2010 Subaru Outback First Drive
Recasting Call: Going Places It's Never Been Before
In its 15-year history, the Outback has helped transition Subaru from a cult favorite to a quasi-mainstream player. Now entering its fourth generation, "The World's First Sport/Utility Wagon" (with apologies to the AMC Eagle wagon fans) is on a new and equally ambitious mission: Grab an even larger share of the hot midsize crossover market. To assess its chances for success in that quest, we traveled to western Montana and put all three variations on the new Outback theme through their paces on a variety of paved and unpaved venues.
Sharing many structural and mechanical elements with the also-new-for-2010 Legacy sedan, Subaru's contemporary AWD crossover gets an extra measure of everything that really matters to the active-lifestyle buyers it's seeking: bolder character, enhanced functionality, and improved performance. Visually, the new Outback complements edgier sheetmetal and lighting elements with shorter front/rear overhangs and wider front/rear track spans. Overall length drops 0.8 inch, but a 2.8-inch wheelbase stretch (to 107.9 in.), a 2.0-inch bump in width, and 2.3-inch-taller roofline net a more aggressive stance and significant gains in passenger/cargo space. While the base 2.5i wears 215/70 all-season tires on 16-inch steel wheels, all other models get 17-inch alloys wrapped in 225/60 rubber -- and all Outbacks now have a segment-leading 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Topping things off is a new roof-rail system with noise-reducing crossbars that swing out of the way when not in use.
Base, Premium, or Limited trims, the upscaling process is equally evident in the Outback's Legacy-inspired cabin treatment. The lengthy standards roster boasts everything from air conditioning, a full array of power assists and cruise control to new functional touches like a trip computer/info display and an electronic parking brake system that incorporates Hill Holder circuitry. Limited models also feature leather upholstery, a new 440-watt harman-kardon audio system (a Premium option) and an optional voice-activated GPS navigation upgrade that brings a backup camera, Bluetooth and iPod/USB inputs.
New goodies aside, the most profound enhancement to the 2010 Outback mix is an additional 8.0-9.8 cubic feet of interior volume that comes courtesy of its mini growth spurt and a new, more-compact dual-wishbone rear suspension. The result is more stretch space everywhere -- highlighted by an extra 3.9 inches of rear-seat legroom. While its redesigned front buckets remain the best seats in the house, a new 60/40-split rear bench now runs a closer second thanks to the addition of adjustable-rake backrests. And a quick flip/fold expands the Outback's easily accessed 34.3-cubic-foot cargo bay into a 71.3-cubic-foot mini cave.
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|
|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)|
|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|