Lightly updated for its fourth year on the market, the 2018 Subaru Outback features exterior styling revisions, an updated infotainment system, and a number of improvements designed to reduce engine, road, and wind noise. More station wagon than SUV, the Outback offers standard all-wheel-drive (it is a Subaru, after all) and crossover practicality, but car-like ride and handling.

There are some problems, though. A thirsty optional six-cylinder engine guzzles rather than sips, advanced active safety features aren't available on all models, and the interior on top-trim models lacks the luxury touches most buyers expect. Still, the Outback is the smart choice for customers wanting SUV versatility without moving to a bigger, taller vehicle.

Best Value

The 2018 Subaru Outback starts at $26,810 with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine, and rises to $39,605 for a Touring model with the 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer engine. A CVT automatic is the only transmission available.

By forgoing a leather interior and the thirsty flat-six engine, you can save over $7,000 over the 3.6R Touring trim by picking the midrange 2.5i Premium with standard features like automatic climate control, heated front seats, a power driver's seat, and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Included in those savings is Subaru's whole suite of active safety systems (all listed as optional extras).

Here's how we'd build it:

  • Model: 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 175 hp / 174 lb-ft
  • Transmission: CVT automatic
  • MPG: 25 City / 32 Highway
  • Exterior color: Crystal White Pearl
  • Interior color: Slate Black Cloth
  • Options: Eyesight + Blind Spot Detection & Rear Cross Traffic Alert + Power Rear Gate + High Beam Assist + Moonroof Package + Navigation System ($3,590, auto-dimming rearview mirror, moonroof, power tailgate with automatic close and height memory, navigation, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams).
  • Base Price: $28,910
  • As Tested: $32,500

Performance Pros

Subaru Outback
  • Even with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback is comfortable and composed on most roads.
  • Subaru's continuously variable transmission doesn't have the odd, elastic feel of many of its competitors.
  • Thanks to additional sound deadening, more laminated glass, and new outside mirrors for 2018, both road and wind noise are down.

Performance Cons

  • The 2.5-liter engine offers only adequate performance, without much reserve power for passing – especially up hills.
  • The 3.6-liter engine lacks the acceleration of Subaru's own 2.0-liter turbo, available in the Forester XT.
  • Although 2018 sees some tweaks in refinement, the 2.5-liter engine can still sound rough under hard acceleration.

Interior Pros

  • Front seats are very supportive with long lower cushions and bolsters that aren't overly-firm.
  • Plenty of room in back with 38.1 inches of legroom and 35.5 cubic feet of cargo room behind the back seats.
  • Laminated side glass plus additional sound-deadening materials added this year make the interior library quiet, even at highway speeds.

Interior Cons

Subaru Outback
  • The leather used in Limited and Touring models can hardly be called premium.
  • A power passenger seat is only available on Limited and above trims.
  • Subaru's advanced active safety features aren't available on the base model.

Our Favorite Thing

8.7 inches of ground clearance, standard all-wheel-drive, and a car-like ride give the Outback an advantage over most competitors in its class.

Our Least Favorite Thing

Despite a number of recent upgrades, the interior of the top-trim $39,000-plus Touring model still lacks the luxury touches many buyers expect in this price range.

Right For

Subaru Outback

A smooth, quiet ride, plenty of interior room, a slew of available active safety features, and standard all-wheel-drive make the latest Outback a great choice for smaller families.

Wrong For

The Outback's conservative, utilitarian design, along with a top trim that's still a few steps below the class leaders will probably turn off buyers looking for luxury and style.

The Bottom Line

Although it emphasizes function over style, the Outback's car-like handling, overall versatility, advanced safety features, and standard all-wheel-drive capability make it one of the best offerings in its class.