The Subaru Outback is one of those stalwart models that people will always buy, no matter what. There’s a very loyal fan base of repeat buyers that drive them 200,000 miles and buy another one. It’s featured in Subaru’s commercials, so it must be true? Especially in the Pacific Northwest and other rugged areas, the versatility of having a slightly raised station wagon with tons of interior space and a roof rack for bikes/skis/kayaks and a million other outdoor accessories is just too good to pass up. As a lover of station wagons, I appreciate the utility aspect – but for me, wagons are about the sport that’s usually missing from 99% of ‘sport utility vehicles.’ I was hopeful this Subaru would fit that bill as well, but it has a few strikes against it.
Now in it’s fifth generation, the Outback has steadily gotten bigger and especially taller with every new version. This latest one is easy to mistake for an SUV at first glance. Built on the ‘Legacy’ wagon platform that is no longer sold here, it is really just a lifted wagon. Subaru has been wise to disguise that fact more as people’s appetite for tall SUV’s increased. As mentioned, most Outback buyers are repeat buyers, and I often find that gives car companies room to cut corners. With a captive market, you don’t have to work as hard to compete for new market share.
That’s most apparent in the base engine, which is a normally aspirated 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder (boxer) engine. Spitting out just 175hp, it struggles to haul the heavy wagon up to 60mph in under 10-seconds, with a tepid 9.1 result being the best I’ve seen. And it feels as slow as that sounds, there’s just nothing there when you punch the gas. The biggest problem with that is that with the engine working so hard, it struggles to be efficient too. Clocking only 25/32 MPG city/highway, we never managed to see anything close to that in our testing. Also available is an optional 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine, with a respectable 254hp. It drops two seconds off the 0-60mph time, but gets even worse fuel mileage. It’s also only available in the much more expensive versions, but it’s still the one I would choose.
When it comes to safety, Subaru does deliver some of the best ratings – especially when optioned with the EyeSight safety system. The system includes adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitor and automatic high-beam headlights. The crash-worthiness as tested by the IIHS is among the best you can get as well. Standard full time all-wheel-drive makes it safe when the roads get slippery as well.
Other technology is up to par, with a decent infotainment system. It’s responsive and easy to use, but we did have some trouble connecting via Android Auto. For a vehicle that’s billed as an adventure partner, it’s a bit glaring that there’s no WiFi hotspot option available, as it would be perfect for those camping trips that owners are sure to go on. The audio quality is pretty sub-par as well, and the menu interface has a pretty lackluster design that appears quite dated. There are two USB ports in the center console, having some in the lower dash or for the rear seat would be appreciated too.
The biggest problem for us is the price, which starts to really add up once you add a bunch of features. Starting at $26k, the base version is as spartan as it gets. The Limited that we tested starts at $32k, and our test car had some options pushing it higher. The entry point for the V6 version is $36k, and fully optioned you can push $40k. That’s a lot of money for a Subaru Outback, especially with a fairly uninspired interior design. Utilitarian cars serve a real purpose, but they should be priced accordingly. As a wagon lover, I was a bit underwhelmed by the Outback, but for those who are pushing 200k miles on their current one, you’ll be very satisfied with your new one!
Special thanks to Subaru of America
for providing the 2018 Subaru Outback for review