Full 2009 Subaru Outback Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Subaru Outback is no longer available in L.L. Bean trim, but stability control is now standard across the lineup. Additionally, the 2.5i Special Edition makes its debut, and all models except for the base 2.5i receive an upgraded nine-speaker sound system.
The 2009 Subaru Outback has come a long way. A decade ago, Crocodile Dundee was serving as this jacked-up wagon's pitchman in a series of campy television commercials. Today, the Outback has moved decidedly upmarket, with refined exterior styling and a sleek interior layout that rivals that of some entry-level luxury cars. At heart, of course, the Outback remains a Subaru Legacy wagon on stilts, so its premium pretenses aren't entirely convincing. Nonetheless, the Outback offers a unique combination of good looks, SUV-grade ground clearance and a midsize car's handling characteristics -- as opposed to the supposedly "carlike handling" of 4,500-pound crossovers.
Of course, not many Outback owners are going to put those 8.4 inches of ground clearance to use -- but since the Legacy wagon is no longer sold in the U.S., the Outback's the only game in town if you want your midsize Subaru to hold more junk than what fits in a trunk. Happily, the Outback doesn't feel like it's teetering on tiptoes while cornering. Indeed, it feels very much like the Legacy sedan on which it's based, which means sharp steering, sure-footed grip and noticeable but easily managed body roll. Those Legacy roots also help keep curb weight down -- the Outback weighs in at approximately 3,350-3,600 pounds, depending on trim level. That's hundreds of pounds less than even the lightest crossover SUVs.
So what's not to like? Most glaringly, the lack of passenger capacity. There is no third-row seat, which is available on most crossovers, and the backseat is rather tight. The Outback may technically be a midsize wagon, but Subaru markets it as an SUV substitute -- and in terms of passenger accommodations, it doesn't measure up. Then there's the fuel economy, which isn't as high as you'd expect given the Outback's relatively light weight. In fact, if you go with either of the two optional engines -- the 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or the 3.0-liter six-cylinder -- your gas mileage will be squarely in crossover-SUV territory.
That said, the 2009 Subaru Outback has a lot going for it. All-wheel drive is standard, impressive power is available in 2.5 XT or 3.0 R trim, and it's among the safest cars on the road. It doesn't hurt that the Outback boasts unusually sophisticated styling for a midsize car. But we'd still recommend taking a look at competing wagons and crossovers as well, including the Volkswagen Passat wagon, Ford Taurus X, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander and Toyota Venza. Premium alternatives include the Saab 9-5 wagon, Volvo V70 and Volvo XC70.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Subaru Outback is a midsize wagon with standard AWD. There are five available trim levels: base 2.5i, 2.5i Special Edition, 2.5i Limited, 2.5 XT Limited and 3.0 R Limited.
Standard equipment on the base trim includes 16-inch steel wheels, roof rails, keyless entry, an outside temperature display, full power accessories, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning and a satellite-radio-ready audio system with a CD player and an auxiliary input jack. The 2.5i Special Edition adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a limited-slip rear differential, roof-rail crossbars, heated exterior mirrors, a power driver seat, front seat heaters, an upgraded 440-watt audio system and a 12-volt power outlet. The 2.5i Limited tacks on a dual-pane sunroof, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control and an in-dash six-CD changer.
The 2.5 XT Limited comes equipped with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine as well as the 2.5i Limited's roster of features, and adds a hood scoop, a three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel and a power front passenger seat with lumbar support. The 2.5 XT Limited also includes SI-Drive, which allows the driver to adjust the electronic throttle's responsiveness and -- if applicable -- the automatic transmission's shift points. The top-of-the-line 3.0 R Limited comes with a six-cylinder engine and adds faux wood accents, electroluminescent gauges and a steering wheel with leather and real mahogany trim.
A navigation system is optional on 2.5i Limited, 2.5 XT Limited and 3.0 R Limited models.
Powertrains and Performance
The AWD 2009 Subaru Outback has three available engines. The 2.5i models are powered by a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that puts out 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. The 2.5 XT Limited gets a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine good for 243 hp and 241 lb-ft of torque. Powering the 3.0 R Limited model is a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that generates 245 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque.
The 2.5i, 2.5i Special Edition and 2.5 XT Limited models come with either a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic; 2.5i Limited and 3.0 R Limited models are automatic-only.
EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 20 mpg city/26 highway and 22 combined for 2.5i models; 18 city/24 highway and 20 combined for 2.5 XT models; and 17 city/24 highway and 20 combined for the 3.0 R.
The 2009 Subaru Outback comes standard with antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and anti-whiplash front head restraints. In government crash tests, the Outback earned a perfect five stars across the board for 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 bigger 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 are 33.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Flip them down and 66 cubic feet are available.
If you're that rare Outback owner who elects to venture off-road, we'd recommend keeping to light-duty trails. Nonetheless, the 2009 Subaru Outback acquits itself surprisingly well in the grass and dirt, thanks to all those inches of ground clearance. On paved roads, the Outback does a pretty good impression of the now-discontinued Legacy wagon -- only enthusiastic drivers will detect the Outback's distinctly higher center of gravity. The base engine is just adequate, and it's a real snooze when paired with the slow-witted four-speed automatic. The 2.5 XT's turbocharged-4 is downright quick, however, and the 3.0 R's six-cylinder power plant provides broad-shouldered passing power.