2015 Subaru Outback Road Test

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2015 Subaru Outback SUV

(2.5L 4-cyl. AWD CVT Automatic)
  • 2015 Subaru Outback

    2015 Subaru Outback

    What's that thing barreling through Oregon's high desert? It's the fifth-generation 2015 Subaru Outback. | June 30, 2014

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Quick Summary
The Outback is the off-road-worthy wagon version of Subaru's Legacy sedan. This new fifth generation of the Outback impresses with not just an abundance of utility, but a newfound level of class within the spacious cabin. It's a cold-weather climate favorite with virtually no true competition at its price point. And, unlike crossover SUVs, the Outback drives exactly like what it is: a station wagon.

2015 Subaru Outback

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What Is It?
The redesigned 2015 Subaru Outback is a midsize crossover wagon. It has a higher stance than most cars to give it some off-road ability, yet it has a lower roof height than most SUVs. All-wheel drive is standard on all models.

For this redesign the wheelbase was extended by 0.2 inch, with overall length up by 0.6 inch and width increased by 0.7 inch versus the outgoing car. It's similar in size to a Volvo XC70, but about 10 inches longer than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. Although the 2015 Subaru Outback hasn't grown much on the outside, overall interior volume has increased from 105.4 cubic feet to 108.1.

Two horizontally opposed engines (also known as "boxers") are available, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 175 horsepower (with a hold-onto-your-hat, 2-hp increase) and a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder rated at 256 hp. Both are paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with standard steering-wheel paddle shifters.

2015 Subaru Outback

What Body Styles and Trim Levels Does It Come in?
The base model is called the 2.5i and it starts at $25,745 (including $850 destination), $400 more than last year's model. The next step up is the volume-selling 2.5i Premium that begins at $27,845 (a $200 increase). It features upgrades like dual-zone climate control, a 10-way power driver seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 7-inch high-resolution infotainment screen, satellite radio, dual USB ports and a six-speaker audio system.

The 2.5i Limited begins at $30,845 It adds perforated leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, a 12-speaker/576-watt Harman Kardon sound system, heated rear seats, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and a power tailgate. At the top of the range is the six-cylinder 3.6R Limited starting at $33,845.

2015 Subaru Outback

How Does It Drive?
The previous-generation Outback had lost some of its nimble on-road nature. This version has a stiffer body and revised suspension tuning that has made it a competent handling wagon once again. The new electric-assist power steering is precise, has a quicker ratio and gives excellent driver feedback through corners. The plentiful suspension travel endows the Outback with a plush ride, and we found the tires to be quiet even over coarse surfaces. We did notice some extra wind rustling from the new door-mounted side mirrors, however.

No one will call the 2.5i Premium "quick," and Subaru's claimed 0-60-mph time of 9.3 seconds confirms that feeling. It has just enough power for safe highway merging, but load the thing up with people and gear and it's going to feel overwhelmed, especially if elevation gets thrown into the equation.

The CVT is well tuned, and by that we mean Subaru engineers designed in stepped shifts that nearly simulate the upshifting of a traditional automatic transmission. Press the gas pedal to the floor and, yes, the engine will wind out to around 5,500 rpm. But unlike most CVTs it won't just hold the tachometer at max revs; it will instead "shift" to drop the revs back down just slightly. The six-cylinder gives more of the punch we crave, and if you live in a mountainous area you're going to want this larger, super-smooth engine.

Although the Outback is more of a station wagon than it is a tall and airy SUV, slim pillars give it superb outward visibility. The rear/side triangle-ish windows help greatly with lane changes, and a back-up camera with parking lines comes standard on all trim levels.

2015 Subaru Outback

How Good Is It Off-Road?
In a word, capable. The suspension soaks up hard hits with ease, and the 8.7 inches of ground clearance is impressive. Our drive route offered plenty of thick forest trails with big bumps, loose rocks, mud, sand and gravel roads. The speed with which you can bound over ruts without the Outback skittering off the intended path is admirable. It remained composed at all times, and surprisingly quiet, despite the harsh environment. And while the steering gave great feedback on pavement, somehow it was kickback-free off-road, even over unforgiving embedded rock sections.

