What's New for 2008
For the 2008 Subaru Outback, the sedan version is dropped, a few new standard features (including tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and an auxiliary audio jack) and updated instrument panel debut and a minor face-lift updates the front and rear ends.
With its too-cute commercials featuring Paul Hogan a distant memory, the Subaru Outback is left to get by on its own merits. But not to worry, mate, this old gal has been holding up much better than Mr. Crocodile Dundee's acting career.
Starting out in the mid-'90s as a interim measure for Subaru to grab some of the then-rapidly growing SUV segment, the early Outback was essentially a toughened-up version of the Legacy wagon. Two-tone paint, a raised suspension, all-wheel drive and beefy tires gave the proper "go-anywhere" look.
TV commercials showed the Subaru Outback deftly zipping through twisty, muddy trails, with midsize SUVs left struggling in its wake. This "stopgap" vehicle carved out a niche of its own, serving those who wanted a measure of all-terrain capacity without the needless bulk, clumsy handling and dismal fuel mileage of a traditional SUV.
Today's Subaru Outback has dropped the awkward SUV styling cues of yesteryear and now embraces its midsize wagon body. In fact, for 2008, Subaru has discontinued the Outback sedan. As the Legacy and Outback are essentially the same car, it simplifies things. Want a sedan? Look at the Legacy line. Looking for a wagon? Then consider the Outback offerings.
Although there are three available engines, our favorite is the powerful yet smooth turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-4, which is available only on the XT Limited trim. Standard on this trim is Subaru's SI-Drive system, which allows the driver to tailor engine performance for economy or performance by choosing from three modes -- Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. We've found that the Intelligent mode makes for sluggish response, while the Sport Sharp mode provides rapid yet smooth response to throttle inputs.
Firm suspension tuning along with responsive steering and the grip afforded by the all-wheel-drive system give the Outback a nimble feel through the turns while still providing a comfy highway ride. On the downside, rear-seat room is tight compared to those of rival wagons and crossover SUVs.
We still like the idea of the Outback, as it does indeed offer a likable compromise of wagon and SUV attributes. However, with crossovers such as the Mazda CX-7 or Toyota Highlander offering more room and power, the 2008 Subaru Outback just isn't the value it once was. And if you don't need the Outback's nearly 9 inches of ground clearance, you might also consider other wagons, namely the all-wheel-drive versions of the Volkswagen Passat and Dodge Magnum.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Subaru Outback comes only in a midsize wagon body style with increased ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive. Instead of offering a dizzying amount of option packages like some other carmakers, Subaru offers a dizzying amount of trim levels. For the 2008 Outback, there are no less than seven trims: base, 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.
Standard equipment on the base trim includes 16-inch steel wheels, roof rails, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, a satellite radio-ready audio system with CD player and an MP3 player jack, keyless entry, an outside temperature display, and full power accessories. The 2.5i adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a limited-slip rear differential, roof-rail crossbars, heated exterior mirrors, deicing wipers, a power driver seat and front-seat heaters. The 2.5 L.L. Bean is a little more upscale and features dual-zone automatic climate control, an in-dash CD changer, a navigation system and specialized floor mats. The 2.5i Limited drops the nav system, but adds a double-panel sunroof 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 Subaru Outback XT Limited and 3.0 R L.L. Bean models feature more powerful engines, but are equipped basically the same, meaning loaded, with the exception of a navigation system, which is optional. 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.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2008 Subaru Outback trim features all-wheel drive. All the 2.5i models are powered by a 2.5-liter, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine rated for 175 hp and 169 pound-feet of torque. Base and 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.
The Outback XT Limited boasts 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. The luxury-themed 3.0 R L.L. Bean features a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine. Known as the H6, this engine is capable of 245 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque, and is matched solely to the automatic transmission.
Antilock brakes, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and anti-whiplash front head restraints are standard on every 2008 Subaru Outback. Stability control is available on all trims except the base and 2.5i. In NHTSA crash tests, the Outback earned a perfect five stars across the board for its protection in frontal- and side-impact collisions.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Outback's cabin has an uncluttered and classy ambience thanks to simple controls, tasteful faux wood and aluminum accents and high build quality. Seat comfort is generally good, though adults may find the backseat tight on legroom and shoulder room compared to roomier wagons and crossovers. Car seats are easy to install, as that rear seat is broad and flat. With the rear seats up there is 33.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity, flip them down and 66 cubic feet are available.
Something of a cross between a billy goat and a luxury sedan, the 2008 Subaru Outback provides sure-footed composure on trails and snowy roads while keeping its occupants comfy. The base engine is just adequate while the turbo four and H6 provide rapid acceleration and stronger passing and merging performance. Unfortunately, the Outback's automatic transmissions still leave much to be desired, as they sap power by upshifting too early. Automatic-equipped XT Limited and 3.0 R L.L. Bean models fare a little better in this regard, as their SI-Drive system offers the Sport Sharp mode that quickens throttle response and delays upshifts.