On a 22-degree winter morning, the Outback is the sort of vehicle you want to find in your driveway. When I got in the car, I had no problem finding the seat controls, the seat heater button, the sideview mirror control, and the climate controls; everything was transparent. The way Subaru has this car geared, off-the-line acceleration with the boxer six-cylinder is almost startling; you'll have no problem dashing around town or dusting many cars at stoplights. I accidentally breezed past a couple of traffic cops in Ann Arbor speed traps at more than 10 mph over the posted limits, but I think the fact that I was in a station wagon caused them to not take much notice, thankfully. So, hey, here's your low-profile family speed wagon.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I knew there'd be a price to pay for purchasing a home out in the woods, and that price became apparent once winter finally arrived. Those quaint dirt roads that weave their way through acres of trees become extremely treacherous once subjected to a night's worth of freezing rain and topped the next morning with two inches of snow.
Yet these sorts of conditions have never fazed Subaru's Outback -- and they still don't trouble the fourth-generation model, which first debuted almost two years ago. All-wheel drive is a boon in substantial snowfall, as is 8.7 inches of ground clearance. The soft, compliant ride, although a tad wallowy on paved surfaces, does a good job of soaking up the many imperfections in our dirt roads. My wife appreciated the rapid warmth provided by the heated front seats, but I was more impressed with the optional floor mats. They're quite rugged and perfect for containing the mess left by snowy boots, and well worth their $69 asking price.
Like Joe DeMatio, I'm also impressed with the get-up-and-go offered by the 3.6-liter flat-six, but there's a price to pay for such power. The EPA rates the Subaru at 18 mpg in the city, and 25 mpg on the highway. That's only slightly better than all-wheel-drive versions of the Honda Pilot (17/24 mpg) and Ford Explorer (17/23 mpg), which also offer a third row of seating. Opting for the less powerful (and less expensive) 2.5-liter flat-four improves those figures to 22/24 mpg when paired with a CVT, although I haven't driven such a combination.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
I'm in the process of moving in with my girlfriend, so I took advantage of the Outback's generous cargo area to transport my bicycle, some clothes, a lamp, some exercise equipment, and a bike pump to our new apartment. A simple release on the front of the rear seats lets them fold flat in one motion. With the seats down, the Subaru's interior transforms into a positively cavernous load bay. (photos in folder)
I imagine that most Subaru Outback purchases are driven by logical, sensible decisions; no child ever tacked a poster of a comfortable and practical station wagon to his bedroom wall. But that doesn't mean the car is totally devoid of fun: the optional 3.6-liter engine makes the Outback surprisingly quick, and the all-wheel-drive system can induce a decent amount of oversteer on snowy roads.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
This Subaru Outback is very familiar as it's almost identical to the Four Seasons car we had in the office last year. The Outback's selling point is its powertrain. The optional horizontally opposed six-cylinder is a sweet, sweet engine that's so rewarding when pushed, and the all-wheel-drive hardware is the best you can buy at this price point. The interior materials and style leave something to be desired, but the rest of the package more than makes up for it. For the practical-minded, there's a cavernous cabin, sumptuous seats, and a slick, functional roof rack. The Outback also delivers more driving pleasure than taller competitors like the Toyota Highlander, the Ford Escape, and the Nissan Murano.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
With its 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder, the Outback 3.6R is quite the sleeper of a rocket ship. It's got a ton of space inside, too, which we learned during our Four Seasons test of an Outback not so long ago. It's not all good in the Outback, though: the Subaru was highly susceptible to crosswinds on the highway late last night, body roll is still a big part of this car's character, and fuel economy, as Evan mentioned, is far from stellar.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
My mother owns a 2009 (previous-generation) Outback and asked me what I thought about her getting a new one. She has been extremely satisfied with her ownership experience and mostly is only looking to trade because she wants Bluetooth.
You see, my mom wants a very comfortable, maneuverable car that has enough space to lug around all her stuff - she's a social worker who drives from client to client all day. She likes all-wheel-drive and a bit of ground clearance for added security during South Florida's heavy summer rainstorms. Sounds like the perfect customer for a new Outback, right? Well, the catch is that my mom, like many traditional Subaru buyers, absolutely does not want to drive a crossover. To me, the new Outback is a crossover. It's bigger, feels taller, and leans noticeably in turns. Anyone who's considering other high-riding vehicles - admittedly a large group of people -- won't mind this very much. Those who loved the Outback because it didn't apologize for being a tough station wagon will be better off waiting to test drive the new Impreza XV or an Audi A4 Allroad (although the latter will likely be much pricier than my mom's steel-wheel social-worker-mobile).
David Zenlea, Assisant Editor
Even though we recently spent a year with an Outback, I'm still taken aback by how much different it feels from the days when it was described as a "sport-utility wagon." Today, the Outback fis an honest-to-goodness SUV -- not to say that's a bad thing, because I like the higher ride height and great visibility that come with it. And while the fuel economy of today's Outback isn't great, it should be pointed out that it gets about the same mileage (and weighs about the same) as it did ten years ago.
This Outback has the same powertrain - a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed automatic - as did our Four Seasons car, and it is more than sufficient for keeping up with (or passing) traffic either in stop-and-go situations or on the freeway. In the cabin, the seat cushions are big and comfortable, the controls and gauges are all legible and fairly easy to decipher, and there is plenty of head- and legroom for all passengers. The wood strip that adorns the dash and door panels seems a little incongruous, but perhaps if you're spending $36,000 on a vehicle you'll appreciate that little luxury touch.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor