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2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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A good mix of versatility and utility with style and safety, and a touch of luxury with the new Touring model

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

            • SEE ALSO: Subaru Research and Buyers Guide


Flash back to the early 1990s. Truck-based sport-utility vehicles were the popular items of the day, a triumph of fashion over practicality in far too many cases. They were big, heavy, thirsty, and being trucks at heart, not necessarily comfortable. But they sold.

So what was a then little-known Japanese automaker best known for all-wheel drive wagons and sedans to do? In a stroke of genius, Subaru took its midsize Legacy AWD wagon and added larger wheels and tires and some suspension modifications for increased ride height, with plenty of lower body cladding for the SUV look. With unibody construction and fully-independent suspension, and Subaru’s trademark boxer engine for a low center of gravity even with eight inches of ground clearance — more than some truck SUVs — it had the ride and handling qualities of a car, not a truck. And the fuel economy of a car, not a 4x4 truck that struggled to break into double digits for mileage. Named after Australia’s vast sparsely-populated central region, the Subaru Outback was an instant success. It’s had plenty of competitors, even from premium brands, but continues to today as the class benchmark.

Which is not to say that the Outback hasn’t changed. It’s still immediately recognizable, but it’s grown noticeably. But not too much. An Outback still slips easily into a tight parking space, and, with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, can navigate a forest road — or a poorly-maintained city street — without damage. Now in its fifth generation, it comes in both four- and six-cylinder form. Being a Subaru, that means the engine is of horizontally-opposed “boxer” configuration. And its power goes to all four wheels, through a computer-controlled continuously-variable transmission (CVT).

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The latest Outback debuted for 2015. This year sees a new premium Touring trim level for both 2.5i four-cylinder and 3.6R six-cylinder version. The Touring features distinguishing exterior trim and “Java Brown” leather interior, heated seats and steering wheel, and unique interior trim. It has a comprehensive suite of electronic safety features standard, including EyeSight® driver-assist technology, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse active braking and backup camera, Subaru’s Starlink® navigation and infotainment system, and a power tailgate and moonroof.

No option packages offered, none necessary. Such was the past week’s test car, an Outback 2.5i in signature Brilliant Brown Pearl. It happened to be the first week of Spring, with a mix of wet and dry weather. The heaviest rains may have stopped, but there is plenty of resultant road damage. None of which bothers an Outback. In Touring, or Limited, trim, it has all of the amenities you might find in a pricier German crossover or wagon— for a more reasonable price. Here, 8.7 inches of clearance does not mean insecure, tippy handling. As always, an Outback feels and works like the car it is. There’s plenty of room inside, but what won’t fit can easily be towed, and with a 2700-pound towing capacity, plenty of things can be towed. Compared to the six-cylinder, 256-horsepower 3.6R, the 175-hp 2.5i isn’t as quick. No surprise, but that’s really only noticeable above around 40 mph, and manual virtual shifting can help. Want more power? Get the six. Or a WRX. The Outback 2.5i Touring combines comfort, convenience, and safety in the best Subaru manner. And if the 26 mpg I got for the week isn’t in hybrid territory, it still handily beats a large SUV or many a crossover.

APPEARANCE: Continuity means easy recognition, and the current Outback is instantly recognizable as a Subaru Outback thanks to its lines and stance. It looks to be little more than a restyle of the previous generation, with a more chiseled shape, but it is more than that. The base of the windshield has been moved forward so the windshield is less upright, and a larger, hexagonal grille is a nod to today's oversized grille fad. Roof rails are still a useful addition to the top, and while there is still cladding around the lower perimeter, there is a bit less, and it morphs into a partial undertray that is far more for aero efficiency than rock-bashing. Even with well over eight inches of clearance, the Outback doesn't look out of proportion.

