First Look: 2010 Subaru Outback

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.

Fifteenth anniversary

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.

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