While on workhorse duty, photographers Brian Vance and Julia LaPalme often took the Subie on multi-day shoots that required nearly all of its total cargo volume be filled with necessary gear. Vance especially took a liking to the rear cargo hold's rubber liner, which could be shaken out like a giant rug. If things got really messy, it could be hosed down and scrubbed.

On more than one occasion, things did get very dirty. Staffers loved taking the Outback on soft roads filled with rocks, ruts, and mildly challenging climbs, where it performed exceptionally well. During a rare downpour in Los Angeles, art director Mike Royer noted that the generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance gave him "all kinds of 'puddle-confidence.' "

In reliability, the Outback shined. We hit three maintenance stops at 7500-mile intervals. The first entailed an oil change, tire rotation, and full vehicle inspection ($147.52). At 15,000 miles, technicians replaced the cabin and engine air filters, too ($264.98). The last stop, at 22,500 miles, had the usual oil change and tire rotation, but also included a brake cleaning ($150.20), bringing our year=long service total to a commendable $562.70.

As usual, staffers did log a few niggles. Most dealt with some aspect of the interior. Radio controls (after one service, for example, radio station presets failed to stick; then there was the indecipherable equalizer function), cheap-looking wood, and cream leather that showed dirt too easily were at the top of the list. Others found the CVT too noisy, the mill uninspiring ("If you're looking for passion, keep walking," said associate online editor Scott Evans), and the exterior styling frumpy and ungainly.

Even so, the Subaru Outback proved itself the automotive equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, thanks to its uncanny ability to perform a multitude of tasks nearly anywhere at any time. In just 365 days, the part wagon, part sport/ute, part comfy cruiser successfully exceeded almost all our expectations and earned a sincere place in our collective hearts. And that's a pretty tough task.?