2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited Review By Carey Russ
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited
Timing is everything. The SUV boom was well underway in 1994, and Subaru had recently committed to an all all-wheel drive (AWD) lineup. With better fuel economy than 4x4 trucks, its AWD Legacy wagons already had a strong following in parts of the country where the last ice age hadn't completely disappeared, or where "road" meant semi-improved dirt and/or gravel more than pavement. So it was a relatively simple matter to add clearance with bigger wheels and tires, and later suspension modifications, and graft on SUV-look body cladding to turn a Legacy wagon into an Outback. Subaru went from a virtual unknown to a fashion leader, and dynasty was born.
Model year 2013 sees the newest iteration of the Outback theme. You have to look hard to tell, but the front end has a bit of a restyle. More importantly, the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder (horizontally-opposed "boxer" like all Subaru engines) is new, with improved power and fuel efficiency. As is the "Lineartronic"® continuously-variable transmission (CVT) used instead of a conventional torque converter automatic in four-cylinder models. Chassis and suspension upgrades and refinements mean a quieter driving experience, with improved ride and handling characteristics. And there are new convenience, audio, and safety features, including the optional EyeSight driver assist system.
Three trim levels are offered for the 2013 Outback 2.5i. Base isn't all that basic, with cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free phone and streaming audio capability, an electronic parking brake with Hill Holder System, and automatic headlights among its many useful features. Premium gets upgrades including a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and shift knob, covered storage in the instrument panel, ambient overhead lighting, and larger alloy wheels, plus available option packages for cold-weather use, premium audio, and more. Limited adds perforated leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, harmon/kardon audio, and other interior enhancements, with and available navigation system with XM Nav Traffic.
Outback 3.6R models are base and Limited, equipped as the 2.5i. The 3.6-liter, 256-horsepower flat-six engine is unchanged, as is the five-speed automatic transmission.
My test car for the past week has been a new Outback 2.5i Limited with Moonroof plus Navigation plus EyeSight package, fully-loaded as usual for press fleet spec. And good in this case as it has all of the new features. Similar to systems found in more expensive brands, Subaru's EyeSight system combines adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane-departure warning to enhance safety. Unlike the more common radar-based systems, EyeSight is based on two cameras, for stereoscopic video input into a computer that communicates with the car's braking and throttle control systems. It seemed to work as well as the systems in more-expensive vehicles.
If, with its $34,000 MSRP, my test Outback wasn't inexpensive, it was still far less expensive than luxury makes with similar capabilities and equipment. The new drivetrain has plenty of power for everyday life, and with about 26 mpg during my time, sips fuel compared to most mid-size crossovers. With 8.7 inches of clearance and proven Subaru all-wheel drive, travel is not limited to smooth, civilized pavement on warm, sunny days. I don't live in the snow belt, yet still see many Outbacks in my part of the country. No surprise -- few vehicles combine utility, comfort, capability, and economy as well.
APPEARANCE: A Subaru Outback is instantly recognizable, so don't expect major stylistic changes. It's a Legacy wagon with extra ground clearance from both large tires and (much more importantly) a correctly revised suspension. Protective cladding covers the lower perimeter, but the "skid plate" under the front is more for aerodynamic efficiency as protection from rocks in the Outback. The car's basic contours are unchanged but both the front and rear get refreshed. The headlights have been reshaped, as have the grille crossbars, and the front bumper and inset foglamps are just slightly different from before. There are minor revisions at the rear as well, but if you're familiar with Subarus, there will be no surprises. It's more rugged-looking, but not unduly so. Useful exterior feature of note: the roof rack is functional, and now the rear crossbar can be moved further back, for a ten-inch increase in spacing -- all the better for kayaks and other long items.
