Months in fleet: Seven
Miles to date: 18,105
The all-season tires are back on our Four Seasons Subaru Outback, but associate editor Eric Tingwall still isn't pleased with the Subaru's handling.
"The body is always one step behind the wheels," Tingwall notes. "Hit a bump mid-corner and the Outback becomes a gyrating and undulating mass of clumsiness. Turn-in at highway speeds and the body dips and leans before it eventually changes direction. Even at relatively low velocities, the sloppy suspension makes the Outback feel saddled with poor stability and weak grip, even if that's not the case.
"It's a shame, too," Tingwall continued, "because the engine and drivetrain are very capable, dishing out smooth power and gently transmitting it to the pavement through the sophisticated all-wheel-drive system."
Our new art director Matt Tierney had plenty of time to evaluate the Outback's engine, comfort, and amenities when he sprinted to North Carolina for the weekend.
"This is a fantastic road-trip car-great ride, fantastic seating position and visibility, impressive range, plenty of power for merging and passing," he proclaimed. "Despite cruising much of the time at 75-to-85 mph, the Subaru exceeded its 25 mpg highway mileage rating for the entire trip down. On my first leg, through Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, the car averaged an indicated 27 mpg. It was only upon entering the mountains that the figure dropped down to 25. On my return trip, fighting brutal head- and crosswinds and significant elevation climbs, the car still managed better than 24 mpg on the highway."
Tierney's ears weren't so happy after his 1500-mile trip, however: "As excellent as I finally got the Harman Kardon stereo to sound, the journey to that point was quite lengthy. The only way to control the sound (bass, midrange, treble, etc) is via the car's ridiculous equalizer," Tierney explained. "Unlike any sound system I've ever used in my life-in a home or in a car-this one didn't have a graphic equalizer. Instead, the Subaru has a four-band parametric equalizer that requires that you adjust the frequency, acumination (!), and gain. Do I look like an audio engineer or a record producer? Am I supposed to use a pink-noise generator to set up the equalizer? Moreover, you can't adjust anything unless the car is in Park.
"I fancy myself pretty knowledgeable in this area," Tierney continued, "but I was clueless when faced with this. The cryptic manual was almost no help at all: 'The larger the value of Q Factor (degree of acumination) is, the more the gain of the center frequency is enhanced...' And unlike any other stereo, when you attempt to adjust the sound, the signal cuts out every time you press a button-making detecting your adjustment next to impossible."
Nonetheless, Tierney came away from his trip with a fairly positive opinion. "Despite my lengthy rant about the audio system," he concluded, "this car would be at or near the top of my list for any lengthy road trip, and I could easily see this as my family car. There's lots of cargo room, comfortable seats, and a handy array of nooks and crannies. Plus, I really like the one-touch open-and-close sunroof."
With prime road-trip season just beginning, we'll see if the Outback can win other converts-especially now that the stereo has at last been successfully scienced out.
2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Base price (with destination): $31,690
Price as tested: $35,541
Body Style: 4-door wagon
Construction: Steel unibody
Engine: 24-valve DOHC flat-6
Displacement: 3.6 liters
Power: 256 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 247 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18/25/20 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns lock-to-lock: 3.2
Turning Circle: 36.8 ft
Suspension, front: Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, Rear: Control arms, coil springs
Brakes F/R: Ventilated discs, ABS
Wheels: 17-inch aluminum
Tires: Continental ContiProContact (all-season)
Tire Size: 225/60TR-17
Headroom F/R: 38.7/39.3 in
Legroom F/R: 43.0/37.8 in
Shoulder room F/R: 56.3/56.1 in
Hip room F/R: 54.5/53.9 in
Wheelbase: 107.9 in
L x W x H: 188.2 x 71.7 x 65.7 in
Track F/R: 61.0/61.0 in
Cargo Capacity: 34.3/71.3 cu ft (rear seats up/down)
Weight: 3658 lb
Fuel Capacity: 18.5 gal
Est. Range: 370 miles
Fuel Grade: 87 octane
Front, side, and side curtain air bags
Tire-pressure monitoring system
Power windows, mirrors, and door locks
Ten-way power driver's seat; four-way power front-passenger seat
Heated front seats, sideview mirrors, and wiper de-icer
Tilt and telescopic steering wheel
Option Package 08 (power moonroof, voice-activated navigation system, auxiliary audio USB/iPod input, backup camera, Bluetooth audio capability), $2995
Popular Equipment Group 1a (auto-dim mirror/compass, security system shock sensor), $326
Sirius satellite kit, $461
All-weather floor mats, $69