2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review
Twenty years after the original Subaru Outback debuted, the 2015 model is completely redesigned. Back in the mid-1990s, the Outback was one of the first modern crossover suvs to go on sale, right around the same time as the original Toyota RAV4. At the time, I lived in Denver, and the first time I test-drove an Outback was during a massive Rocky Mountain blizzard.
Needless to say, I’ve been a fan ever since.
Having now spent a week shutting my family around Southern California in this all-new Outback, my favorable opinion hasn’t changed. But that doesn’t mean this crossover is perfect.
2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review: Models and Prices
Subaru sells the redesigned 2015 Subaru Outback in 2.5i and 3.6R model series, the former available with standard, Premium and Limited trim while the latter is offered only as a top-of-the-line Limited model. Prices range from $25,745 for a base model without options to $36,835 for a loaded 3.6R Limited.
Keep in mind those prices don’t include Subaru’s impressive array of dealer-installed accessories. Add the more common upgrades, and the price eclipses $37,750, and that’s before choosing from the variety of bike, kayak, ski, snowboard, and cargo racks that can be attached to the Outback’s robust roof rails.
The model I’m driving is the Outback 2.5i Limited painted Wilderness Green Metallic and equipped with all the extras, which means it has a price tag of $34,135.
2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review: Styling and Design
Outbacks have never been good looking, but this one comes close. Subaru has really toned down the SUV cues with this redesign, and the ones that remain are perfectly suited to the vehicle’s image, purpose, and actual capabilities. My test car has the 18-inch aluminum wheels that are exclusive to the Limited trim level; other Outbacks get slightly smaller 17-inch wheels.
Where Subaru has made even greater strides is with regard to interior design. Especially when rendered in the 2-tone black-over-tan color scheme and equipped with the Outback Limited model’s fake matte-finish wood trim, this car looks convincingly upscale inside. Also, check out the floor mat design. It might be a simple, thing, but they’re designed not to slip forward and get caught in the pedals yet they’re super easy to take out for cleaning.
2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review: Comfort and Cargo
In addition to looking good inside and out, the 2015 Outback has a bigger and more comfortable cabin than ever. For starters, it is really easy to get into and out of this Subaru because it sits on a raised suspension, putting the seats at a height that allows an average person to slide in and slide out.
Once you’ve gotten into the Outback’s driver’s seat, you’ll find that the Limited model’s leather feels good, the armrests are plush and dense, and the steering wheel is excellent to grip. Plus, thanks to thin windshield pillars, big side mirrors, and a reversing camera, it is really easy to see out of this crossover SUV. The only thing I wished for was seat ventilation, which is not available.
The front passenger’s seat is comfy, too, but it isn’t height adjustable. My wife and my father both complained about this the first time they rode in the car. That said, both also acclimated, and after awhile they said this omission wasn’t a big deal because the seat sits high enough off the floor for decent visibility and comfort.
The Outback’s rear seat is quite roomy. With the driver’s seat positioned for my comfort, I fit my 6-foot frame behind it without any trouble at all. The Limited model’s rear seat heaters will certainly come in handy for someone in wintry weather; I had no use for them during a Southern California summer.
Something I did wish for, however, was a set of manual sunshades for the rear windows. Despite the dark-tinted privacy glass, parents of babies and younger children really appreciate them, and Subaru missed a surprise-and-delight opportunity on this front.
In addition to providing greater room for people, the new Outback’s cargo area is larger than last year. Measured to the roof, there’s 35.5 cu.-ft. of space behind the rear seat. Handy seatback releases mounted to either side of the rear liftgate make it easy to fold the rear seats down, providing a total of 73.3 cu.-ft. of space.
Three full-size suitcases line up from one side the cargo area to the other, leaving plenty of space for the tailgate to close. If you’ve got four of ‘em, take the cargo cover off and then stack ‘em up. Note, though, that my compact folding stroller wouldn’t fit wheels-first, forcing me to place it lengthwise or on an angle. This is a small thing, but it seems like a missed opportunity in terms of packaging.
2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review: Features and Controls
Generally, I’m not a fan of touchscreen infotainment systems, but I really love Subaru’s new one, which debuts in the Outback and the redesigned Legacy sedan.
First, it is simple enough that a tech-idiot like me can figure it out without using the manual. Second, the 7-inch touchscreen features clear graphics and speedy response to my big, dry, fumbling fingertips. Best of all, after a week and nearly 500 miles, there still weren’t finger smudges on this screen. Dust, yes. But not fingerprints. Brilliant.
Remaining controls are logically located and arrayed, but the defeat switchgear for the safety systems is located down on the lower left part of the dashboard, where they require real effort to use. That’s not really a bad thing, though, and the reality is that the Outback’s lane departure, blind spot, and forward collision warning systems are comparatively unobtrusive, making them a complement to driving rather than an aggravation.
2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review: Safety and Ratings
New for 2015, a Rear Vehicle Detection System is available as an option for the 2.5i Premium and is standard equipment for the 2.5i and 3.6R Limited models. It includes a blind spot detection system, rear cross-traffic alert, and a lane change assist system that can tell when another motorist is racing up behind you and then sound a warning if you signal your intention to change lanes right into that faster car’s path.
