2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited Review
by Randy Stern
You know how popular a vehicle is until you see more than three of them in any given traffic jam.
In the case of this vehicle, it’s very true. Here in the Twin Cities, I could count more than five at any given mile of slow traffic. It could be a new one or something from a few generations back. There is twenty years of this lifted, ruggedized station wagon to Rolodex through.
It is perhaps one of the biggest hits in Subaru’s history. This, next to the WRX and WRX STi and the Forester, made plenty of coin for Fuji Heavy Industries and engaged generations of loyal customers who would never drive anything else.
The idea of the Subaru Outback has been around way before 1995. The original concept of this dates back to 1975, when Subaru of America introduced a four-wheel drive station wagon to sell along with the front-drive Leone (they were called DL, GL and so forth here). For years, Subaru always offered a four-wheel drive wagon – a friend of farmers, ski enthusiasts and outdoors types. In 1995, the Outback was added as a model off of the Legacy station wagon. At that point, you might say the rest is history.
The Outback is a very popular vehicle. In fact, according to various sources online, the Outback is the best-selling vehicles in the country, and the number one seller in a few states like Washington and Colorado. Because it attracts those with active lifestyles, desire capability and practicality to the fullest and would think nothing of going a bit off-road for adventure. Sounds like a niche vehicle with a loyal following to me.
But, is the Subaru Outback all that’s cracked up to be? Let’s roll the tape.
The genesis of the current Outback is from its mid-sized product – the Legacy. Both vehicles were revised for the 2015 model year, with extended A-pillar areas and some tweaks on the outside. For the Outback, these tweaks made the wagon more aggressive for off-road duty. The 8.7-inch ground clearance raises the profile, but the Legacy-based wagon body makes the Outback more accessible, compared to a typical crossover/SUV.
The Outback does offer some advantages over a typical crossover/SUV. Overall height means not having to worry about fitting into smaller spaces – including garages. The doors have good width and open angle and the tailgate is perfect for tall people to load things without stooping down. Outbacks are distinctive enough to be familiar sights anywhere – even in places where the big SUV rule the school drop-off and the grocery store parking lot.
When I think of the Outback, two words come to mind: rugged and friendly. That is how one should approach this ready-to-do-anything wagon.
It is a different story inside. The “friendly” part is there, but the 2.5i Limited model being tested here is also “refined.” The leather seats are huge and quite comfortable. Though they would need some more bolstering to keep the body locked in those seats. Yet, the leather feels just fine and one could get a driving position that would fit for competent driving. Rear seat room is very good. A small transmission tunnel is in the way for a middle passenger, but you can fit three average-sized adults just fine. Even with the moonroof, headroom is no problem. Of course, not only do the split 60/40 rear backrests fold, they also recline.
Instrumentation is fine and easily readable. The center TFT screen offers trip, fuel economy and active safety feature information. The controls are fine, especially on the steering wheel. However, some switches are below the instrument panel’s main line and are hard to reach for taller drivers. The console set up is also just fine with the gear lever towards the driver and two key off-road function switches available at ready. Not to mention, this Limited has paddle shifters to make ratio changes quicker through the Continuously Variable Transmission.
Housed in the middle of the instrument panel is Starlink, Subaru’s infotainment system. It is a good one that has some advantages over some current systems in its competitors. For one, there is no need for a mobile app to facilitate the function of Pandora and Aha to be played back via Starlink. The set-up to pair Bluetooth devices is quite easy and quick. The navigation screen is quite easy to read and very accurate. There is something interesting, however – you only get six presets for SiriusXM. I could use more, but for most drivers, that might be OK. Sound for the Starlink system is filtered through twelve wonderful Harman Kardon speakers.
People think that crossovers and SUVs are great for the cargo space they offer. However, the space behind the rear seat is equal to the average popular compact crossover – 35.5 cubic feet. What you lose in cargo height, you gain in length. That also comes into play when you fold down the rear seat, providing a maximum of 73.3 cubic feet of cargo space.
You know it is a Subaru when you open up the hood. The 2.5liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine is without peers. However, there is 175 horsepower with 174 pound-feet of torque available, it is enough to manage 3,633 pounds of wagon and tow up to 2,700 pounds. The aforementioned continuously variable transmission, called Lineartronic, connects the boxer engine to its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. In all, it does the job nicely – both on the road and off of it. By “off-road,” I mean gravel and dirt tracks away from the tarmac. That is where the Outback is truly exceptional. It also helps to have a feature called X-Mode, which adjusts the AWD system to conditions, including managing steep declines through the Hill Descent Control. On its own, the Outback can handle a lot of situations that it encounters every day.
By having an 8.7-inch ground clearance, you expect the ride to be managed well with such a long wheel travel. You do hear the tires on bumps and potholes, while the suspension does it best to absorb these hazards. Even the suspension works well on absorbing gravel surfaces. The Bridgestone Dueler tires equipped on the Outback may look more like on-road crossover tires, but they really do a good job gripping on non-tarmac surfaces. However, handling is on the soft side. Some lean is felt in the corners, if pushed. Otherwise, the Outback is very poised through any maneuver.
Steering action is also quite good. Turns are fine and it has a decent turning radius for tight spots. On-center feel is exact and steering wheel weight is balanced. Braking’s also quite good. It does linear and smooth stops in both normal and panic situations.
On this 2.5i Limited tester is Subaru’s EyeSight system. This optical camera/sensor system enables a suite of active safety features that work extremely well on the Outback. The 2.5i Limited has the EyeSight connected to a good active cruise control system, pre-collision braking, vehicle sway warning, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring systems. The rearview camera on the Starlink screen also offers blind spot warnings on it, along with rear cross-traffic warnings. As a result to this emphasis on safety systems that truly work well, the Outback won the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s “Top Safety Pick +” award and earned a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration based on various crash testing methodologies.
If there is a way to settle the argument between getting a typical compact crossover/SUV and getting the Subaru Outback, take a look at fuel economy. The 24.7MPG average may seem low, but most of its compact crossover/SUV rivals actually fall in this fuel economy range.
The Outback lineup is priced from $24,895. This 2.5i Limited tester came with a sticker price of $34,207. If you think about it, this is about where most similarly equipped mainstream compact crossover/SUVs are priced.
Why This Ride?
– It is exactly what it advertises: A capable and practical station wagon. It is made for active lifestyles that want to camp, climb rocks, raft down a rough river and everything else you drive it to.
– While it is the champion of active, outdoors enthusiasts, it is also the champion of families and couples that do a lot together. It also fits some individuals that need a spacious all-wheel drive wagon to tool around – that is more car-like than a typical crossover. That is the essence of the Subaru Outback – looking at it as a station wagon than a crossover.
– Here’s some numbers for you: Subaru sold over 138,000 Outbacks in 2014. Last month, they sold over 12,000 units. In all, the Outback is Subaru’s second best-selling model in the USA – behind the Forester. Their owners love them and Subaru loves them back. Now, why would you not want to be a part of that? Ask the happy Outback owners in the states of Washington, Colorado, Maine…across the country?
Photos by Randy Stern