Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited – 2008 Review: On the dash of our 2008 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited was a small cubby behind a little door, about where you’d find the navigation screen on more expensive models. Wait…more expensive than our nearly $30,000 test car? The nav’s absence – along with many other missing features usually common at this price – is part of this Subaru’s problem. Once a quirky take on the whole crossover concept, today the Outback has a tough time making a case for itself against competitors like the Honda CR-V, living up to its “Limited” nomenclature in ways Subaru probably didn’t intend.
What We Drove
Our test car was a 2008 Subaru Outback 2.5i with the Limited package. An Outback with the automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive is $25,240 including the $645 destination charge. Our car’s Limited and VDC package added leather seating, a monstrous moonroof, upgraded audio system, dual-zone climate control, titanium-look trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and, obviously, Subaru’s Vehicle Stability Control. The package added $3,100 to the price. Individual options included a $212 cargo management system, $456 XM satellite radio and $304 worth of auto-dimming mirror and security package. The total came to $29,512.
As the base model, the 2.5i is equipped with Subaru’s base engine, a 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder mated to a willing four-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. With more than 3,400 pounds to haul around, the little 170-horsepower engine has its work cut out for it, and that, coupled with the transmission, probably accounts for the disappointing 19.8 mpg we got. Initial torque delivery is good, but it falls off quickly and you soon discover that maybe making the stretch to the turbocharged XT may have been worth the extra payment. It never feels strained, but it’s never very sprightly, either.
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2008 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited – Ride and Handling
Handling; Off Road
The Subaru Outback is aimed for those who do mild off-road traveling, and it does a good job. The raised ride height and relatively long suspension travel soak up bumps and ruts with ease. It won’t tackle much more than a fire road, and even then our test car’s pavement-only tires scrabbled a bit for traction, but overall it’s no wonder that Outbacks are everywhere in snow country. The only problem was that the front suspension clunked on occasion when the wheel was near left or right lock. Nothing was loose or broken, but it’s disquieting when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Handling; On Road
You’d think that a wagon that’s capable off road wouldn’t be much good on. You’d be wrong. The Outback’s ride is superb, and you can probably thank that long suspension travel for it. If anything, it’s a little on the soft side; some of us thought that it could benefit from slightly stiffer damping since the Outback tends to bob slightly after large undulations. The only real drawback is handling, where the Outback leans heavily in turns thanks to its high center of gravity. It grips well, but if you want a Subaru that lets you explore paved canyon roads, check out the turbocharged Legacy GT.
Fun to Drive
Let’s be clear: the crossover segment isn’t boiling over with fun, enthusiast-type cars. However, the Outback’s combination of a taut chassis and off-road capability add a bit of zest to the platform. The fact that it’s lower overall than many of its crossover competitors helps as well. Still, it’s all relative, and Subaru’s own Legacy GT line is aimed at those who like the looks of the car but want zippy handling. Besides, with only 170 horsepower to haul its mass around, fun is in short supply no matter what.
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2008 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited – Comfort
The front seat of the Outback is very comfortable, although it took at least one of us a while to find a sweet spot. The cushions are well designed, and there’s ample support in most directions. However, the Outback’s cabin is narrow compared to some of its crossover competition, and can feel cramped. There’s good head room though, the tilt/telescope wheel helps drivers find a good position, and the soft-touch door tops are a treat. Note that some shorter drivers may find that the center arm rest is too far back to be used comfortably, and closing the sunshade can also be a stretch.
We think of wagons as roomy and comfortable family cars, but the Subaru Outback’s rear seat is surprisingly tight. There’s decent head room in spite of the large sunroof, but leg room was downright cramped, with at least one passenger’s knees jammed against the driver’s seatback. It’s also narrow, so although three people could conceivably be put in the back seat, you’d better run away from them fast once you come to a stop. On a clever note, Subaru has put the rear tether anchor for child seats on the roof, so adding Junior’s booster chair in the rear won’t ruin your cargo capacity.
Aside from a little wind noise around the outside mirrors and the occasional whisper from the roof rack, the Outback proved itself to be a quiet cruiser, one of the quietest in this class. Although the engine’s noise gets intrusive at full throttle, when you’re just wafting along it’s virtually silent. The tire selection is clearly intended to maximize this silence, since they weren’t generating the best traction in our off-road route.
The Subaru Outback benefits from thin pillars all around and low head restraints on the rear seats. The upshot is very good visibility. The hood slopes away quickly giving you good sightlines, but also leaving just enough in view so that you can judge where the corners of the car are. About our only complaint is that we’d like larger outside mirrors, but it’s a minor quibble.