Which brings up some of that Subie magic. For instance, when not needed the roof-rack crossbars fold away into the side rails, vastly reducing wind noise-pure genius. And while most wagons and SUVs offer a roll-up tonneau cover for sheltering gear in back, in the Outback the tonneau hides away completely under the load floor (instead of, in the typical fashion, simply blocking the floor and, when you're trying to load luggage, making you yell exclamations that'll make the five-year-olds within earshot cry and send the nine-year-olds running to tattle).

More magic: With a newfound 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the 2010 Outback actually betters the SUV Grand Cherokee-yet the Subaru also offers a lower and more carlike step-in height. "A nice answer to the crossover solution of lowering an SUV to human size," notes Todd Lassa. "You feel it's 'car-ness' behind the wheel, with its long, level hood out front-yet it's nearly 66 inches tall."

While thirsty V-8s have long been the darlings of the traditional-SUV market, the Outback, weighing just 3655 pounds, manages adroitly with four- and six-cylinder offerings. The boxer four is an updated version of last year's 2.5-liter naturally aspirated mill (see sidebar below), and now pairs with either a CVT or a new six-speed manual-a welcome addition for enthusiasts. With the CVT, the Outback wrings out 22/29 city/highway EPA mpg-a new Outback benchmark. Optional is a new, DOHC 3.6-liter boxer six that-using regular fuel instead of the premium required on the outgoing 3.0-liter-delivers 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. "Loves to rev and feels smooth and refined all the way to redline," writes Kiino. The six mates to a standard five-speed automatic that now includes paddle shifters with "blipping logic" to match revs when downshifting.

Subaru ships the Outback in three distinct all-wheel-drive flavors. Base, manual-transmission models get a viscous-coupling locking center diff with 50/50 normal torque split and the ability to shift torque away from the slipping axle. Four-cylinder Outbacks with the CVT replace the viscous coupling with an electronically controlled continuously variable clutch. Finally, all six-cylinder editions utilize Subaru's Variable Torque Distribution system, combining a planetary center diff with an electronically managed hydraulic clutch to distribute power as needed (the split in "normal" driving is 45/55 front/rear).