The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2012 Subaru Outback Ride and Review By Larry Nutson

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Subaru Outback

2012 Subaru Outback-
And a peek at the 2013

by Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Let me say this up front. I like the Subaru Outback, for the most part. This is most probably because I am past the SUV phase of my life…and I had a bunch of them…but I really like station wagons. The Outback is roomy, versatile, comfortable, ok-styled, gets decent gas mileage and can handle whatever weather Chicago throws at it.

The original Outback came out 17 years ago. How time can fly. Subaru says the Outback is the World’s First Sport Utility Wagon and is now in its fourth generation. Like all Subaru models except the new rear-drive BRZ coupe, the Outback features standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and is available in 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder models and in three trim levels – base, Premium and Limited.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The Outback is priced starting at $23,295 for the 2.5-liter base model and tops out at $31,695 for the 3.6-liter Limited. This is pretty nice pricing for an all wheel drive station wagon when you compare to the few other offerings on the market today from the likes of Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes and Volkswagen.

One of the reasons I like station wagons is because they are car-based. Even though the Outback has 8.7 inches of road clearance you don’t need a step ladder to get in to it. I prefer to slide “down” into the driver’s seat. And, wagons also have ride and handling with car-like responsiveness and comfort.

New England and Colorado are big markets for Subaru. You could almost say that nearly every Subaru has a VT, NH or Colorado licence plate. But the Outback is not just for driving in forests and mountains. The Outback is amazingly city-friendly. Its overall length of about 188 inches doesn’t make it too much of a challenge to fit in a parking space or maneuver traffic-jammed city streets. And in the same breath the Outback can be loaded up for a weekend getaway into the country or a road trip to the in-laws.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Seating is for five. There is nearly 34 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. Fold the seat and it grows to 71 cubic feet which is plenty of room for hauling a big purchase, lots of vacation gear or your pet-whatever. If this isn’t space enough, there are roof rails with cross bars for a roof carrier, kayak, or to bring home that new mattress. (Picture that!) The most fuel efficient of the Outback models is the 2.5-liter with the CVT that is rated at 22 city mpg and 29 highway mpg. That’s around 535 miles of highway driving with its 18.5 gallon fuel tank.

A bit on the power trains offered. There are three combinations all featuring Subaru’s horizontally-opposed engine design. The 170HP 2.5-liter is offered with a 6-speed manual or the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which by the way has a 6-speed manual shift mode with paddle-shifters. This engine in the 2012 is slightly noisy when you get deep in to the throttle, but keep reading for the 2013 improvements. Also available is a 256HP 3.6-liter with a 5-speed automatic. This powertrain is much quieter and quicker with the tradeoff being lower fuel economy ratings of 18 city and 25 highway.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Notwithstanding my comment on the engine noise, the interior cabin is pretty quiet overall. Seats are comfortable and provide good support. The rear seat is a 60/40 split-fold which often comes in handy for hauling a long object while still needing to provide a passenger seat in the rear. There is the full contingent of safety equipment that we have come to expect in a car today and the Outback has been given an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating, that reinforces this. Comfort and convenience equipment abounds, with power everything.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

My week of test-car driving was in a 2.5-L Premium model with a base price of $25,095. Add in $1000 for the CVT, $3240 for an option group consisting of the all-weather package, power moonroof, 440-watt 9-speaker harmon/kardon premium audio system, and rear vision camera…I’ve come to love a rear vision camera for city parking maneuvers, plus floor mats and shipping and the suggested retail totals at $30,179.

Subarus are sold by more than 600 dealers across the U.S. and are covered by a very comprehensive warranty. This is noteworthy since it is important when making a purchase decision to consider the ownership experience and how one will live with any vehicle on a day-to-day basis.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Now…about the 2013 Outback. There’s a new boxer engine with higher power (173 hp), more low-end torque and better efficiency. Subaru expects 30 mpg highway and a 24 mpg city ratings. The Lineartronic CVT is moving in to its second-generation with further refinement. The Outback front end had been restyled with new headlights, grille, front bumper and fog lights. Ride is made smoother and body roll reduced by 40% making it more agile. New convenience and audio features have been added including new seat fabric and wood grain trim and a keyless entry system. A new EyeSight driver-assist system is offered that provides pre-collision braking, detects pedestrians, has lane departure and sway warning and adaptive cruise control.

More and more folks across the country are coming to like Subarus, not just those in New England and Colorado. Subaru reported record vehicle sales for 2011 of 266,989 and has now posted sales records in each of the past three years. Subaru surprised many in being the only manufacturer in the US to have posted continued sales growth for the last four-year recessionary period. And, sales are up 24% so far this year.

The Outback makes me think to myself “would this be a good all-around, every-day vehicle” for me to own while also having some other special occasion or weekend driving fun car.

© Larry Nutson