If you need an opinion about the Subaru Outback, spend some time near hiking trails, campgrounds, nature lodges, and outdoor-goods shops; there will be more than a few of the Legacy-based rough-roaders on hand along with very enthusiastic owners. Subaru's all-terrain station wagon remains a top pick for people who enjoy being outside, splitting the difference between economical daily driver and outdoors adventure machine better than anything else on the market.

Pricing and Equipment

The Outback is the flagship of Subaru's North American lineup. It is essentially a station wagon version of the Legacy sedan prepped for outdoor duty with extra ground clearance, some protective body cladding, and upgraded running gear.

Buyers can choose from four trim levels, ranging from the comfortable 2.5i through the Premium and Limited to the heavily-loaded Touring. Base MSRPs range from $25,645 for the 2.5i to $38,195 for a 6-cylinder Touring. The Premium and Limited allow for the purchase of some option packages such as voice-activated navigation and Subaru's advanced EyeSight sensor suite which are standard on the Touring.

Power comes from either the familiar 2.5-liter flat-four or, as an option on the Limited and Touring trim levels, a 3.6-liter flat-six and is sent through a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) to all four wheels as is Subaru tradition. Fuel economy estimates are 25 city MPG and 32 highway MPG for the four-cylinder and 20 city/27 highway for the flat-six.

  • X-Mode sounds like something from a video game but is actually the off-road variant of the 'sport mode" button in some cars, effectively adjusting driveline settings to better handle slow and slippery terrain.t
  • Subaru is pursuing safety in a big way. The Outback features excellent brakes and has earned top crash-test scores, and its camera-based emergency braking and lane-departure systems are among the best in the industry.

Performance Pros

Subaru Outback

If you need one vehicle to handle everyday driving on just about any passable surface—from suburban streets and highways to unkempt dirt roads and creekbeds—and in just about any weather conditions imaginable, nothing else comes close to the Outback's mix of midsize-car refinement and overland capability at a reasonable price.

  • The Outback's all-wheel-drive hardware, X-Mode terrain-management system and nearly nine inches of ground clearance give it off-road skills to shame many burly-looking SUVs and crossovers.
  • Even with all that ground clearance and dirt-ready gear, the Outback handles very well and delivers a comfortable ride.
  • Fuel economy for four-cylinder Outbacks is pretty good for a midsized station wagon—and excellent compared to the Outback's more obvious SUV competitors.

Performance Cons

  • The 3.6-liter flat-six does not live up to its high-output billing, feeling curiously uninspired as it posts middling fuel economy numbers.
  • Hardcore trail use will eventually show up the limits of the Outback's Legacy basis. Wheel travel and articulation is good but not in the same (admittedly extreme) class as more purpose-built machinery.
  • The Outback also cannot match the towing capacity of some of its truck-based competitors. Four-cylinder Outbacks are rated for a good but not generous 2,700-pound towing limit for trailers with brakes; the flat-six is only marginally better at 3,000 pounds.

Interior Pros

Subaru Outback

The Outback may look ready for anything on the outside, but the interior is straightforward contemporary comfort and convenience. Subaru's continuous efforts to refine and improve the Outback's passenger cabin have resulted in a peaceful oasis regardless of the situation outside.

  • The interior is pleasantly roomy and accommodating. The front seats are great; the rear seats will handle three normal-sized adults without issue.
  • The Outback constantly displays the accessibility advantages of a well-designed station wagon. Rear loading height is gratifyingly low, and you do not need a ladder to mount or remove gear from the roof rack.
  • Once-traditional Subaru tinniness and noisiness have been engineered into history.

Interior Cons

  • Some potential buyers may wish for interior styling that more appropriately matches the Outback's rugged attitude.
  • Hosing out accumulated trail mud and rock-climbing dust is not recommended.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

The Outback completely turns around the idea that car-based SUVs or crossovers are gussied-up pretenders that can't handle anything more difficult than a mall parking lot. It keeps all the advantages of a normal sedan or wagon while still outperforming many serious-looking trucks.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

While not particularly unattractive, the Outback's exterior design isn't up to the same rakish and appealing standard set by some previous generations. The loss of the manual transmission also takes a bit away from the Outback's direct feel and sense of control.

The Bottom Line

One of the most genuinely usable and capable vehicles on the market, and a triumph of substance and engineering over the superficial imagery offered by many competitors.