By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 7.0
The 2012 Subaru Outback wagon is the perfect anti-SUV and one of the best-selling wagons in America. It's as agile and efficient as most mid-size sedans, but offers much of the off-road and cargo capability of a larger vehicle. It also offers a raised seating position that some consider a just-right balance between that of a car and an SUV. New from the ground up in 2010, the fifth-generation Outback remains true to its original concept yet enjoys major improvements in refinement, cabin room, fuel economy and flexibility. As with every Subaru, the Outback comes standard with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, a proven system that allows this rugged wagon to conquer tough terrain and deep snow as confidently as any SUV, while taking to the open road with sport-sedan manners.
If you value the capability of an SUV to handle cargo and rough roads, but appreciate high ratings for safety, fuel-efficiency and driving enjoyment, the Outback wagon is likely the best mix of these virtues on the market. Subaru's flat "boxer" engine and all-wheel drive lower the car's center of gravity, for more stable handling.
If you need a third-row seat or tow heavy loads, a traditional SUV might be a better fit. If you prefer more carlike styling, consider a Volvo XC70 or Toyota Venza. Not everyone likes the Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that is offered with the 4-cylinder, but it is among the best of its kind.
The 2012 Subaru Outback offers a wide range of equipment among its six trim levels. The popular mid-level Premium wagon models add an improved 6-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone and wireless audio streaming plus an iPod connection. The clever standard roof rack with foldaway crossbars is mildly revised.
Driving Impressions If fuel economy takes precedent over quick acceleration, the 2012 Subaru Outback's 2.5-liter four with the CVT is your best bet. The 170-horsepower engine has to work a bit, but...once up to speed the CVT finds and holds the engine's peak torque, providing a good balance of response and efficiency. The CVT does take some getting used to, as there are no discernable gearshifts like a traditional automatic. The standard steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, however, allow the driver to simulate manual gearshifts, for quicker passing and merging. With an estimated 29 mpg highway and an 18-gallon fuel tank, the Outback wagon can cruise over 500 miles before refueling. On the road, the Outback demonstrates an impressive sedan-like feel, in part because the low center of gravity of its powertrain more than offsets its tall bodywork. Steering is precise and predictable, and only some slight wind noise around the roof racks intrudes on the quiet ride.
Subaru's take on this fuel-saving transmission uses a metal band instead of a rubber belt, which it claims to improve durability. A paddle-shifted manual mode mimics the shift points of a manual transmission without needing a clutch pedal. Best of all, the CVT's estimated 22 city/29 highway mpg is better than with the 6-speed manual.
Electronic Parking Brake with Hill-Holder Function
The traditional parking brake handle is replaced by a soft-touch push/pull switch on the dash. The electronic brake system includes a feature that holds the brakes for a moment on inclines greater than 5 degrees, for easier takeoffs without unwanted rollback.
The roomy, versatile 2012 Subaru Outback cabin is stylishly functional. Responding to owners' desires for more rear-seat room, Subaru added four inches of legroom and nearly three inches of headroom with the 2010 redesign. During our test drive, we comfortably fit three 6-foot adults in the back seat without their knees touching the front seatbacks. Wide front seats and a reclining rear seat further improve comfort, while upscale models offer power driver's-side lumbar support and leather seating. A dash-mounted electronic parking brake frees up console space for water bottles and latte cups. Automatic-transmission models also feature steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.Exterior
While previous Subaru Outback generations seemed more like a jacked-up, fender-flared Legacy, the newest models - including the 2012 Outback wagon – take on more personality of their own, with a 3-inch-higher roofline and a better-integrated look of ruggedness. Thick plastic cladding, a raised ride height and 8.7 inches of ground clearance reveal its off-road capability, while beefy black roof rails conceal fold-out crossbars that stow away to reduce drag when not in use. Frameless windows, a former Subaru styling cue that led to some complaints of wind noise, are replaced by fully framed glass, a design that also helps improve body rigidity.
The base Subaru Outback 2.5i features all-wheel drive, a 6-speed manual transmission, 16-inch wheels, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, AM/FM/CD audio with auxiliary jack, manual air conditioning, power windows/locks, height-adjustable driver's seat, front side and side-curtain airbags, keyless entry and stability control. A 6-cylinder 3.6R version is similar, though with a 5-speed automatic, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a cargo cover. The 2.5i Premium adds an automatic transmission and 17-inch wheels, while both 2.5i and 3.6R Premium models include a 10-way power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and 6-speaker audio with Bluetooth, USB and iPod connectivity. The 2.5i and 3.6R Limited trims add a front underguard, an All-Weather Package (heated front seats, mirrors and windshield wiper de-icers), plus leather, a power passenger seat, dual-zone climate control and 9-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system.
Most options are offered according to trim. The base 2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i offers the CVT automatic, All-Weather Package (heated seats, mirrors and wiper de-icers) and an alloy wheels/foglight package. The 3.6R base trim offers almost no options, not even heated seats (all 3.6R models include a 5-speed conventional automatic). The 2.5i and 3.6R Premium trims offer the harman/kardon audio, All-Weather Package and a moonroof /rearview camera package. Limiteds offer voice-activated navigation with rearview camera and auto-dimming mirrors. Subaru dealers also have a generous selection of accessories, from cargo carriers to a rear-seat entertainment system.
