2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R First Test
Bigger. Better. Quicker?
In our recent test of the all-new 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i, we found a lot to like about the revamped CUV. We appreciated the Outback's smoother exterior styling and resistance to trade function for flash. We also liked the way the Outback drives more like a wagon than an SUV, while retaining strong off-road capability. Our few gripes largely centered around the standard 2.5-liter flat-four boxer engine, which can't exactly be considered a powerhouse. With an MT-tested 0 to 60 mph time of 9.2 seconds, the Outback 2.5i is anything but quick.
Fortunately, that's where the Outback 3.6R steps in. The engine should be familiar to MT readers, as it's the same 3.6-liter flat-six the Outback has offered optionally since the last-generation model. Packing 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, the 2015 3.6R should be significantly quicker, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, the 2015 3.6R is quicker than the 2.5i – its 7.3-second 0-to-60-mph time outdoes the base model by nearly two full seconds. But the last Outback 3.6R we tested, a 2010 model with the same engine, took just 7.0 seconds to 60. Blame the newer car's larger body dimensions and additional heft -- our measured weights show a 200-pound disadvantage for the 2015 model.
The gap remains in the quarter-mile run, where the 2015 3.6's 15.7-second time slip at 91.2 mph is 0.4 second slower than the 2010 model, but with a trap speed about 1 mph faster. Still, the new 3.6 is just above 1.5 seconds quicker in the quarter than the 2.5, a significant margin. Speed demons take heed – if it's performance you're after, the 3.6 is the engine to order.
At the figure-eight course, results were again a mixed bag. This time, the 2015 3.6R's 28.0-second run at a 0.61 g average handily beat the 2010 3.6R's 28.6-second run (and at a slightly higher g average). But even with a big power advantage, it wasn't enough to top the 2015 2.5i's 26.3-second time – a significant improvement of more than 1.5 seconds. Braking distances from 60 mph to a standstill showed similar results, with the 2010 3.6R needing 131 feet, the 2015 3.6R taking 129 feet, and the 2015 2.5i stopping shortest in just 120 feet. What gives? Both 2015 cars were on identical tires (225/60R18 Bridgestone Dueller H/P Sport AS), so rubber isn't the answer. Part of the issue possibly lies in the lighter 2.5i's better weight distribution with less engine up front.
Still, in real-world conditions there's little difference in the way the 2.5i and 3.6R feel dynamically on a winding back road. And while both cars are surprisingly fun to drive when the road turns twisty, thanks in part to a CVT that does a very good job of mimicking a conventional automatic, the Outback isn't really about enthusiastic driving. It's more about loading the Scooby up with people and gear and setting off on yet another adventure. As that type of vehicle, the Outback 3.6R shines. The backseat is one of the most spacious in its segment (and the most comfortable); the cargo area gladly swallows enough gear for a four-person getaway; and the Subaru rides very well, floating over road imperfections. Another typical Outback strong point is the large glass area, which creates an airy, open feel to the cabin with excellent visibility.
For 2015, Subaru has also redesigned its infotainment system, a change that couldn't come soon enough. While the new touchscreen system offers improved graphics, visibility, and operation, we'd still like to see a few more hot-buttons to get to the most-used functions with a single touch instead of at least two. Another gripe: The reach to the direct tune radio knob is a bit long for the driver. Other interior changes include a new faux wood trim, which was included on our tester and looked convincing enough for this vehicle class.
One downside of the more powerful 3.6R, as opposed to the slower 2.5i, is fuel economy. While the 2.5i claims a strong 25/33 city/highway mpg rating, the thirstier 3.6 returns just 20/27 mpg. Whether the power and efficiency trade-off is worth it to you depends on which you value more.
Overall, the 2015 Subaru Outback is a strong contender in the ultra-competitive CUV segment. While it might come off as somewhat vanilla in the styling department, it's actually one of the more distinctive vehicles in the segment as far as packaging and driving dynamics are concerned.
|2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$36,835|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.6L/256-hp/247-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve F-6|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont. variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3866 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||189.6 x 72.4 x 66.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.7 sec @ 91.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||129 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.76 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.0 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||20/27/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||169/125 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.86 lb/mile|