The 2017 Subaru Outback 3.6R you see here was shot in early December in Montreal. Notice anything wrong with that picture?
Yellow hay. What the hell, right? To put things into perspective for my southern friends, when I was growing up here in Québec 20 years ago, at this time of the year, I was racing my little brother down a snowy hill on my three-ski sled over about 4 inches of ice-solid compacted snow. The world has definitely changed.
Which is why I was rather disappointed to be handed over the keys to a lifted all-wheel drive wagon during what looks up to be yet another mild winter in Canada. Subaru didn’t even bother fitting its Outback with winter tires. There’s something very disconcerting about that. In my book, like that three-ski sled I had when I was a kid, Subarus are built to go play in the snow.
Still, it could be worse. I could be reviewing a crossover.
(Full disclosure: Subaru Canada needed me to review the 2017 Outback so badly, they gave me one for a week with a tank full of gas, a trunk loaded with Timbits, and two large double doubles sitting in the cup holders. So polite, us Canadians.)
That’s one thing the Outback isn’t: a crossover. Isn’t that refreshing? It must be said, wagons are becoming a rare breed these days, especially ones fitted with a symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Even rarer are the wagons powered by a six-cylinder boxer engine.
I’ll get back to that one later. But my first visual impression when eyeing out the Outback is a sense that Subaru is screaming loud and clear to the entire world that you don’t need a mall-finder, err, I mean crossover, to haul your kids or your crap.
A car will do just fine. Hence, the 2017 Subaru Outback.
At the same time, I’m sorry, but I can’t say this is an attractive vehicle. But then, are there any attractive Subarus on the market right now? The BRZ doesn’t count, it’s a Toyota design. I do like the whole utility aspect of the Outback though. I mean, this is essentially a lifted Legacy with plastic cladding, roof rails “skid plates”, and oversized wheels. It’s the fortified wagon version of a normal car. And that’s pretty cool.
The Outback also does a fantastic job of fooling people into believing it’s actually a crossover. Which probably explains why 150,000 Outbacks were sold in the U.S. in 2015. Whatever works for selling more wagons to the masses, right?
But yeah, at least the Outback’s styling is honest. I like honest cars. And Subaru isn’t trying to put on any airs with this vehicle. They didn’t take a Legacy platform and re-engineered it into some hideous “performance” crossover contraption with a silly “targeted at millennials” name composed of V’s and X’s. Instead, they’re selling us a big brown wagon humbly called the Outback.
Seriously, Subaru’s press kit for this thing could have read “What?” in big bold letters across all pages and it still would have made total sense.
You Can Actually Drive it
What I mean by that is that the Outback drives like a car, because it is. This also means it’s actually fun to drive. Now, I’m well aware this isn’t sporty by any means. But bear with me here. During the same time I was driving this Outback, I was also driving a 2017 Acura MDX for Clavey’s Corner. Getting in the Outback after the MDX was a revelation as to how important it is to build a utility vehicle out of an actual car.
Not a car platform. A car.
The Outback’s chassis feels solid, and nimble. Like a car. And because it’s fitted with a low-profile boxer engine, it always feels solidly planted to the ground. The electrically assisted steering also feels accurate as weight builds linearly the faster you go. There’s no actual feedback though, I mean, this isn’t a WRX, but the Outback feels much more alive than any crossover.
And ironically, as carlike as it feels, the Outback also kind of feels like a little truck; with excessive body motions during hard braking, and a lot of body roll due to its top-heavy nature and light-truck grade 18-inch wheel and tire combination. I must say though, there’s something rather enjoyable about driving a car with truckish characteristics. Driving the Outback feels like driving a fortified family sedan ready to tackle on a post-apocalyptic decaying world filled with... snow, right?
No? No snow in this rotting future?
What’s the R for?
The R doesn’t mean anything. Seriously, I dug through the entire Subaru spec sheet and press kit. Nothing is mentioned about the R.
Power in the 2017 Subaru Outback 3.6R comes from a 3.6-liter horizontally opposed boxer engine—of course, because this is a Subaru. It’s good for a civilized and adequate 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available is a CVT (urgh), but that transmission is exclusive to the 6-cylinder (or H6 for Subie geeks).
Subaru calls this a “high-torque-capacity Lineartronic CVT”, which offers a “manual mode” with six fixed ratios that can be shifted via steering-mounted paddle shifters. Uh, okay.
