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 Quartermaster on Tuesday, March 04, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 68,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Overall value, adaptability, design, utility,"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"This is the vehicle we take on long trips and use for heavy loads and that my wife uses to transport clients (easy getting in/out). It's been very "driveable" as well as reliable -- as well as elegant in design, prompting routine inquiries at the gas pump. Gas mileage is not as good as my Prius (duh!), but it gets 25-28 mpg on longer trips. Very responsive to driving cues. Relatively quiet and nicely appointed. Very satisfied. Unfortunately, this car was rear-ended last week and may be totaled. We will hate giving it up but will definitely replace it with a newer model of Subaru Outback."
By obx'er on Monday, March 03, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 9,800overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "good all around car, pretty fun to drive"
Cons: "rides a little firm. engine a little loud"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"bought a new 2013 with 4-cyl and the 6-speed stick. i like the car a lot. it rides harder ( more harsh) than my friend's 2012 Outback. it could use a little more power, but it does pretty good. gas milage has been 25 mpg on average. it's fun to drive. feels light and nimble. good road car. just drove from ohio to florida with a full load of people and luggage with no complaints from anyone. it's been great this year with all the snow we've had."
By chris on Wednesday, February 26, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 64,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "AWD and fun to drive anywhere"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"this is a huge step up from my ford ranger I had before. both my Whitewater kayaks fit in easily. I love this thing"
By PC Limited Outback on Sunday, February 16, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 45,200overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Beats the competition, limited seats are great"
Cons: "I would go with the 6 cyl and avoid the CVT tranny"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"What a great car. the 6 cyl, is more powerful up the steep hills than other models with more HP. 2200 rpm up Parleys canyon. While others scream and cry at 3000+. I have driven many other brands....So quiet and nice to drive. Seats comfy, lots of back seat legroom. Summer MPG 29/30, winter mpg 26/27. Mostly highway."
7 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By joe on Sunday, February 16, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 29,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "AWD is a +, good price for what you get"
Cons: "gas mileage in winter, 2.5 is a little slow"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"I bought my 2012 Subaru Outback Premium almost fully loaded with 9k miles on it, currently at 29K. I got almost all the options better sound system, heated side mirrors, auto dim rear view, heated seats, all weather package, back up cam, blue tooth, CVT, 2.5 engine. Fun to drive, good handling and spacious. Took on a couple road trips with 3 friends and had enough room for cargo and no one was cramped. AWD and the heated seats and mirrors are a must especially driving in the snow, I in Chicago. The 2.5 boxer engine is OK. It's a little laggy could use a little more power. CVT transmission seams to downshift on hills and struggles some times when your trying to cruise. Biggest complaint is the gas milage during the summer I averaged 24-25 mpg, about 22 city and 27 HW. However, during the winter months I average 21-22 I get about 18 city and 24 HW."
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By troutman on Friday, February 14, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 5,000overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Pros: "Good value - nice design"
Cons: "terrible winter city mpg"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"Overall I liked this car a lot when I bought it. Good mid priced, sporty vehicle with decent cargo space and good clearance for mild off-roading. The MPG I got at first was great - very happy, then winter rolled around and it dropped to 14-15 mpg which is WAY less than advertised. This is city driving only, mostly 10-15min commutes, no idling to speak of during a very cold winter(MN). The vehicle only has 5M miles on it so may still be breaking in a bit, but come on...14.5 mpg. I could be driving a suburban and doing better. One long hwy trip in milder weather I took the mpg picked back up and I expect the same this spring, but they should tell you this upfront. I really dislike the false advertising of the sticker MPG."