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Subaru Outback: Beyond Crocodile Dundee

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If Crocodile Dundee comes to mind when you hear the words “Subaru Outback,” it’s time for a reboot. That car went away in 2009.

The Outback debuted in 1996.  A lifted version of the Legacy wagon, it was quick, nimble and durable and went places other wagons wouldn’t. It was a huge hit and gave birth to the crossover craze. The new competitors were larger and roomier but generally less capable than the Outback off-road. Americans couldn’t get enough of them. 

Subaru retaliated in 2009, with an all-new Outback. Predictably, it was larger, roomier and more SUV-like than the original. 

Use of high-tensile steel cut weight and boosted chassis strength. Structural revisions improved ride quality and cut noise and vibration. A trio of safety technologies — electronic stability control, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution — joined all-wheel-drive on the standard features list.

The new-gen Outback boasted an SUV-like 8.7 inches of ground clearance, yet had a lower profile than other crossovers, easing the task of loading gear onto its roof. 

Last year, Subaru debuted its new crash avoidance system, called EyeSight. EyeSight uses a pair of windshield-mounted cameras, to produces a stereo image that informs the adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning systems. It can detect pedestrians, tell you if you’re swaying within your lane and, under certain conditions, bring the vehicle to a complete stop.

Almost immediately, EyeSight-equipped Subies earned Superior ratings in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new Front Crash Prevention test. This year, it’s available as part of a $2,740 package that includes a moonroof and is available on the Limited ($26,620) and 2.5i Premium ($25,795) trims.

The 2014 Outback ($24,320) is offered with two engines. A 173-hp 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (“boxer”) four-cylinder engine powers 2.5i trims and is paired with either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT).

EPA estimates for the four-cylinder with CVT are 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway/26 mpg combined. Models with the manual return 22/29/24. Excellent numbers for an AWD crossover.

The Outback 3.6R Limited comes with a 256-hp 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer engine. The only transmission offered is a five-speed automatic that earns so-so ratings of 17/25/20.
 
I tested a 2.5i Limited, with CVT. Given the choice, I’d have preferred the manual gearbox. Though it improves efficiency, the Subaru CVT has the high-revving rubber-band feel that afflicts the breed. 

The new Outback is less spry than its predecessor. Ride quality is quite good, but the tradeoff for SUV-like ground clearance is excess body motion during transitions. 

Subaru customers tend to be outdoorsy, “active-lifestyle” types to whom opulence holds limited appeal. Strong sales — Subaru is experiencing its fifth straight year of sales growth — suggest that hard-plastic interior surfaces and lackluster navigation and audio systems are of little concern.   

The world changes and we move on. The Outback of Crocodile Dundee notoriety is history but there’s a new Outback in town and it’s ready to make you forget the old one.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited
Vehicle base price: $23,495    
Trim level base price: $29,395
As tested: $35,260
Optional equipment included keyless access and start; auto-dim mirror with Homelink; unique wood-patterned trim; rear bumper cover; leather trim; floor mats; unique 17-inch wheels; power driver seat with memory and adjustable lumbar; rearview camera; voice-activated navigation system with Aha infotainment; Eyesight driver-assist program.
EPA ratings: 24 city/30 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified