First Drive: 2010 Subaru Outback

On (and off) the road

Both engines are surprisingly quiet--the burbling, boxer-engine patter that has long characterized Subaru four-cylinder engines is suppressed. The Outback is a quiet cruiser overall; Subaru has finally ended its fixation with frameless door glass, and wind noise is notably absent. The front suspension is essentially the same as before with damper struts, but the rear switches from a multi-link setup to A-arms. The ride on the highway is plush, if a bit floaty, with suspension tuning identical for both engines. The steering is slightly quicker in the new car but it's not very linear, with a bit too much gain as one moves off center, resulting in the need for small steering corrections.

Of course, a major component of the Outback image is its ability to venture off-pavement, and that capability is slightly enhanced, as all Outbacks now have 8.7 inches of ground clearance and the front and rear overhangs have been trimmed. For most Outback buyers, "off-road" likely translates to "dirt roads". We bombed down plenty of dirt two-tracks in the mountains of Montana, and the Outback never put a tire wrong. More impressive was the car's body structure, which proved tight and rattle-free despite the pounding.

Other items and innovations

In keeping with its outdoorsy image, the Outback is often shown with bikes, skis, or kayaks on its roof, so it's fitting that a roof rack is standard. An interesting new twist, however, is that the rack's crossbars--which often are sold as an extra-cost accessory or, if they're standard, can't be removed and therefore contribute to wind noise--pivot out from the side rails, where they're stored when not in use. A new Harman/Kardon sound system is available, with a USB port and an iPod input (for those who don't upgrade to the H/K system, and iPod input is available as a dealer accessory). Other new options include navigation, a rear-view camera, and Bluetooth phone connectivity. The parking brake is now electronically activated by a button on the dash, and includes a useful hill-holder feature.

Prices rise and fall.

As before, there are three trim levels, now called base, Premium, and Limited, all three available with either engine. Options are few. Base sticker prices starts at $22,995 plus destination (versus $22,295 for the '09 base car) and top out at $30,005 for the top-spec model (compared to $32,095 previously).

The new Outback looks less like the overachieving wagon that won legions of fans, and more like any other crossover. But its abilities remain and have even been enhanced. Despite looking more like it competition, the Outback is still lighter, more economical, and more off-road capable than most.

2010 Subaru Outback
Base Price range: $23,690-$31,690 (with destination)

Powertrain

Engine: 2.5-liter SOHC H-4
Horsepower: 170 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 170 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Powertrain: 3.6-liter DOHC H-6
Horsepower: 256 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 247 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, continuously variable automatic, 5-speed automatic
Drive: 4-wheel

MeasurementsL x W x H: 188.2 x 71.7 x 65.7 in
Legroom: 43.0/37.8 in
Headroom: 40.8/39.3 in
Cargo capacity: 34.3/71.3 cu ft (seats up/down)
Curb weight: 3386-3658 lbs
EPA rating (city/highway): 19/27 mpg (2.5L, 6-speed), 22/29 mpg (2.5L, CVT), 18/25 mpg (3.6L)

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