We only scraped the front of the car once during all of our off-roading, at the bottom of a steep downhill while testing the Hill Descent control, a new standard feature for 2015. It's activated via the X-Mode button on the center console and uses engine braking to keep the Outback at a set speed on steep, loose or rocky downhills. Press the button, point the Outback downhill and as soon as you let off the brake, whatever speed you were going as you did so instantly becomes the set speed. All you need to do is steer, and it takes care of the rest. You can increase the set pace simply by pressing the gas pedal, or decrease it by stepping on the brake pedal.

2015 Subaru Outback

How Is the Interior Comfort?
The new front seats have generous padding with excellent all-day comfort, but long-legged folks might wish for a bit more thigh support. We quite liked the soft, grippy cloth seats in the 2.5i Premium, not to mention the ultra-plush armrests.

Even though the Outback is more of a carlike wagon than a top-heavy SUV, there's plenty of headroom up front and room for driver and passenger to spread out. But it's the rear seat that will surprise you. Not so much because of the abundant head- and legroom but rather it's the plentiful hiproom that stands out. Three adults can sit comfortably in back with no complaints.

There are 35.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, which grows to 73.3 with the seatbacks dropped. New for this year are rear-seat fold-down levers in the cargo area.

Pretty much the entire interior is new, with a large center stack with easy-to-use controls. The climate control system is a mix of large buttons and knobs. We were only able to sample the higher-trim, 7-inch touchscreen (not the standard 6.2-incher), which gives you the ability to zoom in and out on the nav screen map by squeezing your fingers together or apart. There's also a handy cell phone slot on the center console.

Subaru upped the interior refinement ante with more soft-touch materials, most noticeably the entire dash and the window sills. Trim pieces have been improved, too, with a textured fake aluminum on lower models and surprisingly convincing fake wood on higher versions.

How Safe Is It?
All 2015 Subaru Outbacks come with a rearview camera that can be viewed via the center stack screen. All cars also get new front-seat cushion airbags to hold occupants in place in a front collision, instead of the traditional knee airbags. A new rollover sensor will deploy the side curtain airbags if it senses a rollover is about to happen.

Top-level Limited trims come with blind spot detection, lane change assist (detects fast-approaching vehicles in adjacent lanes) and rear cross-traffic alert. A new version of Subaru's Eyesight crash-mitigation system is also available on Premium and Limited cars. Via two cameras mounted high on the windshield, it integrates adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane-departure warning and has the ability to bring the car to a full stop if the driver does not react to an impending accident. The cameras have been improved with 40 percent greater range and viewing angle, yet are 15 percent smaller than before.

Neither the government nor IIHS have yet to publish official crash test data on the 2015 Subaru Outback.

What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
The revised CVT, wind-resistance-reducing active grille shutters and new-for-2015 electric-assist power steering all contribute to an improved EPA combined driving rating of 28 mpg (25 city/33 highway) on four-cylinder models. The previous car was rated at 26 mpg combined (21 city/28 highway).

The six-cylinder 3.6R Limited is rated to deliver 22 mpg in combined driving (20 city/27 highway).

What Are Its Closest Competitors?
With its roomy passenger and cargo space, mountain goat off-road ability and reasonable price, there are few direct competitors for the Outback.

The Honda CR-V stands as a good crossover SUV alternative to the Outback at a similar price with just slightly less interior room, but it isn't as capable off-road.

Similar situation with the Toyota RAV4: It's a fairly rugged SUV with solid performance, but as with the CR-V, it just can't dig through the dirt like the Outback.

The Volvo XC70 is similar to the Outback in that it rides on a raised suspension for light off-roading and has a similar footprint. It gives the option of a 300-hp turbocharged engine, yet even the lower-horsepower front-wheel-drive base XC70 costs more than the top-of-the-line Outback 3.6R Limited.

