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 (VTD) 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).

If the Outback possesses many of the talents of true SUVs, it performs without typical SUV penalties. Ride is fluid, carlike. Steering is easy, smooth, and accurate. The step-in height says "car" not "truck." The structure is tight and shimmy-free. The Outback imbibes fuel judiciously, too: EPA rating with the six-cylinder is 18/25 mpg -- compared with 13/18 for the V-6 Grand Cherokee Laredo.

There's a ton of value here. Despite the new Outback being bigger and better-equipped than its predecessor, it actually stickers for $2K less. A manual-shifter, four-cylinder base car starts at just $23,690. (For a $300 premium, Subaru also offers five four-cylinder models with a Partial Zero Emissions - PZEV -- rating that meets California's strictest air standards.) The 3.6R Limited -- with leather seats, 440-watt Harmon/Karmon audio, and dual-zone climate checks in at $31,690. Among the few extras are touchscreen navigation ($2000) and a power-glass moonroof ($995).

This new Outback is one compelling machine, equipped to satisfy the needs of nearly any outdoor warrior yet thoroughly refined for city and touring duty. It belongs on any family-car shopping list.

2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Base price$31,690
Price as tested$35,096
Vehicle layoutFront-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine3.6L/256-hp/247-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve flat-6
Transmission5-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r)3655 lb (57/43%)
Wheelbase107.9 in
Length x width x height188.0 x 84.3 x 68.9 in
0-60 mph7.1 sec
Quarter mile15.5 sec @ 90.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph131 ft
Lateral accel0.74 g (avg)
MT figure eight28.6 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy econ18/25 mpg
CO2 emissions0.94 lb/mile