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 la la lander on Saturday, September 20, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 25,000overall rating 2 of 10rating details
Cons: "too many blind spots, needs a GPS, front camera"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"transmission problems when I took it home from dealer (new car) . Blind spots make it dangerous to drive on freeway. Lights on dash cannot be seen in daylight needs a camera on front or some warning light to tell you when you are close. Second row seats SHOULD fold down to make cargo area flat but they don't, hence lost cargo space. I won't buy another Subaru"
3 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By SACOE on Monday, September 15, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 71,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Comfort and gas mileage"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Very comfortable on the freeway, gets 28-30 on the road, eats up snow! Better driver ergo than my new BMW X3."
3 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By Jackie on Saturday, September 13, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 12,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I have had my Subaru for about 8 months. Overall I am very happy. The only real problem I found is the doors, especially the back door. It looks like it's closed, but isn't. This can cause the alarm to go off. When I took it to the dealership because of this, I was given a lesson in shutting it!!! Apparently two hands is best. What happens if you have groceries, or a dog, or both?? I have got better at closing the door, although now and again it happens."
2 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By Subie fan on Wednesday, September 10, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 13,102overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Best value, reliability, comfort, spaciousness"
Cons: "Gear shift could be better"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I bought a 2014 Outback 2.5i Premium 6 speed a year ago, now I have little over 13000 miles on it. I can say this is the best car I have owned and for the money we paid, you cannot get anything with all the equipment it has for such a price. Subaru’s AWD system was a sell point, since I do not want any FWD cars anymore: I am sick of replacing boots and front axles. This Outback is extremely spacious, comfortable, and reliable. It handles very well on any terrain, snow or rain, sand or pavement. The finish and quality of the car is very good, I may not have ash wood like a luxury car, nor do I have Napa leather, but I did not pay three times what I paid to get them. Our next Outback – for my wife – will be a 2016 3.6R with all the goodies (Insight, power rear door, navigation, and sunroof). The mileage is ok, having into consideration I drive aggressively and fast, my revs climb to 5k – 6k quite often. I got on average 21.38 mpg for 13k miles. So far, no problems whatsoever with the car. Just oil changes, alignment and tire rotation. My dealer in Tysons Corner, VA is the best. Best price for the car and they have maintenance specials constantly, which save you money. I get a free car wash anytime I want. I can recommend this car to anybody who wants a nice ride. Not a sports car. This one, I shall have it forever, since they do not put a stick shift anymore in an Outback, it is a classic now…"
7 people out of 10 found this review helpful
By Ryan on Sunday, September 07, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 66,000overall rating 4 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great in snow, good mpg, inexpensive"
Cons: "Unreliable CVT transmission, $$ maintainance"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"I loved this car. It's great in the snow, comfortable to drive, and a good value. That is, until the valve body in the CVT failed at 66k miles. The dealer and SOA have told me they have no interest in helping me out with the repair since I hadn't brought the car in to have the CVT fluid inspected at 30k or 60k. The manual only states it should be inspected at those intervals, and only recommends replacement under severe driving conditions. Fluid replacement costs ~$270 cause it's not really a DIY thing! I expect that kind of crazy maintainance requirement from a high performance sports car or a vehicle used for heavy duty work but not an every day driver/commuter car. I had been told the fluid was only supposed to require early replacement under severe driving conditions, but I don't drive in the city, don't live in the mountains, and have never towed or hauled anything with this car. Silly me for thinking I could maintain the car myself and replace the fluid around 70-80k like I have with all my previous Auto transmission vehicles. They should either update the owner manual to specify CVT fluid replacement at 30k even under normal driving conditions or they should admit that this failure is unusual and help me out with the repair since I'm only 6k miles out of warranty. Otherwise, they shouldn't be surprised when I say that I don't consider the CVT to be reliable and can't recommend this car to others. It's sad cause I have really loved the Subarus that I have owned in the past."
3 people out of 6 found this review helpful
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"."
4 people out of 8 found this review helpful