Before the SUV craze began in the 1990s, wagons dominated the all-wheel drive market. There were several choices from manufacturers like Eagle, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Honda. But one manufacturer was synonymous with the all-wheel drive wagon: Subaru. That tradition continues with the Outback.
What the Subaru Outback Gets Right
The current Outback introduced the Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) -- it holds the engine in an optimal rev range and has a six-gear "manual" mode with paddles for drivers who want to feel the transmission "shift." Buyers can also opt for a six-speed manual.
The standard engine is a 173-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Checking the box for the Outback 3.6R boosts horsepower to 265 horsepower with a boxer six-cylinder motor, the only one you’ll find on the market outside a Porsche showroom. Opting for more power mandates a five-speed automatic and a drop in fuel economy: 17/25 mpg city/highway versus the four-cylinder's 24/30 when equipped with CVT.
What the Honda CR-V Gets Right
Featuring a 2.4-liter inline-four, a five-speed automatic transmission and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, the CR-V has a less expensive starting price than the Outback. Cargo capacity behind the back seat is nearly three cubic feet larger than the Subaru, though the Outback has more space when seats are folded.
With front-wheel drive -- not available on the Outback -- the CR-V also boasts better fuel economy of 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.
Our Verdict: Subaru Outback
The Subaru has a tighter turning radius, a more proven and capable all-wheel drive system, and twice the Honda's towing capacity. The Outback also offers more drivetrain options, making it the winner in this comparison.