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Although competing crossover SUVs and wagons offer more interior room and better overall value, the 2007 Subaru Outback remains a satisfying choice for consumers who want a station wagon that looks and behaves like a sport-utility vehicle.
Balanced ride and handling dynamics, strong power from turbo and H6 engines, exemplary build and materials quality, capable performer in snowy or light off-roading conditions.
Snug backseat for a midsize car, automatic transmissions sap performance, stability control available only on high-line trim levels.
Available Outback Models
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Trim levels are revised on the 2007 Subaru Outback wagon. Subaru has added an entry-level 2.5i Basic wagon, and midway through '07, there will be a couple new L.L. Bean models that bundle a navigation system with the base 2.5-liter engine. Further, all Outbacks get MP3/WMA-capable CD stereos and an MP3 player input jack; Limited and L.L. Bean models have SRS WOW technology, which is said to improve the sound quality of compressed-format music. XM Satellite Radio is a new option. Other standard-equipment additions include a tire-pressure monitor (except on the Basic wagon); a new flywheel design to smooth out shifts on manual-transmission models; and on XT Limited models only, the driver-controlled SI-Drive engine program. Horsepower ratings for the turbocharged 2.5-liter and H6 engines have decreased slightly due to new SAE certification standards.
Originally a stopgap for an SUV, the Subaru Outback wagon started a vehicle niche all its own, amassing a loyal group of followers who never wanted to make the switch from this all-terrain station wagon to a full-on sport-utility vehicle. It's now sold in both sedan and wagon body styles, but the wagon has always been the more popular choice. The main difference between the Outback and the Subaru Legacy is ground clearance: The 2007 Subaru Outback stands up to 8.7 inches off the ground, which gives it a moderate level of off-road capability while making it basically unstoppable in snow. Unfortunately, it has become clear that most wagon and SUV buyers have little to no interest in off-highway driving. And now that many crossover SUVs can match the Outback's handling dynamics while offering more interior room, the Subaru's advantages are growing slimmer.
Last redesigned for 2005, the third-generation Subaru Outback bows to consumers' changing tastes. Earlier models had a rugged, backwoods look, but the current sedan and wagon are sleek, somewhat angular and available with either monochromatic or two-tone paint. There are now three engines in the lineup, the best of these being a 2.5-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder good for 243 horsepower. Available only on the XT Limited model, the turbo four picks up an extra bit of technology this year in the form of the SI-Drive (Subaru Intelligent Drive) system, which allows the driver to tailor engine performance for economy or performance by choosing from three modes -- Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. SI-Drive also alters transmission response on automatic-equipped Outback XTs. Subaru claims that Intelligent mode provides a 10-percent fuel savings, but our experience has shown that it makes the turbo Outback feel unnecessarily sluggish in traffic. We expect most drivers will prefer Sport Sharp mode, which provides rapid yet smooth response to throttle inputs.
Handling remains an Outback strength thanks to tight suspension tuning, responsive steering and capable all-wheel-drive systems. Rear-seat room remains its primary weakness, as there's considerably less shoulder room, legroom and foot room than in competing wagons and SUVs. Equipping a Subaru Outback to fit your needs can also be a bit confounding. The lower-line trim levels offer a decent amount of standard equipment, but if you want a more powerful engine or stability control, you're forced to ante up for a loaded model that breaks the $30K barrier.
We still like the idea of the Subaru Outback, as it does indeed offer a likable compromise of wagon and SUV attributes. However, alongside better-packaged crossover SUVs like the Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano and Toyota Highlander, it's not the value story it once was. For buyers who don't need the extra ground clearance, the AWD versions of the Volkswagen Passat and Dodge Magnum wagons make more sense, as they offer vastly more interior room. For those who are convinced they need the services of an all-terrain wagon, though, the 2007 Subaru Outback is really the only good candidate. With Audi's Allroad out of the U.S. market, Volvo's XC70 is its only competition. And compared to the Volvo, the Subaru is cheaper, quicker and more agile on road and off.
A midsize car with raised ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive, the 2007 Subaru Outback comes in wagon and sedan body styles. Subaru has a tendency to overdo it on the trim levels, and for 2007, the wagon comes in seven different versions: 2.5i Basic, 2.5i, 2.5i L.L. Bean, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Limited L.L. Bean, XT Limited and 3.0 R L.L. Bean. The sedan is available only in 2.5i Limited and 3.0R L.L. Bean trim levels.
Standard equipment on the entry-level Basic wagon includes 16-inch steel wheels, roof rails, air-conditioning, a six-speaker stereo with an MP3 player jack, an outside temperature display and full power accessories. The standard 2.5i wagon adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a limited-slip rear differential, roof-rail crossbars, heated exterior mirrors, de-icing wipers, a power driver seat and front seat heaters.
The 2.5 L.L. Bean adds dual-zone automatic climate control, an in-dash CD changer, a navigation system and L.L. Bean floor mats. The 2.5i Limited drops the nav system, but adds body-color door handles, a sunroof (a double-panel design on wagons) and leather upholstery. Spring for the 2.5i Limited L.L. Bean, and as you'd guess, you get all of the above features as standard. The Outback XT Limited and 3.0 R L.L. Bean models feature more powerful engines, but are equipped basically the same. (You can buy them with or without a navigation system.) The XT Limited has a dark interior with faux aluminum interior trim and red electroluminescent gauges, while the 3.0 R has faux wood accents complemented by a real mahogany/leather steering wheel.
All Subaru Outbacks are all-wheel drive. The 2.5i models (be they Basic, Limited or L.L. Bean) are powered by a 2.5-liter, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine rated for 175 hp and 169 pound-feet of torque. Basic and standard 2.5i models can be equipped with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic; 2.5i Limited and L.L. Bean models are automatic only.
Stepping up to the Outback XT Limited nets you a potent turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine good for 243 hp and 241 lb-ft of torque. It's available with the five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. Opt for the 3.0 R L.L. Bean sedan or wagon and you'll get a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine. Known as the H6, this engine is capable of 245 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque, and takes the automatic transmission only.
Antilock brakes, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and anti-whiplash front head restraints are standard on every 2007 Subaru Outback. A tire-pressure monitor is standard on all models, except the 2.5i Basic. Stability control is unfortunately available only on XT Limited and 3.0 R L.L. Bean models. In NHTSA crash tests, the Outback earned a perfect five stars across the board for its protection in frontal- and side-impact collisions.
Inside, the 2007 Subaru Outback has a clean design with straightforward controls and high-quality materials. Build quality is generally very good. The seats are supportive, though the Outback has less shoulder room than competing midsize wagons and crossover SUVs. The backseat can be downright tight for adults, as legroom and foot room are at a premium. On the plus side, the bench is broad and flat enough to allow for secure installation of most car seats. Wagons provide 33.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind their rear seats and 66 cubic feet with the seats folded.
On the road, the Outback rides smoothly and feels sure-footed around corners. Taken off-road, it can scamper up a rutted hillside with more gusto than just about any crossover SUV, and it's an excellent companion in snowy climates. Although the base engine provides only adequate power, acceleration is quick with either the turbo four or the H6. Unfortunately, the Outback's automatic transmissions still leave much to be desired, as they sap power by upshifting too early. Automatic-equipped XT Limited models fare a little better in this regard, as their SI-Drive system offers a driver-selectable "Sport Sharp" mode that quickens throttle response and delays upshifts.
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