I have been shopping the compact midsize crossover segment forever and have driven a fair number of the contenders in test drives or rentals. I finally pulled the trigger on an Outback 2.5i Limited.
The Outback may seem big, but it's very close to CR-V and RAV4 in size. It's an inch or two less tall and about 8 inches longer than cute-ute crossovers, with about 2 inches more in wheelbase. I think this gives the car a much more composed ride. Maneuverability is awesome.
Subarus have character that many cars lack. The 2.5i 4-cyl boxer is very reasonable in terms of power delivery, but it isn't your garden-variety 4 cylinder...it's quite smooth in operation though, especially w/CVT.
I love how easy it is to modulate the throttle...no torque-on/torque-off feel like you get with so many long-stroke fours.
Handling is very stable. There is some understeer on entry, but AWD really controls it nicely...
I like the engine note and don't mind the mechanical soundtrack in the cabin. It's no Honda...you're definitely going to hear the engine work. But the CVT works seamlessly and shifts instantaneously. The shift paddles are fun to play with too.
The front seats are very comfortable and the driving position is perfect.
The dash layout is honestly nothing special, but everything works fine for me. I haven't had any issues finding or activating common controls.
Even the upgraded Harmon Kardon sound system in my Limited sounds pretty thin. There is a lot of interior volume to fill, and the stereo is not really up to it.
The radio and HVAC controls are not exactly state of the art...I imagine that the new 2015 model will address issues like this.
I'd say the overall ride setup is pretty good, but there is a bit of impact harshness.
Steering is a wee bit overboosted. The wheel is good on-center though and the car tracks well.
Road and wind noise in the cabin is reasonable for a tall vehicle but the upcoming improvements in the 2015 model will probably be noteworthy. It looks like there'll be some work on engine NVH as well.
Update...5 months later.
I'd buy this car again in a heartbeat...still a heck of a lot of fun to drive, very easy going road manners, and the gas mileage is right on the money.
I'm still amazed at how maneuverable this car is. Nobody really dwells on this aspect of the Outback, but it is just so easy to point around in parking lots, do U-turns and so forth. The steering is also quite good...just the right amount of weight and feedback. I retract the "overboosted" comment from the 'suggested improvements'.
Finally, I love the fact that this car isn't overpowered. It makes it more fun to drive somehow. The four cylinder was absolutely the right choice.