Aiming to boost performance and economy, Subaru made equally impressive revisions to the 2010 Outback's powerteams. While the T-charged XT departs, the revamped 2.5-liter flat-4 now delivers 170 horses and 170 lb-ft of torque at lower revs and gains efficiency as well, whether backed by a new six-speed manual transmission or an equally new Subaru-designed CVT with a paddle-shifted Sport mode and six "virtual" gears. Although both combos deliver marginally superior acceleration and boast better EPA stats, the 2.5i with CVT is the star here, posting 22-city/29-highway mpg against 20/26 numbers for the 2009 2.5i with conventional four-speed automatic trans. A Tribeca-sourced 256-horsepoewr/3.6-liter flat-6 replaces the 245-horse/3.0-liter in the now-renamed 3.6R trio. Backed with a recalibrated five-speed automatic, it suitably energizes these topline Outbacks while also delivering better (18/25 mpg) EPA figures and drinking regular unleaded. As always, each engine/trans pairing puts power to the road via its own unique iteration of Subaru's full-time Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system.

It only took a few minutes behind the wheel to realize the palpably positive impact these changes have wrought. A stronger, stiffer unit body and new front/rear subframes complement the rest of the Outback's "right-sizing" changes to create a package that's smoother, quieter, better controlled, and more comfortable than ever. On-road or in the dirt, it felt confident and proved itself capable regardless of powertrain -- although the 4000-foot-plus elevations we were playing in clearly favored the 3.6R's higher output. However, the 2.5i/CVT is an impressive match that will no doubt serve the Outback well in its attempt to win new friends.

One thing that hasn't changed in the Outback's massive makeover process is its strong value orientation. Subaru is quick to note that at $23,690, the AWD base 2.5i opens nearly $3,000 below a comparable FWD Toyota Venza, the vehicle tabbed as its most likely rival. At the top end, a 3.6R Limited starts at $31,690, putting it well under the MSRPs of established V-6-powered foes on its de facto cross-shopping list, including the Acura MDX, BMW X3, and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

2010 Subaru Outback
Base price $23,690-$31,690
Vehicle layout Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door, wagon
Engines 2.5L/170-hp/170-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve flat-4; 3.6L/256-hp/247-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve flat-6
Transmissions 6-speed manual, continuously variable auto
Curb weight 3400-3650 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 107.9 in
Length x width x height 188.2 x 71.7 x 63.9 in
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 18-22/25-29 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.79-0.94 lb/mi
On sale in U.S. Currently