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Subaru Outback: The Ultimate Buyer's Guide

Illustration for article titled Subaru Outback: The Ultimate Buyer's Guide

A Subaru Outback is a solid option for people wanting the capability and cargo capacity of an SUV without the carbon footprint. What do you need to know before you buy a Subaru Outback? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you everything right here in the Ultimate Buyer’s Guide.

Subaru has been selling all-wheel drive adventure-wagons in the U.S. for the last 40 years. We all know Subaru for carrying families up and down snowy mountain roads, through rutted dirt trails and along gravel backroads with ease.

Symmetrical all-wheel drive, coupled with large interior volumes and good fuel economy has made Subi’s wagons the go-to cars for outdoorsmen who don’t want to deal with compromises of big, thirsty SUVs. The Outback’s prominence among outdoorsy-types becomes apparent with one trip to the rocky mountains, where there are more Outbacks on the roads than you ever knew existed.


And it makes sense. Few cars meld fuel economy, practicality and off-road capability quite like a Subaru Outback, even if it’s not the most exciting to drive on the road.

What It’s Like To Drive

Subaru has built plenty of exciting cars. Whipping wagons, even. The Outback is not one of them.

The only thing less exciting about the continuously-variable transmissioned Outback’s driving experience is the blocky dashboard, which pretty much looks the same as that hilariously oversized stereo your parents bought you in 1998.

But what the Outback lacks in character it makes up for in comfort and practicality. Except for an annoyingly sensitive throttle tip, it’s simply extremely easy to drive. An Outback has as much ground clearance as a coil-sprung Jeep Grand Cherokee with better ride quality and superior fuel economy. It has no problem swallowing four people and their camping gear. Add a roof rack and everybody can go skiing in relative luxury.


The Outback might not have a dedicated low-range gear, but with a meaty set of tires and “X-Mode;” which offers hill descent control and transfers power to the wheels with most resistance, the Outback’s off-road abilities will surprise most.

Another experience-changing option Outback drivers can enjoy is EyeSight; two forward-beaming cameras mounted at the top of the windshield. EyeSight will beep to remind you your eyes need to be on the road, but if you decide to ignore its warnings the system will go ahead and hit the brakes for you.


It is, quite literally, like having “an extra set of eyes every time you drive” as the commercial reports.

We tested it on the wet roads of wintry Vermont; with the system running, the car will beep, hit the brakes, and even push back on the gas pedal as you attempt to rear end somebody.


An Outback prioritizes practically in every possible sense, and that pretty much tells you all you need to know about what it’s like to drive. The vehicle’s not memorable, but the places it can get you will be.

What’s New About The 2016 Subaru Outback

Illustration for article titled Subaru Outback: The Ultimate Buyer's Guide

Subaru introduced their fifth generation Outback at the 2014 New York International Auto Show for the 2015 model year. Compared to its predecessor, it offered more interior volume, better fuel economy, a revised chassis, new looks inside and out, a new Torque Vectoring all-wheel drive system with X-mode, new driver-assist features and CVT transmissions on all variants.

The 2016 model year added Lane Keep Assist to the EyeSight Driver Assist Technology package, which now includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Pre-collision Braking and Lane Keep Assist. Otherwise the ‘16 model is very similar to the ‘15.


Powertrain Breakdown

Like all modern Subarus sans the BRZ, the Outback comes standard with all-wheel drive. Sending power to those wheels are two flat engines—a four cylinder and a six—both of which are mated to a CVT transmission.


Acceleration figures aren’t posted, but with 175 horsepower from the four-pot and 256 from the six, the 3,600 pound wagon will probably get to 60 MPH in the seven to nine second range. Not fast by any stretch.

2016 Subaru Outback Engine Options

EngineMax Horsepower (hp)Max Torque (lb-ft)
2.5L flat-four

175 @ 5800 rpm

174 @ 4000 rpm

3.6L flat-six

256 @ 6000 rpm

247 @ 4400 rpm

Fuel Economy Breakdown

Fuel economy is good, but not great.

The Volvo V60 Cross Country, with similar power figures as the 3.6-liter Outback, scores 23 MPG combined, while the 220 horsepower Audi Allroad manages 24, though that’s on premium unleaded. So the 3.6-liter Outback is competitive, but unspectacular.


The 2.5-liter, while a bit underpowered, does very well on the fuel economy front, scoring 28 MPG combined. A similarly powered Jeep Renegade can’t even score 24, and it’s much smaller and less practical.

2016 Subaru Outback Fuel Economy Ratings (City/Highway/Comb)

-2.5L flat-43.6L flat-six




Trim Level Breakdown

Illustration for article titled Subaru Outback: The Ultimate Buyer's Guide

The Subaru Outback comes in four trims: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited and 3.6R Limited.

