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Heels on Wheels:2012 Subaru Outback Review

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2012 Subaru Outback

By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

The Subaru Outback wagon used to represent a clear alternative to a crossover, with the redesign adding that all-too-familiar utility bulk to accommodate an interior space gain. Still attractive and reminiscent of that familiar shape of the past, the Outback is excellent on the safety, cargo and light off-road adventure front with strong residual valve.

I drove a 2012 Subaru Outback with the larger 256-horsepower 3.6-liter Boxer six-cylinder engine, Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, and a five-speed automatic transmission and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. Available with a smaller 2.5-liter Boxer four-cylinder engine, the six different trims are designated by the two engines and various upgrade packages. My top-of-the-line 3.6R Limited featured the following standard equipment: leather upholstery; woodgrain-patterned door trim; ten-way power driver’s seat; heated front seats; dual-zone climate control; a nine-speaker 440-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system; moonroof; Bluetooth connectivity; navigation display; and a USB port and auxiliary input jack for mobile devices. Total price topped out at $35,111.

Main competitors depend on how you view the Subaru Outback: if you see it as a wagon, then the cheaper, two-wheel drive only VW Jetta SportWagen fits the bill; or the more luxury-oriented Acura TSX Sport Wagon or Audi A4 wagon. Yet the redesign pits it against the most popular crossovers like the Nissan Murano and Honda CR-V.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: The soft-touch leather upholstery combined with wood door trim accents create a plush environment. My large-sized canine passenger appreciated the rear cargo area headspace. The second-row seats are firm and comfortably angled. Subaru does need to work on streamlining their infotainment – I counted five different viewing locations, from the digital trip computer at the instrument panel and navigation screen, to the rearview mirror compass and upper center stack multi-information display for time and fuel economy (one more – the digital temperature readout at the climate controls). Another ding for not clustering keyless start with the Limited trim standard offerings. The hazard button is so closely located to the shifter it gets pushed on by accident too frequently when gearing into park.

Reliability & Safety Factor: Subarus are notorious for their excellent safety marks, and the Outback earns crash test ratings of “Good” in all areas with The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), making it a Top Safety Pick. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives it across-the-board ratings of 4-Stars in every category.

Cost Issues: Price starts at $23,295 for the base Outback 2.5i and tops out at my test drive’s price of $35,111. A fair price for a decently outfitted Outback with the larger six-cylinder engine, navigation and moonroof will hover around $30k. If you don’t need a four-wheel drive option, a similarly equipped VW Jetta SportWagen with an impressive turbo diesel engine costs $28,120.

Activity & Performance Ability: The larger six-cylinder with 256 horsepower delivers a satisfyingly spirited ride, prepared to fulfill throttle demands for take-off power at full stops and when whizzing past slower traffic on freeways. Steering wheel feedback is my only quandary with the rugged Outback; it came off stiff and limited, especially when compared to the easy turn cycle of a crossover like the Nissan Murano. However, the where the aforementioned would look and drive uncomfortable, such on lengthy off roads, the Outback finds a natural foothold and clearance.

The Green Concern: One of the best features I found relieving about the Outback is the real-life fuel economy numbers – even with a heavy foot, I clocked 22.5 miles-per-gallon under an equal mix of traffic, highway and suburb driving. Estimates are 18-city and 25-highway for a combined 20 MPG. Unless you live in the city, I feel fairly confident you can do better, too.

The 2012 Subaru Outback continues to be the alternate and rugged choice to a minivan or crossover. A few functional gaffes create a moment’s worth of hesitation, but better-than-expected fuel economy, all-wheel drive performance and utility space delivers years of fun to light-adventure families.

2012 Katrina Ramser