Full 2013 Subaru Outback Review
What's New for 2013
The 2013 Subaru Outback features a restyled front end, a more efficient four-cylinder engine, an updated continuously variable transmission (CVT) and revised suspension tuning. New features include keyless ignition/entry and newly available adaptive cruise control with a collision avoidance system.
Even if the 2013 Subaru Outback never spent a second in the Australian expanse that inspired its name, it's reassuring to know that knotty, rutted desert roads pose minimal challenge for Subaru's crossover wagon. With 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive, the Outback is a rugged adventure vehicle that can negotiate dirt roads and snowed-in streets with confidence, even if rugged off-roading is out of the question.
A new, more fuel-efficient four-cylinder "boxer" engine helps the Outback straddle the line between wanderlust and daily frugality. When paired with Subaru's second-generation CVT, the four-cylinder Outback returns 30 highway mpg while still offering a civilized ride and the ability to get off the highway when inspiration strikes. Those seeking a little more power or wanting to maximize the Outback's 3,000-pound towing ability can opt for the gutsier six-cylinder model.
Inside the cabin, the Outback offers an attractive and spacious interior, with plenty of head- and legroom, even in the backseat. A generous cargo hold and clever roof rack with fold-out crossbars and numerous dealer-installed attachments make the Outback a practical alternative to larger crossovers. Few vehicles match the Outback when it comes to carrying around the large leisure items that come along with an active, outdoor lifestyle.
For 2013, the Subaru Outback also offers the optional EyeSight system, which uses two windshield-mounted cameras to adjust the adaptive cruise control, alert the driver if the car wanders out of its lane and apply braking to avoid or minimize a collision. This is safety technology we're accustomed to seeing from premium automakers, and its presence among more mainstream brands is encouraging.
Just as the real Australian Outback is a desolate place, the market for beefed-up, midsize all-wheel-drive wagons is pretty thin. The 2013 Toyota Venza is very similar in terms of size, capacity and power, but it's not off-road-oriented like the Outback. The 2013 Audi Allroad and 2013 Volvo XC70 are meant to travel off pavement, but cost significantly more. Beyond that, you're left with taller and less capable crossover SUVs like the Chevrolet Equinox and Honda CR-V. Ultimately, the Outback occupies its own space and comes highly recommended.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Subaru Outback is a five-passenger wagon offered in five trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 3.6R and 3.6R Limited. The numbers refer to engine displacement.
The base 2.5i comes with 16-inch steel wheels, roof rack rails with fold-out crossbars, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split-folding and reclining rear seats, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, an iPod/USB audio interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
The 2.5i Premium model adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, rear privacy glass, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a cargo cover and a six-speaker sound system.
Opting for the 2.5i Premium's available All-Weather package gets you heated front seats, heated mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer, while the Power Moonroof package adds a sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a rearview camera. A nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with satellite radio and HD radio is also available.
Stepping up to the 2.5i Limited includes dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery and wood trim, a four-way power passenger seat, the contents of the All-Weather package, an upgraded gauge cluster and the Harman Kardon sound system. Options for the Limited include the EyeSight driver assist system, the Power Moonroof package and a Special Appearance package that includes unique exterior styling details, keyless ignition/entry, driver seat memory functions and perforated leather upholstery. A touchscreen navigation system with voice controls and a rearview camera is also available for the Limited.
Standard and optional equipment for the 3.6R models follow those of the 2.5i trim levels.
Powertrains and Performance
The all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback is offered with two different engines. The 2.5i models use a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed ("boxer") four-cylinder that produces 173 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque, and comes paired with either a six-speed manual or a CVT.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the four-cylinder with the CVT are 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. Models with the six-speed manual return 21/28/24. Both results are pretty good for an all-wheel-drive four-cylinder crossover.
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. In Edmunds performance testing, the 3.6R accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, a strong time for a six-cylinder-powered crossover or wagon. However, EPA fuel economy is below average at 18/25/20.
The 2013 Subaru Outback comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags that cover both rows. Subaru's new EyeSight system bundles safety technologies including adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning and sway warning. The EyeSight system uses two cameras mounted inside the upper edge of the windshield, which Subaru says reduces the potential for damage compared to conventional radar systems mounted in the front bumper. EyeSight can also detect pedestrians and is capable of braking the Outback if the driver takes no evasive action.
In Edmunds brake testing, the 3.6R managed to stop from 60 mph in 126 feet, a bit longer than average for this type of vehicle. The 2.5i Premium took a few feet longer still.
In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's testing, the Outback earned a top rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
With its redesign a few years ago, the Subaru Outback traded a smaller footprint and snappy handling for size. Enthusiast drivers lamented the Outback's growth, but it meant more room inside, especially for rear seat passengers who now enjoy excellent headroom and legroom. The seatbacks also recline for greater comfort.
Behind those rear seats you find 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Folding them down yields 71.3 cubic feet, volume on par with larger crossovers like the Honda CR-V. The Outback is actually even more spacious than midsize crossovers like the Ford Edge. For anything that doesn't fit inside, the Outback features clever roof rails that swing inward when needed to become crossbars for attaching bikes, snowboards, etc. Loading them up there is made easier by the Outback's shorter overall height.
While the interior of the 2013 Subaru Outback is nice enough, especially on the upper trim levels, too much hard plastic reminds us of the car's utility roots. Most buyers will find the 2.5i Premium trim level worth springing for, especially to get the optional Harman Kardon audio system. The base 2.5i model's standard four-speaker stereo simply sounds tinny and flat.
The Outback's last growth spurt opened up plenty of interior room, but lost the previous generation's quick handling in the process. Last year's Outback was saddled with significant body roll and vague steering feel. For 2013, Subaru says it stiffened the car's structure and retuned the suspension to reduce body roll and improve handling. We've yet to fully test the new Outback to see if these changes did the trick.
Of course, standard all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance are really what the Outback is about. Light off-roading is the idea here, and the Outback can traverse narrow, deeply rutted trails that would intimidate other crossovers. The 2013 Subaru Outback is not quite a trail-rated, rock-crawling Jeep, but carrying kayaks and mountain bikes off the beaten path is a cinch.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivers both adequate performance and respectable fuel economy with either the six-speed manual or the excellent CVT automatic. It's a solid choice if you need to balance fuel economy with utility. Folks who regularly travel hills and grades, or frequently haul full loads of passengers, cargo or both would be better served by the six-cylinder.