All get electric power steering, 12.4-inch brake rotors up front clamped by dual-piston calipers and 11.8-inch vented rotors out back, squeezed by single-piston clampers. Suspension is a MacPherson Strut design up front and a double-wishbone setup in the rear.

  • 2.5i: Starts at $24,995. Notable standard features: 2.5-liter flat-four, CVT automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, 17-inch steel w heels with hubcaps, active grille shutters, electronic parking brake, hill descent control, Incline Start Assist, rearview camera, roof rails, automatic headlights, 6.2-inch touchscreen for STARLINK multimedia system, cloth upholstery, power mirrors. Notable options: remote engine start ($453).
  • 2.5i Premium: Starts at $27,395. Notable standard features over 2.5i: 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, seven-inch touchscreen with enhanced infotainment featuresl heated exterior mirrors, windshield wiper de-icer, 10-way power driver’s seat, six-speaker audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, body-color mirrors, unique interior lighting. Notable options: Moonroof Package, auto dimming rearview mirror and power rear gate ($1,695); Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking, Lane Departure and Sway warning, power rear gate, Blindspot Detection, integrated mirror turn signals, active fog lights & Rear Cross Traffic Alert ($1,695); Moonroof Package plus power rear gate and Navigation System ($2,295); Moonroof Package plus power rear gate, Navigation, EyeSight, Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert ($3,490); remote engine start ($453).
  • 2.5i Limited: Starts at $30,395. Notable standard features over 2.5i Premium: leather-trimmed seats, memory for driver’s seat, four-way power passenger seat, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear center console with A/C and heater duct, heated rear seats, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with 576W amplifier, integrated mirror turn signals, front bumper underguard, power rear gate with height memory, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist, unique damper tuning, woodgrain interior trim. Notable options: Moonroof Package with keyless access, push-button start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, navigation system with seven-inch touchscreen ($2,295); Moonroof Package with keyless access, push-button start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, navigation system with seven-inch touchscreen, adaptive Cruise Control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure and sway warnings ($3,090); remote engine start ($453).
  • 3.6R Limited: Starts at $33,395. Notable standard features over 2.5i Limited: 256-horsepower flat-six, dual stainless steel exhaust tips, HID headlights. Same options as 2.5i Limited.

Which One We’d Buy

For $25,000, the Outback base model gets to the core of the car’s purpose: affordable, practical transportation for people and stuff. 33 MPG makes the prospect even more enticing.


At a paltry 175 horsepower, you’ve really got to measure what your personal misery is worth. But the 3.6R Limited is much more expensive; a whole $9,000! You could buy a great used car for that.

The upmarket Outback offers about 40% more power than the four-cylinder, which is extremely significant. But if you’re not in a hurry, all the range-topping accessories like navigation and the moon roof are optional in the lower end of the lineup for thousands less.


It seems like the best value can be found in the 2.5i Premium. That gets you to a nice and large infotainment setup and makes options like Subaru’s EyeSight lanekeeping and collision mitigation tech, a moonroof and GPS available to you.

We’d probably pick up a $28,000 2.5i Premium and load it up with $3,490 worth of options to get a moonroof, navigation, power tailgate, EyeSight and blind spot detection. Slow, safe, and pretty much unstoppable.


[Build Your Own Subaru Outback]

Important Facts At A Glance:

MSRP: $24,995-$33,395 [2.5i-3.6R Limited] Top Speed: ~130 MPH (est)

Acceleration: ~7-9s to 60 [2.5L-3.6L (estimated)]

MPG: 20-25 city / 27-33 hwy / 22-28 combined [2.5L-3.6L]

Engines: 2.5-liter flat-four, 3.6-liter flat-six

Horsepower: 175-256 [2.5L-3.6L]

Torque: 174-247 lb-ft [2.5L-3.6L]

Max Advertised Towing Capacity: 2,700-3,000 [2.5L-3.6L]

Curb Weight: 3,593-3,814 [2.5i-3.5R Limited]

IIHS Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick +

Transmissions: CVT Automatic

Drivetrain Layout: Front Engine, AWD

Photo credit: Subaru


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Tom McParland

A few things...on paper the 2.5L is underpowered, but I have helped a ton of clients get deals on Outbacks and many of them are very happy with the 4-cyl. A few of them thought they wanted the 6 and after seeing the price difference, the lack of availability and test driving the four, they decided the smaller motor was plenty for their daily drive. The 6 is good, but only really necessary if you are towing stuff.

Also, and it kind of pains me to say this, but the Outback seems to be “the answer” for your average non-enthusiast in the way that the Miata is “the answer” for us. For almost every regular driving situation the Outback will fit. Want something practical, safe, family friendly, stylish, reliable, fuel efficient... the list goes on. All the boring shit that your average car buyer looks for, the Outback will do it.

It may not be as fun as my old ‘05 LGT manual, wagon, but this new Outback is probably one of the best cars you can buy...period.