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 coffeelude on Saturday, March 21, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 12,000overall rating 5 of 10rating details
Pros: "all wheel drive, roomy"
Cons: "rust, drives average"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 2
"Got a brand new 2014 Subaru 15 months ago, mostly satisfied initially with the ride. Have about 12000 miles on it so far. Some minor issues include uneven acceleration in the morning and weird jerking when changing from reverse to drive. A few months after I bought the car I noticed that the bottom exterior of the car was rusting. A few searches online and seems like we were not alone. Neither the dealer or Subaru customer service were interested in acknowledging the problem. They claim that it is normal for a 5 month old car to start rusting. I live in the Washington dc metro area where the winters are not extreme."
3 people out of 5 found this review helpful
By Fanojag on Tuesday, March 17, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 45,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Value and power for money"
Cons: "Auto gear changes could be smoother."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Traded in a Miata. Needed a vehicle with easier access egress and got that. Test drove similar sized SUVs, but none had more than 200HP. I like having extra under my right foot. Outback is roomy, drives quiet and smooth, even on long trips - longest to date Richmond - Denver in 2 days. Fuel economy not fantastic, 22-25mpg. Haven't had chance to test the 4WD aspects of it. Interior well appointed, sound system great. In my 17,000 miles, no reliability issues. I highly recommend this vehicle over its competitors."
By Sparz on Sunday, March 08, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 16,000overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 6
"No temperature guage. These vehicles have a tendency to overheat Oil warning light not reliable. Roof rack useless"
5 people out of 5 found this review helpful
By karlrad on Wednesday, February 25, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 16,852overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Safe, comfortable, reliable, rides great."
Cons: "Not the best shifter"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"We bought this Outback Premium 2014 on August 2013, a 6 speed 2.5 liter and after 16000 miles it runs better than the day we took it; has averaged 21.54 mpg so far, I have a heavy foot, always revving it to 5000+ rpm. The Outback is great on the highway, on rough roads and on snow. NO complaints. It has had all of its oil changes and revisions, all wheel alignments and filter changes. It has never visited the dealer with a problem. It is extremely comfortable, lots of room (we brought home from Sears our elliptical) and the rear seats recline. I have never been without enough power when passing on a mountain climb on the highway. We are so happy with it, we are going to buy the new 3.6R with 6 cylinders for my wife, all the whistles. She prefers a Levorg, but we cannot buy it here and importing it from Japan is too expensive and right hand drive... If you want a comfortable, safe and reliable car, get an Outback. If you want a sports car, get a BRZ. Then, this car is assembled in the USA. A bonus."
4 people out of 5 found this review helpful
By pj on Monday, February 23, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 11,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Had charcoal katskin leather interior added by dealer on new purchase last year. Thinking about trading in on 2015 model. Red Venetian Pearl exterior. Just added trailer hitch receiver."
By defLinux on Tuesday, February 03, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 13,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Safe, stable, fun and comfortable"
Cons: "Bluetooth integration needs work"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I've thought hard about it, and except for the area of Bluetooth integration, I can't think of anything I don't like about my car. It feels secure and stable, it's comfortable (but not cushy), and it carries an amazing amount of stuff with the rear seat down. I have been very impressed with the design of this vehicle, both exterior and interior. Materials are well chosen and things just fit together well. The only two areas that didn't get a 10 rating (I gave them 9), are driving dynamics and convenience. As far as driving goes, this car is fantastic right up to its limits - and then it gets a little wild. But if you are driving reasonably you will never see this, and the all wheel drive is great. The only other thing is the sound system. The Bluetooth setup takes a while. Only one phone can be a music source via Bluetooth - and it's a pain to change it all the time. You do have the option to plug in via USB though, so it's not a fatal flaw. The voice recognition, at least on my car, is a bit spotty. It often takes me two or three tries to successfully navigate the menus via voice, and dialing by voice (name or number) works only half the time. It is easier to put the number into the phone by hand and dial, then the speakerphone will take over. Overall, this is probably been the best car purchase I have made in 44 years of driving."
7 people out of 12 found this review helpful