I can say right away that the 3.6 is a welcome power upgrade over the four-banger, making for a, shall we say, swift wagon—but not a fast one by any means. Although I’m proud to announce that your fortified Legacy can be ordered with a stick and three pedals in four-cylinder trims (in Canada only), the six-cylinder finally gives the Outback some well deserved go-power. In all honesty, it’s quite a fantastic engine, one which delivers smooth and linear power throughout the entire rev range, with the distinctive boxer growl.
I also love how it instantly wakes up the moment you give it some juice—until the CVT comes in to ruin the party.
Okay, Subaru, before you go nuts on what I just wrote, your system isn’t bad. It’s tolerable. But it remains a CVT. These days, except for the ones on Hondas (I don’t know why but theirs are shockingly decent), I can’t find one CVT transmission that’s actually enjoyable to use.
And, I’m sorry, but when you’re going through the trouble of mimicking actual gears and giving your transmission a fancy name like “high-torque-capacity Lineartronic”; isn’t it time you reconsider the whole idea? Why not just drop a short ratio automatic in this thing?
It’s not like the Outback is fuel efficient, even with the CVT’s fancy fake gearing, I couldn’t get anything better than a 23 mpg average.
Anyway, to Subaru’s credit, they’ve done a good enough job of eliminating the traditional rubber band effect usually attributable to continuously variable transmissions. Gun the throttle in the Outback 3.6R and the transmission keeps RPMs away from the redline, keeping the engine in the meat of its power band, rather than leaving it up high by the rev limiter until your ears bleed.
And considering most Outback owners will use their wagons to haul around kids, pets, and camping or fishing gear casually through the SNOW-COVERED (AHEM) countryside, this CVT/six-cylinder combo works well enough in my book.
It’ll Haul Your Junk in Brown
The area where I was most impressed with the Outback was its interior. My tester, of course, was the full-fat Premier trim (called Touring in the U.S.), which is the only trim level that can be had in the Brilliant Brown Pearl you see here.
I respect carmakers that actually have the balls to name their paint jobs as they are: brown.
Premier also means your very brown Outback will be fitted with wood grain and high-gloss black interior trim accents. My tester came dressed up in a oh-so-creamy Java brown leather interior which not only made the Outback’s interior stand out next to the Acura’s Spartan black cabin, but made it browner than a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar.
But it’s also the overall fit and finish of this updated Outback that really made an impression on me. I was expecting to find hard plastics and a dated design like in the BRZ, but no. This is a pleasing and very well put together cabin. It’s also roomy and comfortable in there.
The infotainment system is easy to get your head around, with basic controls being well laid out and quick to access. That screen also does a great job of not hanging onto your fingerprints. Overall, the cabin is clean and utilitarian, with quirky details sprinkled here and there such as the little LCD screen located inside the gauge cluster resembling something you’d find in a fighter jet, complete with a “lock-on” animation when the car senses an imminent collision.
And finally, the pièce de résistance: cargo space. With its rear seats folded flat, the Subaru Outback gives way to 73 cubic feet of cargo space. With the seats folded back up, there’s still 35 cubic feet left.
In comparison, the current Honda CR-V—the almighty, unkillable mothership of crossovers on which all other crossovers are benchmarked—offers 37 cubic feet of cargo space with its rear seats in place (the 2017 CR-V will offer 39).
So you see, you don’t need a crossover to carry your crap around. A car will do just fine.
Prices for a 2017 Subaru Outback will start at $25,645 for a 2.5L with a manual transmission. Climb to the top of the model range and your Outback will cost you $38,195 for the fully loaded Premier 3.6R you see here. And yes, all of that is in U.S. dollars. You’re welcome.
Premier also comes with the latest Subaru safety tech, such as the camera-based EyeSight system which offers an array of semi-autonomous gizmos such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, a collision mitigation system with automatic braking, and cross traffic monitoring.
The 2017 Subaru Outback 3.6R is all wagon for all people and all climates. There are no frills here, and that wasn’t the intention. This is as straight forward as a lifted two-box design wagon can be—and that’s precisely what I adore the most about this vehicle.
The existence of the Outback means there’s still hope in humanity and its relation to cars. It’s proof that we won’t let ourselves get flooded by soulless appliances on wheels that are good at everything but excel at nothing. We, the human race, still admire honest to goodness, humble products that don’t pretend to be something they’re not.
Just like we admire our seasons the way Mother Nature originally conceived them.