Before there was the iconic WRX lineup of Subaru sporting vehicles, this once very practical brand of vehicles made its name with the Subaru Outback. Over the course of multiple generations it has grown in popularity, size and utility and there is no doubt the 2011 Subaru Outback 3.6R is the best of the breed. But according to some Americans there is still some confusion as to where the Subaru Outback comes from given its misleading name. Yes, dear readers, there are a number of Americans out there who think the Subaru Outback is an Australian car.
For the record, Subaru is owned by Fuji Heavy Industries which is a Japanese firm and the Outback is built here in the United States (Indiana to be precise) at the first auto plant to ever put out zero landfill waste. So it’s really a Japanese/American hybrid built in one of the “greenest” plants in the world. So while we fear most Americans think “Australian” steak house and not Australian Desert when they hear the term Outback this should put an end to such foolishness once and for all.
Or should it? Despite constantly setting the voice on the navigation system to “U.S. Male,” the gentleman giving the directions always did so with a, you guessed it, an Australian accent. Now, our tester may have just been possessed with an electrical issue or Subaru is playing into American’s own misconceptions about the brand. So which is it Subaru? Was this just a vehicle fault or are you messing with America’s own Geographic stupidity? A mystery to be sure.
Well, the best way to describe the outside of the 2011 Subaru Outback 3.6R is very, very butch. This thing looks like it could single handedly tear down your back deck and rebuild it in an afternoon. The extra stout front grille, aggressive side cladding and angry headlamps give you the impression that the Outback, were it a person, wouldn’t so much talk to you as grunt a lot.
But the 2011 Subaru Outback 3.6R wouldn’t need to be a wagon of many words because its elevated ride height and chunky dimensions all speak leagues about how tough and durable these wagons really are. They are built to withstand rock strewn dirt roads and offer up all of the the all-wheel drive traction that 85% of new vehicle buyers would ever need. Yes, in a wagon. It may not be sexy like a 2011 Audi A6 Quattro wagon but it also costs half as much.
Besides the somewhat obnoxious Australian accent, we found the center mounted navigation screen to be annoyingly controlling and difficult to use. We have heard of navigators that won’t let you input an address before but why can’t the driver change the song on their iPod while in motion? Some of us can do two things at once and even the Volvo S60 isn’t this nanny state with its electronic controls. And that car won’t let you run over your philandering husband should that need ever arise in your life. Okay, we understand the navigation controls being turned off when a car is in motion (even if we don’t like it) but cutting off music controls is taking it one step too far. In other words, skip the navigation option.
Our fully loaded 2011 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited model came with leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, a 440/Watt Harmon Kardon 9-speaker audio with impressive sound (and far better than the 4-speaker unit you get is less models), heated seats, side mirrors and windshield de-icer, XM, dual zone climate control and a semi-annoying electronic parking brake switch that sounds like the Millenium Falcon’s landing gear going up whenever you turn it off. Don’t act like you don’t know which sound we are talking about. Whether or not the noise is cool to you depends, of course, on your point of view and how often you have been an attendee at San Diego’s Comic-Con convention.
For all that the price is a more reasonable $31,495 but once you add the rather unnecessary $2,995 for the option package which adds the aforementioned Aussie navigator, power moonroof, USB port (should be standard now Subaru!), a back-up camera and an upgraded 10-disc audio changer. Who listens to CD’s anymore Subaru? Especially ten at once when you have to buy the obnoxious navigation system to access your iPod.
Driving Impressions and Safety
To our tastes, the model with the 2.5 liter and CVT and good for gas but don’t aid in affording much get up and go or driving excitement. But as a practical choice, the 2.5 Outback does make sense. The 2.5 liter averages up to 31 miles per gallon highway while the 3.6 liter model tested here returns an EPA estimated 18 city/25 highway. We averaged 19.6 gallons over the course of a week but we would always take the 3.6 over the 2.5 anyways. We are just impractical like that.
We here at Autobytel.com were also seduced by the inimitable growl of the 3.6 liter Horizontally Opposed 6-Cylinder engine which shares a unique design with only one car—the Porsche 911. It’s quite uncanny but this Outback with this motor unleashes a delicious bark from the motor that does bring to mind Porsche but thanks to the low center of gravity afforded by this “flat” engine, handling is impressive for a vehicle with such an elevated ride height. Make no mistake, however, the lower riding Legacy 3.6R handles better and feels more like a sports car than the more utilitarian Outback.
While the brakes are a bit grabby on first introduction you soon get used to them and realize that they are just really powerful. You can’t fault them for being eager, now can you. One place where the Outback 3.6R wipes the floor with any compact SUV is in steering feel and its overall feeling of being fun to drive. It does roll a bit in corners due to its elevated ride height but it’s never to the extent that it will make you want to slow down. Yes, dear readers, this 3.6 liter V6 is a very bad influence and can get this wagon up to speeds you would never try in a Nissan Rogue.
The 2011 Subaru Outback is a “Top Safety Pick” from the IIHS and as this is a utilitarian family vehicle, we decided to interview Sarah Harless Singer who has owned five Subarus and is currently driving a 2011 Outback 2.5i Premium to haul around her husband, two kids and two dogs. See, you don’t need that Chevy Tahoe and considering she just moved to Colorado the full-time all-wheel drive will definitely come in handy.
Here is what our Subaru Outback expert had to say, “I love the safety features/rating of the car. They are the primary reason we bought it. Our kids deserve the best. I have owned 5 Subarus (yet I still don’t own a pair of Birkenstocks so I don’t fit the stereotype) and I feel secure in their long term reliability. No matter the weather, I know the car will perform and won’t let me down ever.”
In this section, Sarah does comment a bit on the difference between the 2.5 liter 4-cylinder in her car and the character of the 3.6 liter 6-cylinder. “The real beauty of the the Subie is in ice, snow, rain...nobody can beat it. I always feel safe and secure and know my car will outperform the majority of others on the road. I like the idea that the 2.5i is efficient and a PZEV but my husband Tim feels the engine is a little annoying because it seems to hesitate. Lastly, there is plenty of room for both carseats as well as another person in the backseat. Tim (who is 6'3) fits perfectly, as does all of our baby gear and 2 large dogs.”
The Subaru Outback has always been one of the most utilitarian and smartly engineered family vehicles on the road. There really is nothing it can’t do and while we prefer the rip-snorting growl of the 3.6 liter V6 version tested here, for many people the less expensive and more efficient 2.5i liter model will suit their needs just fine.
The only real competition out there for our full loaded Limited 3.6R model is the all new Acura TSX Sport Wagon which is similarly equipped, to our eyes much better looking and more fun to drive. You see the TSX Sport Wagon doesn’t have that high center of gravity and is based on a luxury sport sedan so driving enjoyment is at the top of the list of endearing attributes. It may just come with a 2.4 liter 201 horsepower 4-cylinder but in conjunction with a terrific 5-speed auto it affords the TSX Sport Wagon plenty of get up and go. The Limited Outback 3.6R costs about $1,000 more than a top of the line TSX Sport wagon but then if you live in a Snow Belt state, the full-time all-wheel drive Outback may make more sense for you.
But either way you go, the mere fact that you are interested in a wagon as your next family vehicles speaks volumes about you as a person. Compared to an SUV they are generally safer, more fun to drive, more economical and in a world where every SUV looks pretty much the same, maybe you are just brave enough to think outside the traditional box. If that’s true of you then we highly recommend the 2011 Subaru Outback 3.6R.