Subaru’s acclaimed EyeSight technology is optional for the 2.5i Premium and the Limited models, making it more widely available than it was last year. The system also gets new camera technology for 2015, improving the performance of the lane departure warning system and the adaptive cruise control system with pre-collision braking.
Having spent a week testing the new Outback, I’ve gotta say I am mighty impressed with this latest version of EyeSight. Driving up winding Pacific Coast Highway with the system set at 60 mph, EyeSight proved subtle and sophisticated, even dropping speed automatically for some of the 45 mph curves. A display between the gauges even shows when the system is illuminating the brake lights, and the adaptive cruise successfully brought the Outback to a complete stop as traffic ahead slowed for a red light.
The only criticism I can level at EyeSight is the beep it emits when its range of scope acquires or loses the vehicle ahead, which gets irritating on a curving road. Still, I’d rather have it than not.
2015 Subaru Outback Crash-Test Ratings
In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the new Outback earned a “Top Safety Pick” rating for all models. Those equipped with EyeSight are given a “Top Safety Pick+” rating, thanks to a “Superior” front crash prevention rating.
2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
Under the Outback 2.5i’s aluminum hood, which is nicely supported by gas struts, resides a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 175 horsepower. It’s paired with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, that’s designed to feel more like a traditional automatic and offers six pre-programmed gears that the driver can access using paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Subaru’s Active All-Wheel-Drive system is standard, and is newly enhanced with Active Torque Vectoring and an X-Mode for better off-road capability.
The engine is what’s known as a boxer type of engine. That means the pistons pump toward the sides instead of up and down or at a vertical angle, like in most engines. Subaru and Porsche are the only companies offering this engine design. (Yeah, yeah, I know about the Scion FR-S…which has a Subaru engine.) But this association doesn’t mean the Outback produces the kind of power that a Porsche engine does.
In my opinion, the Outback 2.5i needs a turbocharger, badly, and that’s something Subaru definitely knows how to do. See: Forester 2.0XT, WRX.
Moving on, according to the EPA, the Outback 2.5i gets 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 28 mpg. If you’re looking at the Outback’s official EPA fuel economy estimates and getting excited, here’s a dose of reality.
I averaged 23.7 mpg over nearly 500 miles of driving. Yeah, I thought that was low, too, so on my official test loop I measured pure city and suburban results and pure highway results. I got 19.3 mpg in the city, and I got 30.2 on the highway at speeds between 70 and 80 mph. Now, at one point, I did manage to extract 37.9 mpg from this crossover. That was with the cruise set to 55 mph, on an arrow-straight highway about as close to sea level as you can get.
Cutting to the chase, don’t expect to hit those EPA numbers.
2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review: Driving Impressions
Subaru has done a terrific job of dialing in the Outback’s dynamic capabilities. From the quick-ratio electric steering, which provides outstanding on-center heft combined with satisfying response off-center, to the stout brakes, which are larger for 2015 and ventilated at all four corners, this crossover is impressively nimble, limited primarily by its 225/60 all-season tires.
Subaru’s deft suspension tuning sure helps. Around town, the driver is aware of what’s happening at the road surface, but the suspension successfully muffles sharper impacts. On the freeway, the Outback feels sure, stable, and connected without unnecessary firmness. On a twisty back road, the Outback resists roll in corners, lending the crossover an athletic feel.
However, I’ve gotta say, I was most impressed by its ability to almost glide over washboard dirt roads. And off-road, thanks to a generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance, decent wheel articulation, and excellent outward visibility, I felt far more confident in the Outback than most other crossovers.
The only bummer here is the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. Under normal, part-throttle acceleration, it feels sprightly enough, and it shot up the side of a mountain at 80 mph without a problem. Plus, the CVT is actually one of the best I’ve experienced, successfully resisting the type of steady-state droning that is typical of the breed.
But, if you want to get quickly up to highway speed to merge with fast-flowing traffic, or you want to pass someone, the Outback 2.5i is loud and feels both slow and underpowered. Having lived in Denver, where Outbacks are quite popular, and where the region’s altitude and thinner air makes cars feel even more sluggish, I can’t imagine this 2.5i model would prove satisfying, especially when heading into the mountains for some skiing.
Yes, Coloradans can choose the Outback 3.6R for its 256-horsepower, 6-cylinder engine. But I’d rather have a turbocharged four. C’mon Subaru, that’s your specialty. Why isn’t the Forester’s optional turbo engine in the Outback?
2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review: Final Thoughts
There’s not much to complain about when it comes to the redesigned 2015 Outback. In fact, my only real gripes pertain to unrealistic EPA fuel economy numbers and the Outback 2.5i model’s merely adequate power. Stick a turbocharger on this otherwise appealing crossover SUV, and I’m completely sold.
Nice job, Subaru.
2015 Subaru Outback Crossover SUV Review: Pros and Cons
- Roomy and comfortable cabin
- Subaru’s new infotainment system
- Secure, enjoyable ride and handling
- Surprising off-road capability
- Top crash-test rating
- Fictitious EPA fuel economy ratings
- Standard 4-cylinder engine lacks oomph
- No ventilated front seat option
- No manual rear window sunshades
- No height-adjustable front passenger’s seat
Subaru supplied the vehicle for this review
2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i photos by Christian Wardlaw