The Audi Allroad, like the Volvo XC70 and Subaru Outback, has a taller ride height and looks the off-road part. But not only does it offer significantly less passenger and cargo space than the Subaru, it costs thousands more.

Why Should You Consider This Car?
This is the go-anywhere, do-anything wagon for those who aren't sold on the idea of high-riding SUVs. It's comfortable, quiet, gets competitive fuel mileage, handles well on pavement and can scurry along dirt roads with pretty much anything this side of a Jeep or Land Rover.

Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Although the CVT has been improved to act more like a traditional automatic transmission, the four-cylinder/CVT combo might prove too wimpy for some. The six-cylinder offers enthusiast-acceptable oomph, but fuel economy is far from stellar. If you live in the Northeast or Northwest, you'll see an Outback on every other corner. Maybe you don't want that.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.


  • oldparnell oldparnell Posts:

    Driving in the SNOW is this car's strength, dirt is just a bonus.

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    Subaru is magical with suspension tuning. My 2007 Forester soaked up Chicago pot holes and frost heaves like they weren't even there. But the 2.5's output is just pathetic. Subaru needs to either find another 25 hp and some decent torque or (preferrably) they need to dispense with this engine and install a smaller displacement turbo engine. I suppose a possible alternative would be to offer the Forester turbo/WRX engine as a mid-level upgrade between the NA 2.5 and the V6.

  • i've driven both this and Volvo XC70, and i'd take the Volvo any day of the week: more powerful available engine, more comfort, no CVT engine.

  • redgeminipa redgeminipa Posts:

    > @eurocarlover19 said: > i've driven both this and Volvo XC70, and i'd take the Volvo any day of the week: more powerful available engine, more comfort, no CVT **transmission**. Considering the Volvo XC70 starts just $1,400 less (for FWD) than a fully loaded 3.6R Limited, cost comes into the equation. The 3.6 has less power, but it's also a little easier at the pump with better fuel economy, which will be a factor for many (on regular gas vs. premium). The Volvo you're mentioning also starts at $4,000 more than the loaded 3.6R Limited. As for the AWD systems, I haven't experienced any new Volvos, but my '01 Outback VDC was definitely much more capable than my '04 Volvo XC90 when it came to snow. I'm not saying the Volvo wasn't good, but the Subaru was much better. On top of that, the Subaru system is much more reliable over the long haul, and much cheaper to fix if something does go wrong (after the warranty runs out). Overall, when you factor in the value equation with durability, I'll take a Subaru.

  • telekaster telekaster Posts:

    This is partially why people get confused about the Outback. Car people know it's a wagon version of the Legacy, but... Your gallery of the 2015 is titled, "2015 Subaru Outback SUV". Your Road test says, "...unlike crossover SUVs, the Outback drives exactly like what it is: a station wagon." So which is it?

  • telekaster telekaster Posts:

    > @bankerdanny said: > Subaru is magical with suspension tuning. My 2007 Forester soaked up Chicago pot holes and frost heaves like they weren't even there. But the 2.5's output is just pathetic. Subaru needs to either find another 25 hp and some decent torque or (preferrably) they need to dispense with this engine and install a smaller displacement turbo engine. I suppose a possible alternative would be to offer the Forester turbo/WRX engine as a mid-level upgrade between the NA 2.5 and the V6. If your Forester was an automatic, it could also have something to do with the 4AT they used to use. While the CVT isn't exciting, it makes good use of the 2.5's power band more effectively.

  • fotoplaydan fotoplaydan Posts:

    Why wasn't the Toyota Venza listed as a competitor? It seems to be a better competitor than the RAV4, CRV, or any other compact SUV.

