OverviewOverview Subaru sells many different versions of the Outback, but the 2.5i Limited model we drove is our favorite for its blend of value, performance, and luxury.
Subaru sells multiple versions of the Subaru Outback, most in station wagon form with a single sedan-based model and a Sport edition that is a butched-up Impreza 2.5TS wagon. To create an Outback, Subaru takes the donor Legacy or Impreza, adds a raised suspension for added ground clearance, and then decks it out in unique trim.
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll limit this overview to the Outbacks that are based on the Legacy Wagon. Like all Subarus, the Outback is equipped with all-wheel-drive. Models with a manual transmission get Subaru’s Continuous AWD, which delivers power to the wheels in a 50/50 split front and rear. When wheel slippage is detected, this system will automatically reapportion power to the wheels that are not slipping to gain maximum traction. Outback 2.5i models with the optional four-speed automatic get Subaru’s Active AWD, which continually varies the amount of power and torque flowing to the wheels depending on wheel slip and vehicle speed. A third system, called VTD AWD, is paired with the five-speed automatic on the 2.5XT and 3.0R versions, and it splits power 45/55 front to rear for a sportier feel, redistributing power as necessary when the wheels slip.
The base Outback is the $25,420 2.5i (all prices include a $625 destination charge), equipped with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, horizontally-opposed boxer-style engine and a five-speed manual transmission. The engine makes 175 horsepower and 169 lb.-ft. of torque, but it doesn’t feel sluggish unless you saddle it with the optional four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, tilt steering wheel, floor mats, cruise control, a 120-watt stereo with CD player, a trip computer, and air conditioning. Of course, power windows, locks, and mirrors are included in the base price, along with keyless entry. And if you doubt Subaru’s intent to battle Old Man Winter with the Outback, check out the standard four-stage heated front seats, heated side mirrors, and windshield wiper de-icer. Safety gear includes dual-stage front, side-impact, and side-curtain airbags, plus active front head restraints, and seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters. Subaru does not offer a stability control system on any Outback except the top-shelf model, and an automatic transmission is the only factory option. If you want to deck your Outback out with accessories, see your Subaru dealer.
If you’d like a luxury-themed Outback 2.5i, spring for the leather-lined $28,220 Limited model which also includes body-color door handles and side mirrors, a panoramic sunroof, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an in-dash six-disc CD changer, and dual-zone automatic climate control.
If straight-line performance is your thing, you might wish to investigate the Outback 2.5XT. This model is equipped with a 250-horsepower version of the same turbocharged 2.5-liter motor found in Subaru’s critically-acclaimed WRX sports sedan and wagon, and sends 250 lb.-ft. of torque to all four wheels. The price tag is steeper to pay for the added acceleration, but the $29,220 XT also includes a dual-mass flywheel, turn signals that are integrated with the side mirrors, sport seats up front with four-way power adjustment for the passenger, a rear seat armrest, and special electroluminescent gauges. Options for the 2.5XT include a touch-screen navigation system, a five-speed automatic transmission, and a $2,400 Limited Package with leather upholstery and a panoramic sunroof.
If refined power delivery is important to you, try the $29,620 Outback 3.0R and its six-cylinder boxer engine which develops 250 horsepower and 219 lb.-ft. of torque. The main reason to choose the 3.0R over the standard Outback 2.5i is its upgraded engine and five-speed automatic transmission, because the only other equipment you’ll get over the base model is body-color mirrors and door handles, integrated turn signals in the side mirrors, a rear center armrest, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an in-dash CD changer, a tire pressure monitoring system, and dual-zone climate control.
Luxury lovers will want to check out the $33,120 Outback 3.0R L.L. Bean Edition or the $36,320 3.0R VDC Limited model. These cars include all the trimmings, and the VDC is the only version to get stability and traction control. The L.L. Bean Edition includes a panoramic sunroof, power front passenger’s seat, a wood-and-leather MOMO steering wheel, two-tone leather upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a compass, and audio controls on the steering wheel. The only option for the L.L. Bean Edition is a touch-screen navigation system. The 3.0R VDC ditches the two-tone leather for the standard single-tone hides, and inexplicably erases the auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass from the equipment list. But it does get a premium audio system with a subwoofer and MP3 player, the navigation system, and a slick multi-function screen as part of the price of entry.