Named for the wilds of Australia, the Subaru Outback has become popular as the most upscale and family-friendly of the Subaru offerings. For the 2018 model year, the Outback sees a few improvements to what is already a very well-done wagon-style crossover. After a week, we're impressed.
Because the 2018 Subaru Outback arrived at this writer's Wyoming abode just in time for our early spring hoorah, we decided to take it camping. It is a Subaru after all, and that's what all of the commercials show people doing with them. Plus, this being Wyoming, the warm spring weekend would probably devolve into a wintry wonderland of heavy winds and snow within a day or two. Get it while you can.
From the outset, it's apparent that the 2018 Outback has seen changes for this new model year. The exterior has a more aggressive look, with some beefing up to give the Outback a more crossover-SUV appearance than it had when we drove the 2016 model.
The front fascia of the Outback now has a slightly taller grille, heavier-looking bumper, and approach angle highlights. These emphasize muscle for the Outback and are accentuated by the narrower-appearing headlamps with LED running lights. Side mirrors are also narrower to both improve road noise and speed up the Outback's looks.
We like the new look for the 2018 Outback, which continues at the rear of the wagon with some beefiness for the hatch and bumper there. Those exterior changes did not come to the interior of the Outback, though, which saw major changes with the new generation introduced for 2015.
The 2018 Outback's interior is based on the Subaru Legacy, which is more upscale, comfort-oriented, and roomier than are the interiors of the other Impreza-based vehicles from Subaru. Subaru knows that the buyer of an Outback expects more daily comfort and usability, and designed accordingly. More rear seat legroom, more shoulder room, and more usable cargo space are all part of this generation of Outback.
In our week, three kids sat across the back bench seat without issue ... except for the occasional "Dad, he's poking me!" and the like. Our only complaint about the interior of the 2018 Outback is that the climate system tends to be front-focused and the rear doesn't get as much cooling or heating as a result. Even after attempting to adjust.
Cargo space in the 2018 Outback is phenomenal and far larger than might be expected. We managed to fit all of the overnight camping gear that a family of five requires, including a 10-person tent, cooking gear, a cooler, cold weather sleeping bags, and the replacement gear we bought when we realized we threw out stuff last fall. It was surprising how much gear will fit inside the cargo area of an Outback.
Another change in the 2018 Subaru Outback is with the infotainment. Upgraded to the latest in StarLink tech, the new infotainment in the Outback comes with a 7-inch touchscreen upgrade (standard is 6.2) that now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The new screen has a new center console design to better integrate the infotainment and to help reduce glare versus the previous rendition. The new infotainment has crisp graphics, faster responses, and a fairly good amount of connectivity.
Alongside the new infotainment is the latest in Subaru's Eyesight safety tech. The dual cameras mounted above the rearview mirror are where all of that happens. In most weather conditions, the cameras can still do their job seeing obstacles and other vehicles to avoid collisions. Lane-keeping assist and other options are also available, and work when conditions are conducive. We see Eyesight as one of the best safety systems in the business.
The 2018 Subaru Outback is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in all "2.5i" models. This little boxer-style (opposed piston) engine outputs 175 horsepower (135 kW) to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). All-wheel drive is standard, of course, and Subaru's design and programming for their CVT is very well done and goes a long way towards erasing the performance negativity normally associated with a CVT.
In all Outback 3.6R models, such as the Touring trim we tested this year, power comes from a more robust 3.6-liter boxer-style six that outputs 256 hp (191 kW). A similar CVT is used and AWD is still standard. This engine adds a lot more umph to the Outback's get-go and is preferable for most who plan to haul loads (towing is rated at 2,700 lb/1,225 kg) or climb mountains regularly. Otherwise, the 2.5 is enough for general everyday use and occasional "get out there" adventures.
Those expecting performance metrics from an Outback, though, are barking up the wrong tree. No matter the engine choice, the Outback is not a race car and does not squeal tires or hurry out of a standstill. Instead, the Outback is tuned for a combination of daily usefulness, "out and about" wilderness adventuring, and fuel economy. On that latter point, the 2.5i models are EPA-rated at 32 mpg on the highway (7.3 l/100km) and the 3.6R models at 27 mpg highway (8.7 l/100km). We averaged 21 mpg (11.2 l/100km) all told in our 3.6R test model, just shy of the EPA's 22 mpg combined estimate.
After our week in the 2018 Subaru Outback, we were once again impressed with the excellence that this vehicle brings to market. In inclement weather, it's tough to find anything that's better and in all-around versatility, the Outback shines brightly as a good example of right-sizing. Well done, Subaru.
Product Page: 2018 Subaru Outback
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