Ride Review: 2015 Subaru Outback

By Randy Stern May 14, 2015
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Categories: Featured - Home Page, Our Homes, Vehicles & Rides

2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited. Photos by Randy Stern

For us, there are really two vehicles that we love the most. They both just happen to be Subarus.

We love Subarus because they were among the first automobile brands that loved us. That is simply an added benefit for Subaru ownership. In truth, they are highly practical, mostly offering standard all-wheel drive for year-round driving and are just simply easy to deal with. Subaru dealers tend to love us and our vehicles, plain and simple.

I mentioned we love two vehicles that happen to be Subarus. One of them is the Forester, our pick of the compact crossover/SUV class. The other is an old friend of ours. A familiar sight anywhere we roam, including out in rural communities. For twenty years, this wagon with a higher ground clearance has been the one vehicle our community cannot live without.

That vehicle is the Subaru Outback.

The reasons stated previously just scratch the surface of why we love the Outback to the point of it being as common as Ford F-150s and Toyota Camrys to other people. I still wonder if there were other reasons why the Outback is loved by our community. Granted, I will admit to not being a typical Outback driver. Though, I appreciate station wagons. In fact, it has been said that the perfect automotive journalist vehicle is a brown station wagon with a diesel engine and a manual gearbox. I wouldn’t mind an automatic version myself, but I digress…

There has to be a deeper reason why the Outback has attracted many of our sisters and brothers to this outdoorsy, lifted station wagon for the past 20 years. To fulfill my curiosity, I had to find out why you love the Outback so much. So, I got one in to review: a Lapis Blue 2.5i Limited model. Maybe this will unlock those deep reasons why it has become the standard vehicle for the GLBT community.

The genesis of the Outback is from its mid-sized product: the Legacy. Both vehicles were revised for the 2015 model year, with extended A-pillar areas and some tweaks on the outside. For the Outback, these tweaks made the wagon more aggressive for off-road duty. The 8.7-inch ground clearance raises the profile, but the Legacy-based wagon body makes the Outback more accessible, compared to a typical crossover/SUV.

The Outback does offer some advantages over a typical crossover/SUV. Overall height means not having to worry about fitting into smaller spaces, including garages. The doors have good width and open angle and the tailgate is perfect for tall people to load things without stooping down. Outbacks are distinctive enough to be familiar sights anywhere, even in places where the big SUVs rule the school drop-off and the grocery store parking lot.

When I think of the Outback, two words come to mind: rugged and friendly. That is how one should approach this ready-to-do-anything wagon.

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It is a different story inside. The “friendly” is there, but the 2.5i Limited model being tested here is also “refined.” The leather seats are huge and quite comfortable. Though they would need some more bolstering to keep the body locked in those seats. Yet, the leather feels just fine and one could get a driving position that would fit for competent driving. Rear seat room is very good. A small transmission tunnel is in the way for a middle passenger, but you can fit three average-sized adults just fine. Even with the moonroof, headroom is no problem. Of course, not only do the split 60/40 rear backrests fold, they also recline.

Instrumentation is fine and easily readable. The center TFT screen offers trip, fuel economy, and active safety feature information. The controls are fine, especially on the steering wheel; however, some switches are below the instrument panel’s main line and are hard to reach for taller drivers. The console set up is also just fine with the gear lever toward the driver and two key off-road function switches available at the ready. Not to mention, this Limited has paddle shifters to make ratio changes quicker through the Continuously Variable Transmission.

Starlink is Subaru’s infotainment system. It is a good one that has some advantages over some current systems in its competitors. For one, there is no need for a mobile app to facilitate the function of Pandora and Aha to be played back via Starlink. The setup to pair Bluetooth devices is quite easy and quick. The navigation screen is quite easy to read and very accurate. There is something interesting, however: you only get six presets for SiriusXM. I could use more, but for most drivers, that might be okay. Sound for the Starlink system is filtered through twelve wonderful Harman Kardon speakers.

People think that crossovers and SUVs are great for the cargo space they offer. However, the space behind the rear seat is equal to the average popular compact crossover: 35.5 cubic feet. What you lose in cargo height, you gain in length. That also comes into play when you fold down the rear seat, providing a maximum of 73.3 cubic feet of cargo space.

You know it is a Subaru when you open up the hood. The 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine is without peers. However, there is 175 horsepower with 174 pound-feet of torque available, it is enough to manage 3,633 pounds of wagon and tow up to 2,700 pounds. The aforementioned continuously variable transmission, called Lineartronic, connects the boxer engine to its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. In all, it does the job nicely, both on the road and off of it. By “off-road,” I mean gravel and dirt tracks away from the tarmac. That is where the Outback is truly exceptional. It also helps to have a feature called X-Mode, which adjusts the AWD system to conditions, including managing steep declines through the Hill Descent Control. On its own, the Outback can handle a lot of situations that it encounters every day.

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By having an 8.7-inch ground clearance, you expect the ride to be managed well with such a long wheel travel. You do hear the tires on bumps and potholes, while the suspension does its best to absorb these hazards. Even the suspension works well on absorbing gravel surfaces. The Bridgestone Dueler tires equipped on the Outback may look more like on-road crossover tires, but they really do a good job gripping on non-tarmac surfaces. However, handling is on the soft side. Some lean is felt in the corners, if pushed. Otherwise, the Outback is very poised through any maneuver.

Steering action is also quite good. Turns are fine and it has a decent turning radius for tight spots. On-center feel is exact and steering wheel weight is balanced. Braking’s also quite good. It does linear and smooth stops in both normal and panic situations.

On this 2.5i Limited tester is Subaru’s EyeSight system. This optical camera/sensor system enables a suite of active safety features that work extremely well on the Outback. The 2.5i Limited has the EyeSight connected to a good active cruise control system, pre-collision braking, vehicle sway warning, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring systems. The rearview camera on the Starlink screen also offers blind spot warnings on it, along with rear cross-traffic warnings. As a result, to this emphasis on safety systems that truly work well, the Outback won the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick award and earned a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration based on various crash testing methodologies.

If there is a way to settle the argument between getting a typical compact crossover/SUV and getting the Subaru Outback, take a look at fuel economy. The 24.7MPG average may seem low, but most of its compact crossover/SUV rivals actually fall in this fuel economy range.

The Outback lineup is priced from $24,895. This 2.5i Limited tester came with a sticker price of $34,207. If you think about it, this is about where most similarly equipped mainstream compact crossover/SUVs are priced.

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Perhaps it is no mystery why the Subaru Outback is a vehicle we simply call our own. It does a lot of things well for us: great year-round traction, decent comfort for four-to-five people, good cargo carrying space, and decent fuel economy. However, it is not an exclusive vehicle to our community. Many kinds of people drive Outbacks to the point where you can count them in the dozens on a daily drive. Perhaps it is the added bonus that Subaru of America still loves our community and sponsors events that involve us, such as Dining Out For Life.

As for a vehicle that fits our lives, the Outback could be the perfect choice. Emphasizing practicality, year-round capabilities, a comfortable space for everyone and, now, a level of technology to keep you safe and informed, there is no wonder why we love this all-wheel drive, lifted station wagon.

Above all, this is the perfect vehicle for active lifestyles. Maybe that’s the big reason why people buy them — us, them, and everyone else that visits a Subaru showroom. That is the big reason why the Outback resonates with a lot of us. We live active lifestyles, right? We love loading up our vehicles with our pets, our lives, and so on.

All of these reasons are why we loved our Outbacks for the past twenty years. This is why Subaru is happy to sell them to us. I can see why now.

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