cargo room, and everything else an SUV provides. Yet it sits lower to the ground, is more comfortable, handles better than most SUVs, and gets better fuel economy.
- Tuned perfectly for everyday driving. Credit Subaru with designing the Outback to operate optimally under the conditions that most people actually drive. The 260 hp four-cylinder provides more than enough power, and makes it feel peppy in day to day driving. It’s comfortable around town and on the highway, and handles particularly well at normal speeds. It has room for everything. Rather than devote engineering resources to making its slalom speed 0.2 seconds faster, Subaru put their effort into making it work in normal, day to day family use. No wonder it sells in large numbers every year.
- Ride quality. Like the other newer Subarus on the new global platform, the ride quality is great. The new platform immediately makes the new Outback seem more solid and better built. The Outback soaks up bumps and potholes as well as some much more expensive cars. This is obviously attractive to those who live where it snows, then freezes, then thaws, and then produces potholes the size of Minorca. You’ll be more comfortable inside your new Outback than you were in your previous Outback.
- Visibility. Subaru has done a great job of prioritizing visibility, while other car makers have largely given up on it in exchange for styling. Drivers will appreciate that. The Outback has large windows and relatively thin roof pillars, with a notably big windshield and huge front-side windows. Out back, no pun intended, particularly the rear three-quarter view, it’s not quite as good, but still better than some others. If you regret that the view from inside everything you test drive these days feels like the inside of a tank, drive an Outback — or even better, a Forester. Incidentally, kudos to Subaru for making blind spot monitors that are big and bright and easily visible to the driver. You don’t have to look for them when you want to change lanes. They get your attention, which is exactly how they should operate.
- Practical. To Subaru’s credit, they’ve always focused on practicality. That’s why Consumer Reports drools over the new Subarus much the way Car and Driver drools over the new Porsches. The Outback is a very well-rounded vehicle, with good passenger room, good cargo room, decent mileage (we got 23 mpg overall with the XT’s 260 hp engine; getting the standard, 182 hp engine will probably get you another 4 mpg on average), lots of thoughtful features, and a great reputation for slogging through any kind of weather.
- Very good safety. Subaru’s EyeSight suite of safety systems is standard (only blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and the “Driver Focus Distraction Mitigation System” costs extra.) What’s the Driver Focus Distraction Mitigation System? It keeps track of where your eyes are. No, don’t worry, it doesn’t set off an alarm when you check out that guy on the mountain bike while your husband is in the passenger seat. But it does beep at you if you take your eyes off the road for more than a few seconds while the car is moving. Spend too much time trying dig into the touch screen menus to turn your seat heater down from broil to saute (see below)? Beep. Have a covert look at a text message? Beep. Turn around to take the steak knife out of your toddler’s hands? Beep. The thing works. And it calls you out on your bad behavior.
- Good CVT. The continuously variable transmission works very well with the XT’s turbo-charged engine. It has software designed to mimic a traditional automatic transmission, which makes it operate smoothly, fairly quietly, and without calling attention to itself.
- Improved interior. Our Outback XT Touring (as tested $40,705) had very good looking and comfortable leather seats. This is obviously Subaru's luxury trim. And while it’s not quite an Audi or Volvo interior (although the new vertically oriented touchscreen is quite Volvo-esque), nor as quiet, it’s very nice, and clearly a bargain in comparison.
Test Drive Notes Library
- Screen controls. While there are hard buttons for the dual temperature settings, there are other controls that require a dive (sometimes several menus deep) into the touch screen. That takes your eyes off the road, and is simply inconvenient. A few more hard buttons (seat heat, steering wheel heat, automatic stop-start system on-off) would be very welcome.
- Rough restart. This is a flaw with all recent vintage Subarus that we hope they will fix. The automatic stop-start system turns off the engine when you stop at a light. That’s great for saving fuel and cutting down pollution. But while some cars restart almost unnoticeably, the Outback restarts with a notable and unpleasant jolt. It may be due to the horizontal design of the boxer engine, or a lack of damping and engine isolation, or some of both. Whatever it is, we found it particularly annoying. And to make things worse, in order to turn it off, you have to go several menus deep into the touch screen. It’s not quite a deal breaker, but we hope Subaru finds a way to improve this.
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