Review: 2016 Subaru Outback doesn’t disappoint

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Originally based on the small Impreza hatchback, the Outback has come a long way since its introduction decades ago(Credit: Aaron Turpen / Gizmag)

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Subaru has made its name with all-wheel drive wagons, and the Outback is its flagship. Carrying forward the very accomplished redesign of the Outback for the 2015 model year, the latest model includes some excellent updates, especially on the technology front.

As the model perhaps most associated with Subaru's name, the Outback has come a long way since its introduction decades ago. Originally based on the small Impreza hatchback, the Outback grew into its own and now shares underpinnings with the award-winning Legacy sedan. The Outback is the "grownup's" Subaru, with a more mainstream appeal and much more family-friendly build than it's had before. Gone are the oddball items in the cabin and strange ergonomics that push occupants out into the wilderness and in their place is a comfortable, stylish, and well-mannered family vehicle that still retains that "out and about" capability.

Like most crossover wagons, the 2016 Outback is neither a big crossover nor a true station wagon. It's somewhere in between, and therein lies much of its practical appeal. Subaru vehicles are often credited as the first crossovers, as they were the first cars on the road to feature slightly more ground clearance and all-wheel drive as standard. The Outback pushes that further, offering 8.7 inches (22 cm) of clearance height underneath and a solid car-like driving feel. It is offered with two engine options and a host of standard features.

The base engine is a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine rated at 175 horsepower (130 kW) and 174 pound-feet (236 Nm) of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, as is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The steering-mounted paddle shifters emulate a six-speed geared transmission in manual shifting.

The other engine offering is a larger 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer with 256 hp (191 kW) and 247 lb-ft (335 Nm) of torque. The same CVT is standard, as is AWD. The 3.6 is offered only in the 3.6R Limited model. For reference, Gizmag drove the 2.5i Limited rather than the larger-engined model. Fuel economy is rated at 28 mpg combined (8.4 l/100km) in the 2.5i and 22 mpg combined (10.7 l/100km) in the 3.6R.

Among automakers today, the CVT is a hit-and-miss option. Some do it well, others do not. Subaru is one of those that does it well. Rarely does the CVT in any Subaru, including the Outback, feel sluggish or unprepared. The well-earned reputation the company has for capability and durability is intact with this new Outback.

Subaru's reputation for safety also remains in place with the Outback, which rates top scores from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 2016 Outback received the IIHS' Top Safety Pick Plus award, its highest honor.

Stylistically, the 2016 Subaru Outback is a well-made car with a somewhat contemporary, but still standout appeal. The hints of Subaru history are easily noted for those looking, but don't overwhelm or dominate the car's design.

Inside, the 2016 Outback carries forward the major upgrades brought with the 2015 redesign. Small touches like a cell phone slot, easier-access buttons and gauges, and more functional infotainment are highlights. Excellent materials quality and the introduction of cabin accents of faux wood and metal are relatively new for Subaru and nicely done in the Outback.

Another interior highlight are the rear seats, which are far more accommodating than they've been in past generations of the Outback. Compared to contemporaries in the segment, the 2016 Outback has generous room in the rear – more than enough for even tall adults. Being over six feet, with the driver's chair adjusted for my legs, I still had plenty of room behind it when sitting in the back seat.

That roominess does not impact cargo capacity. There are 35.5 cubic feet (1,005 liters) of space behind the rear seat and fold-down levers conveniently located near the door in the rear cargo drop those rear seats to open the space to 73.3 ft3 (2,076 liters). It's useful cargo space as well, with a lot of floor room and a wide, squared opening. Roof rails are integral to even the base model Outback, so there's always roof space for larger, bulkier items and outdoor gear.

Out on the road, the 2016 Subaru Outback is a great drive, with a lot of qualities that make it a pleasurable companion. Its suspension is forgiving, but not cushy, and just as capable on the pavement as off of it. Visibility is excellent thanks to re-engineering of the bodywork to lighten the pillars and available options like Subaru's excellent EyeSight system for adaptive cruise and lane keeping assist make it even better. In our experience, the EyeSight system is one of the best on the market and the latest generation is smaller and better than ever.

Speaking of technology in the car, there are some new items in the 2016 Outback added for this model year. Subaru Starlink, a connected car option, adds automatic crash notification and Internet-based apps like Stitcher and Pandora. The lane departure intervention mentioned earlier is new this year as well. The standard infotainment interface is a 6.2-inch touchscreen in the base model, which upgrades to a 7-inch screen in the next step up (Premium). Although seven inches sounds small in today's world of tablet-sized infotainment screens, in the Outback it's the right-size for the car. Add in the intelligent hard-button controls and well executed interface and you've got a better than average user experience overall.

Pulling everything together, the 2016 Subaru Outback is an excellent vehicle. There are few contenders in the field with a similar offering, let alone anything as well made. Most other wagons are sport-focused or in the premium segments. For get-anywhere capability, all-weather competence, and top shelf safety and dependability, few can argue with a Subaru Outback.

Pricing for the 2.5i base model starts at US$24,995, while the 3.6R Limited starts at $33,395.

Product page: Subaru Outback

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