2007 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2007 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited
Times change, and the radical becomes mainstream. The Subaru Outback seemed so different when it debuted as one of the first crossover vehicles in 1995. Its raised ride height, permanent all-wheel drive, and by its second year, body cladding and other styling cues cashed in on the then-hot SUV style, but with superior fuel economy and vehicle dynamics. "The World's First Sport-Utility Wagon" brought Subaru from near-obscurity to fame and fortune, and provided inspiration for products from many another manufacturer.
The Outback pretty much was the Subaru franchise from its inception until the arrival of WRX performance, and it's still a mainstay. But it's been a while since there was merely one variety of Outback. Today, there are Outback wagons and sedans for all sorts of needs and desires, from the low-budget functionality of the 2.5i Basic to the near luxury appointment of the 3.0R L.L. Bean Edition. Not to mention turbocharged performance, for a crossover crossover with a WRX, in the case of the 2.5 XT Limited.
If some of those model designations seem unfamiliar, it's only because Subaru has made some revisions to the Outback lineup for 2007. There are three trim levels of naturally-aspirated, 2.5-liter four-cylinder Legacy-based Outback, with the 2.5i wagon at the core. It has been joined by the simpler and less-expensive 2.5i Basic wagon, which deletes the All-Weather Package, alloy wheels, and other features. The Limited adds comfort and luxury features, and is offered in sedan style as well as the wagon, and the L.L. Bean wagon sits at the top of that section.
For the WRX turbo experience in Outback disguise, there it the 2.5XT Limited wagon. And at the top of the Outback line is the six-cylinder, naturally-aspirated 3.0 L.L. Bean model, available in wagon and sedan form.
Being Subaru’s, and quintessential Subaru’s at that, all Outback’s feature a horizontally-opposed engine for a low center of gravity, full-time all-wheel drive for superior traction in all weather and on all road surfaces, and copious ground clearance not merely for SUV-like looks and light-duty off-road use, but all the better to clear highway debris as well. Interior standard appointment levels are high, and at least an AM/FM/CD/MP3 or WMA CD/auxiliary input audio system is included in all. Safety ratings, from government and industry crash tests, are high.
The biggest difference between an Outback and a standard crossover is found in the Outback's fine road manners. The 2.5i Limited wagon with which I spent the past week is by no means a sports model, yet it was still pleasant to drive on all roads, especially the twistier ones, and was never boring. All-wheel drive has benefits on pavement in dry weather as well as on loose surfaces or in rain and snow. If it's not as tall as some more SUV-like crossovers, there's still plenty of room inside, and access is not at all difficult - no "step right up!" necessary. The Outback is what it always has been, a functional vehicle for the real world, especially for people with a need to get off the beaten path. It's the ultimate expression of the all-wheel drive wagon that brought Subaru to notice in the early 1980s.
APPEARANCE: Now that the line between crossovers and "real" SUVs is blurred, the Outback looks less like an SUV and more like what it really is - a small wagon with extra ground clearance and a little lower-body protective cladding. The cladding has been de-emphasized over the years, and matches the main paint color. It is functional, adding protection against minor dings. The zoomy three-piece grille that debuted on the Tribeca crossover and found its controversial way to the Impreza line (including the Impreza-based Outback Sport) is nowhere to be found here.
COMFORT: In Limited trim, the Outback's interior is outfitted in a pleasant contemporary upper-middle class manner. A two-tone color scheme, multiple textures, leather seating surfaces, and faux wood and silvery plastic trim fill the bill and give a comfortable, slightly upscale ambiance to the interior. Rheostat controls for the front seat heaters allow fine-tuning of heat levels. Instruments and controls are placed well, easy to see and use, and shaded from glare. The audio system plays all current media, and is prewired for XM satellite radio. The standard sunroof is extra-long, so rear passengers get an excellent overhead view. It has little impact on rear-seat headroom, and can hold three passengers, although the center position is best used by small people for a short time. It folds with a 60/40 split, and a bicycle fits easily inside with the rear seat down. There are useful small storage compartments around the cabin, and a small amount of hidden storage under the cargo area above the space-saver spare tire.
SAFETY: Subaru scores high in both NTSA and IIHS crash testing. The Outback has a five-star rating for front and rear seat front and side protection, and gets four stars for rollover protection in NHTSA tests. It's rated "Good" for front, side, and rear collision performance by the IIHS. The Ring Frame Reinforced unibody structure and plenty of crumple zone area to the front and rear get credit there. Active safety is even more important - a crash you don't have hurts less. All-wheel drive traction, good handling characteristics, and strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes help there.
RIDE AND HANDLING: In common with all current Subarus, the Outback uses a liquid-cooled, horizontally-opposed engine mounted inline in a strong, rigid unibody chassis structure, driving all four wheels at all times through a sophisticated all-wheel drive system. The suspension is fully-independent, by means of MacPherson struts in front and a multilink system in the rear. The engine's low height ensures a low center of gravity despite 8.4 inches of ground clearance (at the exhaust pipe), and the suspension geometry was designed and rates calibrated to take advantage of this. All parts of the system work together, for a moderately firm ride and very good cornering ability and reactions to driver inputs. Unlike some crossover AWD systems, all wheels are driven all the time, so there are no sudden differences in traction and response when the rear wheels are suddenly activated. That AWD provides excellent traction on dry pavement as well as in rain or snow or on dirt or gravel, and so is just as useful in the Sun Belt as in the Snow Belt.
PERFORMANCE: No turbo? No problem, really. The Outback 2.5i's namesake 2.5-liter boxer four uses a single overhead cam design and the i-Active Valve Lift system to make 175 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 169 lb-ft of torque (at 4400 rpm). PZEV cars, for low-emissions states, have the same ratings. A wide, strong torque curve means that the engine works well with the four-speed automatic transmission that is standard in the Limited. (A five-speed manual is available in 2.5i and 2.5i Basic models.) "Sportshift" manual-shift mode does allow the driver to hold gears longer than the transmission's control circuitry does, for a slight improvement in acceleration, but the difference is minimal, and D works fine in all but the most I-shoulda-bought-a-WRX driving situations. Fuel economy, in the low- to mid-twenties, is better than most similarly-sized AWD crossovers.
CONCLUSIONS:As always, the Subaru Outback provides a fine alternative to the common SUV.
2007 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited
Base Price $ 27,595 Price As Tested $ 29,192 Engine Type single overhead cam, 16-valve horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder with variable valve lift Engine Size 2.5 liters / 150 cu. in. Horsepower 175 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 169 @ 4400 rpm Transmission 4-speed automatic with manual-shift mode Wheelbase / Length 105.1 in. / 188.7 in. Curb Weight 3420 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 19.5 Fuel Capacity 16.9 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P225/55 VR17 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS and EBD standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Ground clearance 8.4 inches Drivetrain inline front engine, permanent all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 28 / 23 0 to 60 mph est. 9 sec Towing Capacity 2700 pounds OPTIONS AND CHARGES Cargo Area Convenience Group - includes: seatback cargo net, cargo area spotlight, 2 side cargo nets, rear cargo net $ 212 Popular Equipment Group 1b - includes: auto-dimming mirror with compass, security system upgrade $ 304 XM satellite radio kit $ 456 Destination charge $ 625