Everything tagged

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Subaru Outback: A flirtation with luxury

Get Adobe Flash player

I was writing lead sentences in my head when a passing stranger handed me one.

As we pulled into the Mount Spokane Sno-Park, we overheard one skier say to another, “Every other car here is a Subaru!”

Like they used to say about Hunter Thompson’s political writing; “it might not be factual but it’s true.”

You can’t go far around here without encountering a Subie. The company’s affordable, durable and all-wheel-drive cars are ideally suited for how we live. With its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback wagon is a particular favorite of the Sno-Park crowd.

Paradoxically, though, Subaru’s reliance on AWD may have contributed to its neglect of other considerations. In a word, refinement has been MIA from the Subaru playbook. One has longed for cabins as comfortable, welcoming and capable as the traction systems are effective.

That wait is over. The 2015 Subaru Outback dials up a new world of comfort and — dare we say it? — luxury. Soft-touch materials dress up a cabin once riddled with hard plastics. The quality of accent materials — the faux wood and metallic trim that add visual interest— is vastly improved. Control clusters that were crowded and confusing are now pleasing to the eye and easy to use.

By the tape measure, the Outback grows only incrementally. Inside, though, cabin space is up four cubic feet, every bit of which is put to good use. Taller front-seat occupants will find themselves with plenty of head- and legroom and the back-seat accommodates three adults comfortably.

Fold down the reclining second-row seatback and the Outback yields a generous 73.3 cubic feet of flat-floored cargo space. Subaru also took care to craft enough incidental storage for our digital lifestyles; there’s even a cell-phone slot in the center console.

Of course, as a station wagon, the Outback doesn’t offer the above-it-all driving position some drivers prefer. On the other hand, large windows and thin pillars produce outstanding sight lines.

Underway, the Outback handles more like a sedan than would a taller, tippier crossover. Suspension settings favor comfort over sport and the Outback’s electrically assisted steering system is accurate and nicely weighted, with good on-center feel. 

Two engines are offered. A 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four is standard on 2.5 models, while a 256-hp 3.6-liter six powers the 3.6R. Both engines are paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with six programmed intervals replicating the gears of a traditional automatic. Steering-wheel paddles allow the driver to “shift” through the stops. 

Under heavy throttle, the CVT allows the engine to wind to high RPMs and produce the whining, elastic feel typical of CVTs. A less aggressive throttle foot produces less whine and boosts efficiency.

Four-cylinder models earn EPA ratings of 28 mpg combined (25 city/33 highway); the 3.6R is good for 22 mpg combined (20 city/27 highway). 

Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system continuously regulates the flow of torque to each wheel, according to traction needs and driving conditions. Active Torque Vectoring reduces understeer by braking the inside front wheel during cornering. Hill descent control and hill start assist are standard.

Coming out of the recession, Subaru sales have been on a serious roll. With the company’s new focus on refinement, Washington state’s Sno-Parks may soon be overwhelmed by Subies of every description. 

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

2015 Subaru Outback 3.5R Limited
Vehicle base price: $24,895
Trim level base price: $32,995
As tested: $36,040
Optional equipment included moonroof; keyless entry/ignition; navigation
EPA ratings: 22 combined/20 city/27 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Subaru Outback: Beyond Crocodile Dundee

Get Adobe Flash player

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

Subaru Viziv concept redefines tradition

Subaru is built on all-wheel drive, boxer engines and a Northwest popularity that could probably get a Forrester elected to public office.  Subie lovers should find it concerning the Japanese automaker has yet to dabble in the wave of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles making their way to market.  Until now, that is.  The Viziv concept, revealed at the 2013 Geneva Auto show, is a definite sign the Japanese automaker is preparing to shake up their DNA.