  • walkerokr walkerokr Posts:

    The Toyota Venza would be a viable competitor if it got better hwy mpg than 26, whereas the Subaru Outback gets 33 hwy. Also, the price of the 2014 base AWD Venza LE is around $27,000, vs the base 2015 Subaru Outback is $25000, plus you are getting AWD as standard on the Outback. Towing Cap of Venza is 1000lbs vs Outbacks's 2700. Venza Trunk: 70.2 cu.ft. vs Outback's 73.3cu.ft. Max Ground Clearance: Venza: 8.1 inches vs Outback 8.7. Fuel Capacity: Venza 17.7gal vs Outback 18.5gal. The comparison has been made and the Venza has been weighed and found wanting. > @fotoplaydan said: > Why wasn't the Toyota Venza listed as a competitor? It seems to be a better competitor than the RAV4, CRV, or any other compact SUV.

  • xira1 xira1 Posts:

    The Venza has TERRIBLE rear visibility-- it feels like you are sitting in a dark cave. The Volvo XC70 and Subaru Outback offer some of the best available visibility (with the Xc70 being better than the Outback).

  • halotree halotree Posts:

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- New to this, and never posted anything on a forum, so I hope I'm doing this correctly, and on the correct forum topic. I was going to purchase a 2015 Outback, but I noticed a problem that will keep me from buying, unless Subaru addresses the problem. Looking for others who have noticed the problem, and are willing to contact Subaru. There is a problem with glare on one of the dashboard displays. My friend in Utah bought a new 2015 Outback the first week they arrived. He said he absolutely loves it. I drove one, and decided that I would also be purchasing one soon. Then, after owning it a couple weeks my friend called me back to let me know that he had noticed a major design flaw. Above the ac/heater controls is a thin display read out. The material produces severe glare with whatever light is entering the vehicle, making it extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible to see the display. The display is not recessed or hooded, so it's not protected at all from the light. The brighter it is out, the worse it is. And if it's bright out, you need sunglasses. This makes it worse because the sunglasses make the readout even dimmer. The display is not bright enough to cut through the glare, and the display brightness cannot be increased. As you move the car to different angles, the problem improves and worsens, depending on the angle that light is entering the car. The problem is worse on sunny days, and is worse early in the day, and late in the day, when the sun shines more directly into the car. I love this car in every other way, and really want one, but I'm not going to spend a lot of money on a car that has such a big problem. You need to be able to see your displays at all times. Not just when it's night time, or when you're at just the right angle. This could be fixed by recessing and/or hooding the display (like it was on previous generation). Also, the display material needs to be made of an anti-glare material. And finally, they need to increase the intensity of the display itself. The dealership said that they have already had other complaints about this problem. They said that if it's not a safety issue, it's harder to get it fixed, but said that if enough people contact Subaru about it, then they just might fix it, especially if it's being discussed on forums, which may turn people away from buying. So, if you own a 2015 Outback, or are looking to purchase one, PLEASE contact Subaru, and let them know that we want this problem addressed. I REALLY want a new Outback, so I'm hoping that Subaru will fix the problem. Please help to spread this around (this forum, and other online forums). Thanks everybody.

  • jeffm5 jeffm5 Posts:

    Regarding the post about the display above the ac/heater controls that is at times washed out - What information is shown on this display? Is it info. about the HVAC system or something else? Thanks

  • dcm61 dcm61 Posts:

    Time, HVAC, Outside Temperature

  • jeffm5 jeffm5 Posts:

    I currently own a 2010 Outback which has a similar HVAC display. It's approx. 6"x1" and is located low on the center stack. I've owned a 2000 & 2004 Forester & recall a similar HVAC display and location. Under certain lighting conditions, these displays do wash out. And they are more difficult to see with sunglasses on. Now everyone has to judge how much of a problem this is. For me, it's just an annoyance, certainly not a deal breaker. I agree with Subaru that this is not a safety issue. I'd suggest you check with your friend in about 2 months to see whether he has learned to live with this. I've been satisfied with my 3 Subaru's, although I'd like to see them throw a turbocharger in the 4 cylinder, as all of them have been slow to accelerate from a dead stop. But when it comes time to replace my Outback, possibly next year, the current Outback will be at the top of my list. Good luck to you.

  • nippononly nippononly Posts:

    This year they dropped the available stick, so it's off my list. Luckily the XV Crosstrek still has one available.

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