Full 2012 Subaru Outback Review
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Subaru Outback's Premium trim level gets a new standard sound system with an iPod interface and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming capability. A new nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system is now part of the Premium model's options list.
Like most all-wheel-drive crossovers, the chances are pretty slim that many 2012 Subaru Outbacks will ever traverse places as wild and remote as its Australian namesake. That reality does nothing to diminish this rugged wagon's appeal, however.
Key to the Outback's allure are its 8.7 inches of ground clearance and surprisingly capable all-wheel-drive system. While it's not designed for serious off-roading, this midsize wagon will let you explore graded fire roads and snow-clogged streets with confidence. The fact that this capability is balanced with civilized ride and handling means the Outback is one of the more well-rounded family movers out there. Its strengths are completed by a pair of horizontally opposed engines — a fuel-efficient four-cylinder and a gutsy flat-6.
The Outback's attractive and spacious interior is another plus. There's plenty of head- and legroom even in the rear seat, while a generous cargo hold and a clever roof rack with fold-out crossbars make the Outback a practical alternative to larger crossovers. As if this weren't enough, strong crash test scores add a healthy dose of peace of mind.
If you're looking for a traditional wagon, there are surprisingly few alternatives. The Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is similarly priced, but considerably smaller. The Volvo XC70 is similarly sized, but considerably more expensive. Inevitably, the Outback will likely be cross-shopped against other popular crossovers, including the Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Honda CR-V and Nissan Murano. We think the 2012 Subaru Outback makes a strong case for itself against these, offering a great balance of utility, capability and refinement.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Subaru Outback is a five-passenger wagon that's offered in six trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 3.6R, 3.6 Premium and 3.6R Limited. The numbers refer to engine displacement.
The entry-level 2.5i's list of standard equipment includes 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, roof rack rails with fold-out crossbars, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split-folding and reclining rear seats, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. Options here include an Alloy Wheel package that includes 16-inch alloy wheels and foglights, and an All Weather package that adds heated front seats, heated mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer.
The 2.5i Premium model gets you a number of desirable extras, including 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, body-color mirrors, rear privacy glass, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a cargo cover, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming capability and a six-speaker sound system with an iPod/USB audio interface. Available options include the All-Weather package and a Power Moonroof package that includes (beyond the obvious) a rearview camera. Models with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) can also be had with a nine-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system with a 4.3-inch LCD screen, satellite radio and HD radio.
Step up to the 2.5i Limited and you get the CVT automatic standard, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery and wood trim, a four-way power passenger seat, the contents of the All-Weather package and the above-mentioned Harman Kardon audio system. The options list here is short, consisting of the Power Moonroof package and a navigation system with an 8-inch display, voice controls and a rearview camera.
The standard and optional equipment for the 3.6R models are very similar to those of the corresponding 2.5i trim levels. There are a few exceptions, though, as all 3.6R models get a six-cylinder engine, larger brakes and a five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The base 3.6R also differs from the base 2.5i by adding 17-inch alloy wheels, a cargo cover and rear privacy glass.
Powertrains and Performance
The all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback is offered with one of two different engines. Under the hood of 2.5i models is a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed ("boxer") four-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a CVT. EPA fuel economy estimates for this engine are 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined with the CVT and 19/27/22 with the manual -- on par for all-wheel-drive crossovers. In Edmunds performance testing, the 2.5i with the automatic went from zero to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds, which is average for a four-cylinder crossover. Sticking with the manual knocks that time down to 9.4 seconds.
Outback 3.6R versions come with a 3.6-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder good for 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic with shift paddles is the only transmission offered here. In Edmunds performance testing, the 3.6R hit 60 mph in 7.3 seconds -- a strong time for a six-cylinder-powered crossover or wagon. EPA fuel economy estimates for this powertrain are 18/25/20 -- also average.
The 2012 Subaru Outback comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags that cover both rows. In brake testing, a base 2.5i model came to a stop from 60 mph in a longer-than-average 130 feet. The 3.6R and its larger brakes managed a better 126 feet.
In government crash testing, the Outback earned an overall rating of four stars out of a possible five, with four stars for overall frontal crash protection and four stars for overall side crash protection. It also achieved the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's top rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Though the interior of the 2012 Subaru Outback is attractive enough, especially on upper trim levels, the use of hard plastics detracts from the overall effect. It's nicer than Subaru's similarly priced Forester, however. Audio and climate controls on lower trim levels are straightforward and intuitive, but the controls on models equipped with the optional navigation system are less so. Most buyers will likely find it's worth springing for the 2.5i Premium trim level -- or especially the optional Harman Kardon audio system -- as the sound quality of the base 2.5i model's standard four-speaker stereo is poor.
Like most Americans, the Subaru Outback has grown in size in recent years. That means more room for people inside, especially in the backseat where headroom and legroom are both excellent. The seatbacks also recline for greater comfort. There are 34.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind those rear seats and 71.3 cubic feet with them folded down, numbers on par with the biggest "compact" crossovers like the Honda CR-V and actually more spacious than midsizers like the Ford Edge.
While the Outback's last big growth spurt paid dividends in terms of interior room, the previous generation's nimble handling was largely lost in the transformation. Handling is hampered by significant body roll and vague steering feel, and we can't say it's much better than its compact crossover competitors. Still, the Outback feels more carlike when behind the wheel, and scores high in terms of offering a comfortable ride and a quiet cabin.
All-wheel drive is standard, and with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, light off-roading is possible. This, in addition to the Subaru's rigid structure and well-insulated steering, makes it easy to traverse narrow, deeply rutted trails from which crossovers like the Nissan Murano would cower. A rock-crawler the 2012 Subaru Outback is not, but delivering kayaks and mountain bikes off the beaten path is a cinch.
As far as choosing between the two available engines, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivers both adequate performance and decent fuel economy with either the six-speed manual or the excellent CVT automatic. That said, the 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine still makes sense for folks who regularly travel hilly country or frequently haul full loads of passengers, cargo or both.