A decade later, CUVs are among the fastest-growing vehicle segments, and have proven popular with a wide range of consumers who want the look of an SUV but the ride comfort and handling performance of a car. But in today’s CUV marketplace, the originals have been overlooked. Both the Outback and RAV4 got saddled with a “chick car” label, and neither have been blinking brightly on consumer radar screens, though Sube loyalists in the Northeast, Northwest, and Rocky Mountains continue buying them in droves.
Subaru redesigned the Outback for 2005, adding muscle under the hood in the form of a turbocharged engine impervious to elevation changes, and moving the car upscale in terms of design and features. Commensurate with going upscale, the price tag rose, too. We’ve driven the six-cylinder L.L. Bean Edition and the turbocharged 2.5 XT and come away thinking that the Outback has lost it charm and appeal in the move toward entry luxury and $30K+ sticker prices. But a recent stint behind the wheel of a 2006 Outback 2.5i Limited with the standard engine, a manual shifter, and a price well south of the $30,000 threshold proved that one of our favorite weather-beaters is still a charmer. And the best news is that our favorite Subaru Outback is also the least expensive one.