In addition to its all-new, 2010 Legacy sedan, Subaru unveiled the Legacy's butched-up sibling, the Outback wagon, at the 2009 New York auto show. Like the Legacy, the new Outback goes on sale in late summer.
The original Outback started production some fifteen years ago, in July 1994. Since then, it has become what Subaru marketers call "our Swiss Army Knife." Subaru refers to its typical Outback buyer as "the constant adventurer." These folks like to kayak, backpack, and hike, and they have well-used passports. They're people who want some of the ruggedness of an SUV but are turned off by the size and ponderousness of traditional off-roaders. Subaru says it draws Outback customers from past owners of SUVs, crossovers, cars, and wagons, and the carmaker thinks its latest Outback is even better poised than ever to attract these folks.
Bigger interior, but still a just-right exterior size
The 2010 Outback offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance, versus 8.4 inches on the current model and 8.2 inches on the Jeep Grand Cherokee. There's 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and it's accessed via a load height of 33.9 inches, versus 37.8 inches for the Honda CR-V and 38.8 inches for the Toyota RAV4. The Outback weighs about 3500 pounds, which is nearly 500 pounds less than the new Toyota Venza, another five-passenger crossover wagon.
For 2010, the Outback boasts an interior that is 7 percent larger than before. Notably, the rear passenger doors are a whopping 11 inches wider than in the outgoing model, aiding ingress and egress. Once seated, rear-seat passengers enjoy nearly 4 more inches of legroom. Total interior passenger volume is 105.4 cubic feet.
In terms of overall length, the Outback is actually about an inch shorter than before, but it's 4.1 inches taller, at 65.7 inches, and it's two inches wider, at 71.7 inches. Passengers sit nearly two inches higher than before, although the sill height is about the same, for step-in. Like its Legacy sedan sibling, the Outback has a wider front and rear track and a longer wheelbase, helping make it the roomiest Outback model ever.
Chassis and powertrain changes
Like the Legacy, the Outback has an all-new control-arm (double-wishbone) rear suspension, one of three all-wheel-drive systems as standard, and standard stability and traction control across all models. A new electric parking brake with a hill-holder function frees up the center console for more storage.
Outback buyers choose between a revised, 170-hp version of Subaru's 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine and a new version of Subaru's existing boxer six. The new six-cylinder is bored out from 3.0 to 3.6 liters and now runs on regular fuel. While the six is mated solely to a five-speed automatic transmission, the four can be mated either with a new-to-the-USA six-speed manual or to Subaru's brand-new CVT (continuously variable) automatic with paddle shifters. The Legacy GT sedan's turbocharged four is not offered here.
Interior ambience is no longer an Outback oxymoron
The 2010 Outback joins the 2010 Legacy in providing a much higher-grade cabin. The instrument panel is handsome, even elegant, with good ergonomics. A full complement of modern telematics, including what looks to be a first-rate nav system, a killer Harman-Kardon stereo, Bluetooth, and iPod connectivity, is available. The cabin is not only roomier but also much more comfortable than the current Outback's, with bigger, cushier seats for bigger, cushier Americans. (Not everyone who drives an Outback hikes every day.)
Bigger gas tank, better fuel economy, greater range
With an 18.5-gallon fuel tank and an expected EPA fuel economy rating of 21/27 city/highway, the four-cylinder Outback, Subaru says, will provide an effective range of 425 miles. The six-cylinder model likely will receive a 17/23 mpg rating.
Coolest new feature
The built-in roof rack is a little too bulky looking, but what's cool about it is the fact that the crossbars are stored in the side rails when they're not needed, which reduces wind noise and improves aerodynamics and thus fuel economy. They instantly unlatch and swing into place, spanning the roof, when they're needed to mount all the gear that Outback owners tend to have like kayaks, bicycles, skis, and the like. The new rack also fits existing Subaru rack accessories, which is understandably important to repeat buyers.
Pricing hasn't yet been announced, but Subaru claims that it will be very competitive. The outgoing 2009 Outback ranges in price from about $23,000 to about $35,000, and we don't expect that to change much for the 2010 Outback.