Road TestRoad Test New England is rarely sunny and warm in January. Unfortunately, when we test drove the 2006 Subaru Outback, the Cape Cod region had no snow, no clouds, and nobody wearing winter coats.
Normally, New England in January is the best time and place to test drive a Subaru Outback, but the week we had our test car the weather was sunny and mild, with temperatures nearing 60 degrees on Cape Cod. So rather than slosh through the snow, we played in puddles on the dirt roads that wind through the woods. Our 2006 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited was equipped with a five-speed manual transmission and was painted a lovely Atlantic Blue Pearl with a Taupe leather interior.
Subaru’s normally-aspirated boxer engine is a real gem, especially connected to the five-speed manual. Don’t let the horsepower rating fool you, this car gets off the line quick and features a delightful engine grumble and vibration as the revs climb. The manual transmission features positive, solid clutch engagement and while the stick could row with more precision, it feels tough and durable under your hand. The only trouble with the Outback’s characteristic engine note is that it smothers Subaru’s luxury aspirations for the car, and that’s fine with me. But the transmission definitely needs a sixth gear. At 80 mph, this car tachs around 3,500 rpm, and the steady drone from behind the firewall is taxing during longer trips. We averaged 25.6 mpg in mostly highway driving, but during city travels we didn’t go easy on the gas. And with its sizable 16.9-gallon fuel tank, the Outback features a realistic range of 400 miles, too.
Given the pleasing powertrain, it’s too bad about the Outback’s steering and suspension, which have lost the sharp, communicative nature of Subes past. Our test car felt soft and wallowy at times, disconnected from the road in an effort to impart a luxury ride quality. But when you hit a bump that the suspension doesn’t quickly absorb and isolate the impact from the cabin, you get a hint of how fun the Outback could be to drive if only it wasn’t trying to speak through a mouthful of marbles. Nevertheless, the Subaru Outback handles capably, and the brakes are effective pieces of equipment, exhibiting excellent pedal feel and response.