Subaru designed the Outback wagon with North America in mind and gave it an Australian name. The Outback packages many SUV advantages without many of the associated drawbacks. Sharing much of its structure and engineering with Subaru's midsize Legacy sedan, the Outback's wagon body style adds a significant measure of utility. Like most Subarus, the Outback comes standard with all-wheel drive and uses a raised suspension for better ground clearance. The Outback's particular interior design and exterior styling details say SUV, but it's a vehicle that charts its own course.
The Outback's origins date back to the 1990s. As SUVs were rocketing in popularity, Subaru was looking to leverage the ability of its all-wheel-drive system. But while Subaru had all-wheel drive, it didn't have an SUV to put it under. So it took what it did have, the second-generation Legacy station wagon, raised its suspension, added some body cladding and two-tone paint, and created the 1995 Legacy Outback. Hiring Australian actor Paul Hogan, then hugely popular because of his massively popular Crocodile Dundee movie, as a spokesperson proved a masterstroke and the Legacy Outback, labeled a "sport-utility wagon," became Subaru's first breakout sales hit.
The company has, over five generations, wisely resisted screwing much with the winning Outback formula since then. By the turn of the 21st century the Outback name was better known than the Legacy moniker. So the Legacy part was dropped and the Outback became its own model.
Current Subaru Outback
The fifth-generation, five-passenger Subaru Outback was introduced for the 2015 model year. It is still a tall wagon available in six separate trims: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, 3.6R Limited and 3.6R Touring. The 2.5i trims are powered by a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The 3.6R models use a six-cylinder engine with 256 hp that also feeds a CVT.
Even the base Outback 2.5i comes with roof rails, full power accessories, cruise control, a tilt-telescoping steering column, a height-adjustable driver seat, Bluetooth phone-audio and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, an iPod/USB audio interface and an auxiliary audio jack. Higher trims add expected things such as alloy wheels, foglights, powered and heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and a Harman Kardon sound system. Options on the Limited are a navigation system (with a rearview camera) and a collision avoidance system that includes various driver aids such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.
In reviews, Edmunds has commented favorably about the current Outback's roomy interior, comfortable ride and excellent visibility. Performance with the base four-cylinder is just adequate and provides respectable fuel economy. Of course, if you want some zip or regularly drive over and across steep hills, the 3.6-liter engine is significantly more powerful. Overall, the Subaru Outback is a solid choice for utility-minded families — particularly those who need all-wheel drive and want something that doesn't look like yet another crossover.
Used Subaru Outback Models
The current generation Subaru Outback was introduced for the 2015 model year. It was slightly larger than the previous model and featured a much improved interior, new electronic safety features and a standard CVT. In 2016, the Outback got additional functionality for the Starlink onboard apps, an optional lane departure intervention system and retuned shocks for Limited models. In 2017, a high-end Touring model was added to the lineup along with two new features for the Eyesight safety system: reverse automatic braking and automatic high beams.
The fourth-generation Subaru Outback was introduced for 2010. More so than previous versions, this Outback was designed to appeal to more mainstream buyers who otherwise may have overlooked the Subaru for roomier crossover SUVs. Wider, longer and taller than previous Outbacks, the increased interior space allowed the Outback to compete with midsize crossovers.
The older Outback's 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder engine made less power (170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet), was less fuel-efficient and had a less refined CVT for 2.5 models compared to today's versions. Handling wasn't as agile either, as these Outbacks lack today's tweaks that promote quicker steering response and flatter cornering. Furthermore, they can't be had with keyless ignition/entry and the collision avoidance system that are both optional on today's Outback Limited.
The third-generation Outback was produced from 2005 to 2009 and, though it was smaller still, has developed and sustained a sort of cult following. There are Outback owners of this generation that would never think of trading their vehicles in for a new one.
If you're shopping for a used model of this generation, there are a few items to note. An Outback sedan was offered from 2005 to 2007. Additionally, all Outbacks prior to the 2008 model year lacked a telescoping steering wheel and auxiliary audio jack. Horsepower figures were lowered for 2007 due to revised testing standards, but actual performance was not affected.
When the original Subaru Outback model debuted in 1995, it was little more than a trim package on the Legacy wagon. Now it is its own thing. Not really merely a jacked-up wagon and something not quite a crossover. And for lots of buyers, nothing could be more perfect.