Subaru offers two boxer engines in the 2012 Outback wagon, a low-profile and naturally balanced design in which the pistons lay flat in a horizontally opposed configuration. The 2.5-liter four delivers 170 horsepower, not best-in-class but enough muscle for satisfactory performance. Equipping this engine with the CVT automatic will produce the best fuel economy, but the 6-speed manual offers sportier performance. The most refined choice for the Outback is the 6-cylinder and 5-speed conventional automatic, whose strong acceleration and passing power come at the expense of fuel efficiency: an estimated 18/25 mpg city/highway (versus the 4-cylinder CVT's 22/29).
170 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
170 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/27 (manual), 22/29 (CVT automatic)
256 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm
247 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/25
By babette1027 on Tuesday, August 26, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 42,300overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "great winter car"
Cons: "air-conditioning could be better"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"While I see all kinds of cars and trucks slippin' and slidin', I'm plowing past them. It's amazing how winter-friendly this car is. Whenever anyone asks, it's what I tell them "laughs through the snow"."
By Anne on Monday, August 25, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 47,200overall rating 5 of 10rating details
Pros: "Nice size, car like drive"
Cons: "steering is soft, lacks power, not too relaible"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 4
"Too much hype about Subaru reliability and safety. Can't comment on safety since never been in an accident. As for reliability, I find this U.S. assembled vehicle lacks the fit and finish of those made in Japan. My vehicle was driving very erratically and actually stalled on me several times. All the lights on dash were flashing. The first dealer had no clue what was wrong, kept reprogramming my computer. Finally got a referral to a better dealer, it was the cam sensor that failed. Took 2 trips to this place to get a new one put in. Subaru's name seems bigger than the quality of cars they make. Will not buy another one. Or at least not one assembled here."
By UTAH_OUTBACK_Owner on Thursday, August 14, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 17,550overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "CVT mileage and uphill on snow performance"
Cons: "Cold air leaks into Driver foot well on -10 days"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"After putting 11K on a lightly used 2013 OB including one severe winter storm and many trips to the ski resort on a 2.5i Premium with CVT, I am glad I can downshift on the steering wheel mounted paddles...you don't need to be in manual to downshift or up shift either so you can use a hybrid approach to gear changes...the system takes 3-4 seconds to revert back to automatic after you have shifted with the paddles...most users don't know this...but you can down shift or up shift at any time in D...if you don't get why down shifting in an AWD is such a big deal you should try it with snow tires on icy roads...you can decelerate into and then immediately accelerate out of corners better on slippery surfaces than with the same tires on a manual transmission; because it finds the gear and engages the ground faster. Manual gear selection on a CVT isn't Fake, Its selecting pre calculated gear ratios that don't change when you return to them, 2nd is always second gear as far as the ratio and power application is concerned. Going uphill with a CVT in Auto on steep slippery terrain is a HUUUGE advantage over owning a MT, because you have hundreds of ratio's between 2nd and 3rd gears, when you push the peddle down on steeper grades the CVT maintains the power band automatically while ensuring the appropriate ratio...I pass bigger trucks and SUV's loaded with ski gear and people that have V8's who have to bounce back and forth between 2nd and 3rd gear on snowy steep roads all the time in the winter, and I do it in a lower HP 4 cylinder CVT wagon loaded with people and gear. I have also driven on Snowcat groomed roads between Park City and Brighton Estates on the guardsman's pass road (for snowmobile and 4WD access) on Stock Continental tires at normal inflation, and it never got stuck once, the whole time it displayed smooth power transfer to the snow with stopping and braking for switchbacks on the 2.5 mile snow pack covered road. MT users like to bash the CVT, but with a commuter vehicle on snow its very similar to the slip clutch on a snowmobile if you ever look at one...the power transfer also surges oddly similar but can be quite enjoyable in the power band when you know what to look for and when to punch the gas...E.G. 2nd-3rd gear roll on acceleration, it becomes punchy and feels slingshotty out of corners!!!"
2 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By Ricky on Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 75,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"If you live in the snow belt, the Outback is the best car you will ever have. Solid, reliable, drives like a dream. Interior and Comfort are not luxury, but not bad. I've gotten mileage greater than advertised on the sticker. My only dislike is summer driving, when I'd like to have something a little smaller / sportier."
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By speedballjet on Saturday, August 09, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 6,200overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "versatile, fun to drive, extremly comfortable"
Cons: "always wishing mileage were better; no blind spot"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Bought 2014 Outback Limited Dec. 2013 and have 6200 mi. The leather seats are awesome....my first car with leather. Extremely supportive and comfy. Excellent driving position. I removed rear seat head restraints to improve visibility since Im the only one usually in the car. Mileage is pretty much as stated...without air conditioning on I average about 24 in town and 30 highway. The red color is gorgeous. Its a classy looking vehicle IMHO. The only issue Ive had is when the air conditioning is running the gauge that tells you your MPG goes down, down, down to about 12mpg but then when I fill up the actual mileage is down only about 2 mpg.....will have this gauge checked in Sept when I go in for regular service."
By Frank Lazirini on Saturday, August 02, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 32,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Excellent handling"
Cons: "Gas mileage could be better"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Had this car for 2 years, test drove 3 others and the Outback was the best car for what I needed, I carry a lot of gear and do mountain biking as well as skiing. The car handles really well, feels very solid and safe, my wife drives during the week and she loves it. The only complaint is that the gas mileage is not so good, I get about 25 combined. I wish Subaru would make a Hybrid version of the Outback."
4 people out of 5 found this review helpful