Before there was the iconic WRX lineup of Subaru sporting vehicles, this once very practical automaker specialized in the sturdy yet economical vehicles by which it made its name such as with the Subaru Outback. Over the course of multiple generations it has grown in popularity, size and utility and there is no doubt the 2012 Subaru Outback 3.6R is the best of the breed thanks to a mighty powerful 3.6 liter flat-six engine that rests under its rather tall hood.
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. Apparently 1980’s film star Paul Hogan’s appearance in some old Subaru ads cemented this notion in with some people who probably also pronounce Toyota “Taay-yo-tah.”
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 a vast desert, we think Subaru’s recent mainstream sales momentum proves that they are better understood than ever before.
But then there was one niggling detail that we found in our 3.6R Limited tester’s in-dash navigation unit and it made us wonder where this whole “Subaru comes from Australia” theory developed. 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. Blame it on an electrical fault, sheer coincidence or proof that Paul Hogan will one day return here triumphantly with yet an even bigger knife there is one thing for sure. Absolutely none of that matters, however, as the 2012 Outback wagon is one of the smartest family hauler choices you can make today.
Well, the best way to describe the outside of the 2012 Subaru Outback 3.6R is very, very butch. This thing looks like it could single handedly tear down your back porch with a single crow bar and then rebuild it by hand 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 2013 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. The Outback may not be a svelte and sexy thing like a 2011 Audi A6 Quattro wagon but it also costs half as much.
Besides just the befuddling Australian accent, we found the center mounted in-dash 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 much of a pestering nanny with controls designed only to help the stupid live longer. Who doesn’t change songs or playlists as they drive?
Our fully loaded 2012 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 $31,695 but once you add the rather unnecessary $2,995 for the option package which adds the aforementioned Aussie navigator, power moonroof, USB port (this should be standard now Subaru on everything you build, no one listens to 8-tracks!), a back-up camera and an upgraded 10-disc audio changer. But, you know, if you held onto your old Spin Doctors and Pearl Jam records in the 1990’s then you might be able to fill half of that changer.
Driving Impressions and Safety
To our tastes, the model with the 2.5 liter 170-horsepower 4-cylinder and CVT are good for gas but unless saving money is one of your prime happy place/personal nirvana pillars you will do nothing but suffer with that lazy, moaning powertrain. 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, cornering grip 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 instead of thinking that the brake pedal pressure was set higher than Dick Cheney’s average blood pressure.
You can’t fault Subaru for being eager and wanting to offer something for a wide array of drlivers. Not only does Subaru offer up this tasty Outback wagon but they also sell an intoxicating turbo version of the otherwise very sensible Forester SUV. One place where the Outback 3.6R and the Forester wipe the floor with any compact SUV is in steering feel and their overall feeling of being fun to drive. 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. Seriously, the Nissan Rogue is not just tacky looking, cheaply built but also handles in a very unsettling and unpredictable manner.
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 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 the snowy Rocky Mountain area in 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 the Subaru has and the crash test ratings they always manage to score. Those excellent crash scores are the primary reason we bought it. Our kids deserve the best. I have owned 5 Subarus and from my past experience I feel really 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.” That is one full Subaru.
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.
What We Loved About the Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
- The off-kilter warble of the Flat-six motor might make you not notice how fast it is!
- Just enough luxury features, amenities and build quality (plus all-wheel drive) to justify the price
- It Corners better and is more fun to drive than any SUV.
- So much cargo space cleverly covered in durable plastic for those “messy loads” an Audi wagon would refuse.
- The answer to the question, “Do I really need an SUV?”
What We Loathed About the Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
- Without question, this vehicle has the most obtusely designed navigation unit and is a paragon of design that makes no sense at all. You might be wise to stick with the lesser, navigation free Premium trim.
- Unlike 3.6 liter engine equipped Legacy sedans, the elevated ride height of the Outback (in case you need to cross a muddy bog to get to the mall), the Outback is less sporting thanks to body roll around corners and plowing understeer.
- You do need to be able to pull off the appearance of being outdoorsy as the Outback’s exterior styling is very angular, gruff and butch. So at least tell people you take it out to go hunt wild boars and to wrassle the occasional alligator.
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