The 2010 Subaru Outback is the perfect anti-SUV. No larger than most mid-size cars, the all-wheel-drive Outback has become one of the best selling wagons in America; it is also a favorite of those needing the off-road capabilities of a large SUV, but not the accompanying lofty fuel bills and hard-to-park mass. New from the ground up, the fifth-generation Outback remains true to the original concept yet achieves major improvements in the areas of interior room, fuel economy and flexibility. As with all Subarus, the Outback comes standard with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, a proven system that allows this rugged wagon to conquer the toughest terrain and deepest snow.
YOU'LL LIKE THIS CAR IF...
If you're looking for an economical wagon with an emphasis on safety, features, fuel-economy and true off-road capability, the Outback is pretty much your best bet.
YOU MAY NOT LIKE THIS CAR IF...
If you need a third-row seat, tow heavy loads or prefer the car-like styling of the Volvo XC70 or Toyota Venza, the new Outback probably won't be a good fit.
WHAT'S SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THIS CAR
Not only does the 2010 Outback sport a rugged new look, it offers a host of improvements. Among the most notable is a new continuously-variable transmission (CVT) on four-cylinder models, a new 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine, an additional four-inches of rear-seat legroom, a clever roof rack with pivoting cross rails and an available DVD navigation system allowing music streaming via Bluetooth connectivity.
If maximum fuel economy takes precedence over quick acceleration, the 2.5-liter four with the CVT is your best bet. With 170 horsepower on tap the engine has to work a bit to move the Outback. Once up to speed the CVT finds and holds the engine's maximum torque and horsepower, providing the best acceleration and fuel economy mix. The CVT does take some getting used to as there are no discernable gear shifts such as are common to a traditional automatic. The standard steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, however, allow the driver to select and hold "gears" as with a manual transmission, thus making passing and merging maneuvers a bit quicker. With a projected 29 miles per gallon highway and a new 18-gallon fuel tank, the Outback can cruise over 500 miles before refueling. As for the Outback's driving characteristics, it demonstrates an impressive sedan-like feel, especially surprising considering the car's high center of gravity. The steering is precise and predictable and interior sound levels are much improved over the 2009 Outback.
OUR FAVORITE FEATURES
Subaru's take on this fuel-saving transmission uses a metal band as opposed to a rubber belt, which it claims will improve durability and longevity. The Subaru CVT includes a manual shift mode that mimics the shift points of a manual transmission without the need for a clutch pedal. Best of all, the CVT is expected to return an estimated 22 city and 29 highway, which is better than the six-speed manual.
Electronic Parking Brake with Hill Holder
Not only does this feature free up more space on the center console, it incorporates an electronic hill holder that, on inclines of more the five percent, holds the vehicle in place until the driver steps on the accelerator.
One of the biggest complaints heard by previous Outback owners involved the car's tiny back seat. The new model addresses this concern by adding an additional four inches of legroom and nearly three inches of headroom. During our test drive, we comfortably fit three six-foot-tall adults in the back seat and still had space between their knees and the front seat backs. Wider front seats and a reclining rear seat further improve occupant comfort, while upscale models offer power driver's-side lumbar support and leather seating surfaces. The addition of a dash-mounted electronic parking brake allows Subaru engineers to remove the center-console handbrake handle, creating more space for water bottles and latte cups. Models equipped with automatic transmissions also feature steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The all-new 2010 Outback is a radical departure from the model it replaces. Gone are the sleek lines, car-like styling and handsome two-tone wheel arches. What's in is a more SUV-like appearance, with thick plastic cladding on the doors, rocker panels and front bumper, as well as larger headlamps and pronounced fender arches. The 2010 Outback is nearly three inches taller and two inches wider than the 2009 model, yet overall length actually shrinks by one inch. Last year's frameless windows are replaced by fully-framed glass, a design that improves body rigidity and reduces wind noise. The rear door openings are much larger, allowing easier entry and exit. Up top is a clever new roof rack with folding cross rails that can be tucked away to reduce wind noise and drag, while down below 8.7-inches of ground clearance assures the new Outback can tackle just about any off-road condition.
NOTABLE STANDARD EQUIPMENT
The base Outback 2.5i features a six-speed manual transmission, anti-lock brakes (ABS), stability and traction control, six airbags – including front side-impact and front and rear side-curtain airbags – and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Comfort and convenience features include air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with single CD player, steering wheel controls for the audio and cruise control, rear wiper/washer, remote keyless entry, electronic parking brake with hill-holder feature and the swing-away cross-rail roof rack. The Premium model adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver's seat with power lumbar support, fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and rear privacy glass. To this the Limited trim adds leather seating, four-way power passenger's seat, the All Weather Package (heated seats, side mirrors and windshield wiper de-icers), the Lineartronic CVT automatic transmission, dual-zone automatic temperature control, a 440-watt harman/kardon stereo with six-disc CD/WMA/MP3 changer and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity. Six-cylinder models feature the same equipment, but replace the CVT with a traditional five-speed automatic.
Most options are offered according to trim. Base models offer a few dealer-installed items including Bluetooth phone connectivity, exterior puddle lights, cargo organizing systems and fog lights. The Premium models offer a power sunroof, the All-Weather Package (heated seats, mirrors and wiper de-icers) and the 440-watt harman/kardon audio system, while the Limited trims offer a power sunroof and a voice-activated navigation system featuring music streaming (streams music to the car's stereo from a compatible Bluetooth-enabled device), an eight-inch view screen and a rear backup camera. Other stand-alone options include Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, iPod integration system, Media Hub Kit that adds a USB connector, remote start (automatic transmission only), a trailer hitch and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with built-in compass.
UNDER THE HOOD
Subaru offers two horizontally-opposed boxer engines in the Outback. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivers 170 horsepower, which may not be best in class but does generate enough muscle to provide satisfactory performance. Equipping this engine with the CVT automatic will produce the best fuel economy, but the six-speed manual is a better choice from a performance standpoint. If fuel economy is not a top priority, the best choice for the Legacy is the six-cylinder, which provides much better acceleration and passing power than the four while delivering slightly worse fuel economy (18/25 vs. 22/29).
2.5-liter Boxer four
170 horsepower @ 5600 rpm
170 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/27 (manual), 22/29 (automatic)
3.6-liter Boxer six
256 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
247 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/25
The 2010 Subaru Outback as Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just under $24,000 for the base 2.5i, jumping to around $25,000 for the 2.5i Premium and edging close to $29,000 for the Limited trim. Six-cylinder models range from just under $29,000 for the base 3.6R to nearly $38,000 for a fully-loaded 3.6 Limited. That's a pretty hefty price cut compared to the 2009 models, especially on the higher-end trims. To make your best deal, be sure to check the New Car Blue Book Value price to see what others in your area might be paying for the Outback. When looking at the Outback's competition, it easily undercuts the Volvo XC70 and a comparably equipped Toyota Venza, is on par with the Honda CR-V, but is a bit more expensive than its own kin, the Subaru Forester. As for resale, we expect the Outback to hold rather high five-year values, a bit below the Honda CR-V, on par with the Toyota Venza and better than the Volvo XC70, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer.