If you're looking for something more carlike from your SUV, Subaru may have the answer with the 2005 Outback. First- and second-gen Outbacks were pumped up with two-tone cladding and raised-white-letter tires, but the all-new Outback won't remind you one bit of any big old truck. In fact, it looks very much like a standard 2005 Subaru Legacy wagon with 2.8 inches more ground clearance, subtle overfenders, a beefier front bumper, and foglamps. Tires are blackwall only. Subaru wants to position the Outback more like a Zen rally car, best suited for serious loose-gravel sideways driving. Subaru calls it a "new urban crossover," and there's some meat to this descriptor.
The 2005 Outback has gone upmarket, with a seriously improved interior and much cleaner-looking exteriors.
We think the Outback is one of the most fun-to-drive cars on pavement (or loose gravel) in this class. Much of that has to do with the available naturally aspirated or turbocharged 2.5-liter H-4s, the latter based on the WRX STi's powerplant. A redesigned 3.0-liter flat-six is offered as well, but we're partial to the high-revving turbo four.
Outback models are lighter and structurally stiffer, shedding as much as 180 pounds depending on drivetrain and trim level. This pays off on the road, with comfortable ride and impressive cornering ability. With its turbo-pancake engine and slick-shifting five-speed, it's an adult's WRX that handles twisty mountain roads offering good, quick transitions and slight roll at turn-in giving way to flat, hard cornering. Our only complaint is that its steering feels darty and overboosted, with more quickness than feel and feedback, making us tentative in faster sweeps.
We initially predicted that more Outbacks would make it onto U.S. roads, especially as people look for more traditional-SUV alternatives. And after driving the new Subaru with its much-improved handling feel, we see no reason to change our minds.