COMFORT: Inside, the latest Outback is familiar Subaru, with space, comfort, and versatility. If it doesn't have the excessive headroom of some more SUV-like crossovers, it has more than enough for the vast majority of humans -- and when was the last time you filled your SUV's cargo area to the brim? A mix of textured and smooth plastic materials for most interior paneling is enhanced by "woodgrain" trim that's more convincing than in earlier Soobies, and, in the Limited, leather for the seats, steering wheel rim, and shift knob. Limited front seats are power-adjustable, with good comfort and support and two-level cushion heat. The steering wheel adjusts for tilt and reach manually and has cruise, audio, and information system controls. Limited means electroluminescent main gauges, bright and easily visible. Information, including that from the EyeSight system, is displayed between the tach and speedometer. Audio, climate, and navigation (if fitted) controls are on the center stack, and simple to use. The premium sound system handles CDs, AM, FM, and SiriusXM radio, and input via jack or USB from an external audio player. Or Bluetooth streaming. The rear seat is best for two adults as the central tunnel is moderately high. Its 60/40 split back allows back angle adjustment as well as folding. There is storage and a bottle holder in every door panel, and a bit of small-item storage under the rear cargo area, above the space-saver spare tire.
SAFETY: Subaru's Ring-Shaped Reinforcement unibody structure and further enhancements surround passengers with a strong structure designed for controlled deformation in a crash. A full complement of airbags helps on the passive safety front, while good handling and braking from four-wheel antilock disc brakes provide the basis for active safety. Electronic systems including the standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) stability and traction control system and optional EyeSight system also add to safety.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Usually good ground clearance means a high center of gravity, leading to excessive body roll and weight transfer and consequent poor handling. Not with a Subaru! The horizontally-opposed engine keeps mass low in the vehicle, and the regular wagon roof height also helps. Even with 8.7 inches of clearance -- more than some "real" SUVs -- sloppy handling is not to be found. Structural stiffening, especially around the front strut mounts and rear frame rails, and stiffer but correctly-matched spring and shock rates and bushings means precise handling and good ride comfort.
PERFORMANCE: There's not much increase in power from the new 2.5-liter engine, with horsepower up from 170 to 173 (at 5600 rpm) and torque from 170 lb-ft to 174 (at 4100 rpm). The new engine uses double, instead of single, overhead cams for better valve control, and was designed and built for more torque at low- and mid-range engine speeds for maximum usefulness. And greater efficiency, meaning lower emissions and improved fuel economy. A six-speed manual transmission is standard in base and Premium models; the Lineartronic CVT optional there is the only choice in the Limited. It works well, and is very smooth since it never shifts discrete gears. It is programmed to help fuel economy, but if the driver wants more power or engine revs, just shift the lever to Sport and use the paddles behind the steering wheel. EPA estimates are 24 mpg around town, 30 on the highway, and 26 overall -- and that's what I got. Try that in your big 4x4 SUV or pickup!
That power gets to all four wheels automatically via Subaru's Active Torque Split AWD system. Torque split front/rear and side-to-side is automatically controlled so the wheels that can best use it, get it. And that helps traction, and safety, on dry pavement as well as in mud or snow.
CONCLUSIONS: Subaru keeps a good thing going with revisions to the 2013 Outback 2.5 that improve comfort, handling, efficiency, and safety.
2013 Subaru 2.5i Limited
Base Price $ 29,395 Price As Tested $ 34,202 Engine Type DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder with Active Valve Control System (AVCS) variable cam phasing on intake cams Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in. Horsepower 173 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 174 @ 4100 rpm Transmission CVT Wheelbase / Length 107.9 in. / 189.0 in. Curb Weight 3538 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 20.5 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P225/60R17 98T Continental ContiPro Contact m+s Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, and Brake Over-ride standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone Ground Clearance 8.7 inches Drivetrain longitudinal front engine, full-time all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 24 / 30 / 26 0 to 60 mph est 8.7 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Option Package 20 - includes: Power moonroof, voice-activated navigation system, auxiliary USB/iPod port, rear-vision camera, 440-watt 9-speaker premium audio system, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with Homelink, XM satellite radio with NavTraffic (4-month free trial subscription), AM/FM stereo with CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, EyeSight driver-assistance system: pre-collision braking system, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure and lane-sway warning, pre-collision throttle-management system $ 3,940 All-weather floor mats $ 72 Destination and delivery $ 795