COMFORT: It’s comfortable and unostentatious. The Outback’s interior styling is conservative, more European than Asian, with simple shapes, good ergonomics, and high-quality materials. Seating here is brown leather, with perforated center sections and heatable cushions front and outboard rear, plus the heatable steering wheel rim. Front seats are both power-adjustable. The leather-rimmed steering wheel is manually-adjustable for both tilt and reach, and has audio, cruise, and driver information controls on the front of the horizontal spokes, with shift paddles to the rear. Upper instrument panel and door surfaces are dark, soft-touch, textured anti-glare material. Seat comfort is very good, and the high-eyepoint seating position gives good visibility. Electroluminescent instruments are readily visible in all light. Instruments and controls are logically arrayed and simple to use -- even the center Starlink touchscreen interface for navigation, information, audio, phone and Bluetooth phone apps. Audio choices are AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, CD, USB and jack, and Bluetooth streaming including Aha and Pandora. The dual-zone climate control system uses standard knobs and buttons, not the touchscreen. Useful storage spaces abound, with a locking glovebox, large console box, and drink bottle holders in all doors. Rear seat space is very good, especially legroom. The central tunnel is not too high, so the center position is a better place than in many cars. The rear seatback folds 60/40 for cargo duty, and a rubber mat over the cargo area and a cargo shade are useful. As is the power tailgate. There is some hidden storage under the load floor, and a space-saver spare.

SAFETY: All Outbacks have a rearview camera and Welcome Lighting, which automatically turns cabin and exterior lighting on as the driver approaches or leaves the car. Front seat cushion airbags have been added to an already full complement of airbags including side curtain bags that can be deployed if the rollover sensors deem it necessary. The Touring gets a full suite of electronic safety aids, including rear blind-spot and cross-traffic detection, reverse active braking, and EyeSight lane-keeping assist. Vehicle Dynamic Control, traction control, hill-descent control, and all-wheel drive with torque vectoring add further safety.




RIDE AND HANDLING: Subaru figured out how to combine ground clearance and good handling behavior long ago and has refined that combination ever since. Unibody rigidity and the low center of gravity of the boxer engine are the key factors. Suspension is still fully-independent by means of MacPherson struts in front and a double-wishbone system in the rear, but geometry and spring and damper rates have been changed for better responsiveness with no loss of comfort. Electrically-assisted steering, done properly so it feels natural, not numb, also improves the driving experience. As does lessened road, wind, and mechanical noise courtesy of improved soundproofing. Active Torque Vectoring basically means that the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) stability and traction control system applies brake pressure to the inside front wheel when the driver brakes into a corner, facilitating turn-in and reducing understeer for a more natural feel to the car's handling. Strong four-wheel vented disc brakes, with twin-piston calipers in front further add to the driving experience and safety. Unlike many competitors, which are normally front-wheel drive with torque to the rear when a computer system deems it necessary, Subaru's AWD system is full-time so there is no lag waiting for needed traction or any change in handling characteristics.

PERFORMANCE: With a curb weight around 3700 pounds and maxima of 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque from the namesake 2.5-liter engine, each of those horses has 21 pounds of Subaru to move. Which means that blistering acceleration is not in the program, even with the Lineartronic CVT’s wide ratio spread. From a standstill, 60 mph comes up in just a touch over nine seconds, versus 7.5 for the 3.6R. That said, an Outback is not likely to be bought as a performance vehicle, and it’s quick enough to deal with everyday traffic. And, thanks to the CVT, acceleration to around 40 mph is good, so city traffic presents no difficulty. Over that, plan ahead or use the shift paddles, which in the now-common manner give virtual ratios to better use the engine’s power. The engine uses aluminum alloy construction for light weight, and features dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder for efficiency, meaning more power on less fuel with lower emissions. It’s designed for low- and midrange-rpm torque, just what you need for everyday driving. Mileage? I saw low twenties with mostly short trips around town, high twenties to low thirties on the highway, and a 26 mpg average.

CONCLUSIONS: The Subaru Outback still does what it’s always done, provide a good mix of versatility and utility with style and safety. And a touch of luxury with the new Touring model.

SPECIFICATIONS

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Base Price $ 35,995

Price As Tested $ 36,870

Engine Type aluminum alloy DOHC 16-valve horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder

Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.

Horsepower 175 @ 5800 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 174 @ 4000 rpm

Transmission CVT

Wheelbase / Length 108.1 in. / 189.6 in.

Curb Weight 3684 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 21.1

Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires 225/60R18 100H m+s Bridgestone Dueler H/P

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, Brake Override, Electronic Hill-Holder standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone

Ground Clearance 8.7 inches

Drivetrain longitudinal engine, full-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 25 / 32 / 26

0 to 60 mph 9.1 sec

Towing Capacity 2700 lbs.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Destination Charge $ 875