Full 2010 Subaru Outback Review
What's New for 2010
The 2010 Subaru Outback has been fully redesigned. Changes include more interior room, more dramatic styling and new features.
While the Subaru Outback may be named after the flat, desert center of Australia, its past iterations have been most popular in the snowy or more mountainous regions of the United States. Here, the Outback's standard all-wheel drive, rugged nature and general outdoorsy vibe fit right in with typical active lifestyles. However, wagons of any sort have limited appeal in other parts of the country, so Subaru has completely redesigned the 2010 Outback to draw in customers more inclined toward bigger crossovers. The results are mixed.
For one, the 2010 Subaru Outback is much bigger in nearly every dimension. While it may not look that much larger in pictures, park it next to a conventional car or wagon and you'll immediately notice the difference. The Outback is now quite similar to the Toyota Venza, which also bridges the gap between crossover and wagon. Not only does this provide a more visual distinction from traditionally uncool wagons, but it also provides a significant improvement in rear seat space (4 additional inches of legroom) and cargo capacity. Even bigger stuff can be strapped to the roof using the standard, adjustable roof rails that easily swing inward to serve double-duty as cross rails. It's a nifty feature that cuts down on the wind noise and air drag that go along with fixed cross rails.
Unfortunately, this added size means that the Outback has lost the relatively nimble handling that previously set it apart from traditional crossovers. It now feels tall and tippy when driving around corners, and numb steering doesn't instill much confidence either when heading through winding mountain passes. An increase in ground clearance (to 8.7 inches) has improved the Outback's ability to make its way through a field or rutted road undamaged, but for daily use the Outback is no more nimble on-road than the average crossover.
Despite its increased dimensions, the Outback has gained little weight thanks to the added use of lightweight, high-tensile steel. This makes life easier for the four- and six-cylinder "boxer" engines. The four has been mildly revised to improve responsiveness and is matched to a newly optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) that boosts fuel economy. The six-cylinder has also been revised, going from 3.0 liters to 3.6 liters, with horsepower increasing to 256 and torque going up to 247 pound-feet. Unfortunately, a turbocharged engine is no longer available -- the previous Outback's turbo engine helped compensate for the typical power drop in high-altitude environments.
For Subaru loyalists, the 2010 Subaru Outback provides more space and utility to aid in their day-to-day adventures. However, the side effects are disappointing handling, awkward exterior styling and the lack of a mountain-friendly turbo model. General-interest shoppers, meanwhile, will discover a vehicle that is less wagonlike than before and more like the countless crossovers now saturating the market. For either group, we're not sure there's enough of a differentiation between the Outback and Subaru's own Forester, even though the former has a higher-quality interior, a quieter and more comfortable ride, and a more carlike driving position. As such, we'd suggest driving the Forester, as well as the more elegant Toyota Venza. Wagons like the Volvo V50 and VW Passat could also be worth a look if you think the Outback has grown too big for its britches.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Subaru Outback is a five-passenger wagon available in six trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 3.6R, 3.6R Premium and 3.6R Limited.
The base 2.5i comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, adjustable roof rails and cross bars, full power accessories, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, height-adjustable driver seat and a four-speaker stereo with CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The 2.5i Premium adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, rear privacy glass, eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Optional on the Premium is an All-Weather package that adds heated side mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer and heated front seats. The optional Harman Kardon stereo includes nine speakers, a six-CD changer and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. The 2.5i Limited adds the All-Weather package, Harman Kardon stereo, CVT, a four-way power passenger seat, dual-zone automatic climate control and leather upholstery.
Equipment for the Outback 3.6R trim levels generally mirrors that of the respective 2.5i trims. Optional on all but the base 2.5i is a sunroof. Optional on the Limited models is a navigation system packaged with a back-up camera.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2010 Subaru Outback has all-wheel drive. The 2.5i models come with a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (aka "boxer" or "flat") four-cylinder engine that produces 170 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard on the base and Premium trims, while a CVT is optional on those trims and standard on the Limited. Manual-override shift paddles are included.
In performance testing, the 2.5i with a manual went from zero to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds. With the automatic, EPA estimates are 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. Sticking with the manual drops those estimates to 19/27/22.
The 3.6R models come with a 3.6-liter flat-6 good for 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic with shift paddles is the only transmission available. EPA fuel estimates are 18/25/20.
The 2010 Subaru Outback comes standard with stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In brake testing, a base 2.5i came to a stop from 60 mph in a longer-than-average 133 feet.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the Outback scored the top rating of "Good" in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Outback's increased size is noticed most inside. With the rear seat lowered, cargo capacity tops out at 71.3 cubic feet, which is a bit bigger than the Ford Edge, Subaru Forester and Toyota Venza. The enlarged backseat makes it a more compelling family vehicle, with plenty of legroom and a reclining seatback that make road trips friendlier for those riding in the back.
Compared to the last Outback, the 2010 edition seems to have slid a bit in terms of interior materials quality and design. There are a few more hard plastic trim pieces than before, but they are at least low sheen and fit well together. One notable improvement is simpler, easier-to-use audio and climate controls found on models without the optional navigation system. With navigation, the dash is notably different and is dominated by a large LCD screen. The dual-zone climate control system that comes with the Limited trim levels is naturally a bit more complicated than the manual unit, but the buttons are bigger and better differentiated than before.
With its increased size and concerted effort to be more of an SUV than a wagon, the 2010 Subaru Outback has lost much of its agility advantage over crossovers. Noticeable body roll and numb steering reduce the driver's confidence when tackling a winding road. The Outback used to be fun to drive -- this one isn't. However, ride quality is better than ever, sopping up bumps in a sophisticated manner that provides comfort without complete isolation.
The base 2.5-liter engine provides a punchy power delivery around town whether attached to the pleasant manual gearbox or optional CVT, which is one of the best on the market. If you're frequently carrying lots of passengers or cargo, the 3.6-liter six-cylinder is the better choice, and its increased torque makes it a bit more responsive than last year's smaller 3.0-liter engine.