By Keith Buglewicz
KBB Expert Rating: 8.9
The Subaru Outback is a midsize crossover SUV that runs against the conventional wisdom that these "soft-roaders" never venture off the pavement. To the contrary, you're far more likely to see an Outback covered in mud than a Toyota Venza, Chevrolet Equinox, or Ford Edge. Since its introduction in the late 1990s, the Subaru Outback's capability appealed to outdoorsy types, and the 2015 Outback ups the ante with an all-wheel-drive system enhanced with X-Mode for better off-road stability, and expanded availability of the latest version of EyeSight, Subaru's collision-mitigation and active-cruise technology. It's all wrapped up in sharper SUV- wagon styling that hides a roomier interior, a combination that's sure to keep the 2015 Outback as muddy as ever.
If you like going off-road to hike, snowshoe, fish, kayak, ski, snowboard, bike, canoe, camp, spelunk, or rock climb, you might already have a Subaru Outback parked in your driveway. The good news is that the Outback SUV is just as good in town as it is on the trail.
Like its predecessors, the 2015 Subaru Outback isn't much for towing, so you might need something bigger if you must tow a sizeable boat or ATVs. Likewise, it only carries five people. And while it's handy off-road, its lack of a low-range mode means it's not up to hard-core off-roading.
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The 2015 Subaru Outback is all new this year. Among its many key features is the addition of X-Mode to the all-wheel-drive system, which enhances off-road capability. It also expands the availability of EyeSight, which uses two cameras for active cruise control, collision warning, and collision mitigation.
The 2015 Subaru Outback SUV is designed for two opposing tasks. One is to be comfortable and quiet on the road, while the other is to be capable and dependable...
... off it. Yet Subaru has managed to admirably combine these two competing interests. The 2015 Outback is quieter than its predecessor, and while the body definitely leans in corners more than the Subaru Legacy sedan upon which it's based, it's always stable and never bouncy over bumps. Neither the 4-cylinder nor the 6-cylinder engine makes the Outback quick, but the 4-cylinder can be downright pokey from a dead stop. Off-road, X-Mode works extremely well to maintain low-speed traction, even when a wheel's off the ground, and Hill Descent Control takes over the brakes on steep descents so the driver can concentrate on steering around obstacles. Active Torque Vectoring enhances traction at higher speeds by automatically routing power for better stability.
This simple button does wonders for the 2015 Outback's off-road abilities. By ensuring the Outback can maintain traction under the worst circumstances, it turns this from a high-riding Legacy station wagon into a real off-roader. Even experienced drivers will appreciate the added control of the Outback's Hill Descent Control.
PIVOTING ROOF CROSSBAR
Falling squarely into why-didn't-anybody-think-of-this-before territory, the Subaru Outback's roof crossbars pivot out of the way, stowing in the roof rails themselves when not in use. It's ingenious. Not only does it mean they're always available, but when they're stowed, your fuel economy improves.
The 2015 Subaru Outback essentially shares its interior with the new Subaru Legacy. This is a good thing. The new layout is clean and functional, and we're especially fond of the new touch-screen infotainment system's design. The seats are comfortable in all positions, especially the roomy, reclining rear seat (thanks to the Outback's tall roof). Cargo space in this SUV is obviously leaps and bounds better than the Legacy sedan. That goes double with the seats folded. It's also quieter than its predecessor, thanks in part to the way the continuously variable automatic transmission mimics gear changes at full throttle.
While the 2015 Outback's styling still favors practical over pizazz, this new Subaru SUV-wagon is definitely an improvement over its predecessor. The neatly integrated headlights and taillights blend with an upright, chunky look that incorporates Subaru's new hexagonal grille and the Outback's traditional round fog lights and rugged-looking lower body cladding. Clever touches include grille shutters that close at speed to improve fuel economy, and LED taillights. We also like the standard roof rails with their integrated stowable crossbars.
The 2015 Subaru Outback comes nicely equipped, even on the base model. Of course, there are the usual comfort and convenience features: power windows, air conditioning, power mirrors, cruise control, and so on. However, even the base Outback comes with a backup camera and advanced safety features like under-seat-cushion airbags to prevent submarining in a crash. The touch-screen audio system includes a 6.2-inch screen, Aha, iHeart Radio, Pandora and, of course, Bluetooth and USB. Every Outback also comes with X-Mode, hill-descent control, active torque vectoring, and grille shutters, the last of which helps improve highway fuel economy.
Among the most notable Outback SUV-wagon options is Subaru's EyeSight system, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, pre-collision braking, and, on some models, steering-responsive fog lights. Also available is a power liftgate with a programmable maximum height, voice-activated navigation with a larger 7-inch screen, and a Rear Vehicle Detection System that combines blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alerts. Also available is a leather interior trimmed with classy-looking faux wood on Limited models, along with an upgraded harman/kardon audio system.
Subaru uses what are known as "boxer" engines, with horizontally opposed pistons. Imagine a "V" type engine, then widen the V until you've made it into a flat line, and you have the layout of the Subaru engines. This "flat" layout lowers the center of gravity to aid handling, and it's also a design that's inherently low-vibration. In the 2015 Outback SUV-wagon, a 4-cylinder is standard, with a 6-cylinder available on Limited models. Regardless of engine choice, you get a continuously variable automatic transmission that includes steering wheel-mounted paddles to select pre-set ratios to simulate a manual transmission. All Outbacks come with all-wheel drive, a system that includes X-Mode for low-speed traction, and Active Torque Vectoring for high-speed stability in corners.
175 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
174 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/33 mpg
256 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
247 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/27 mpg
A well-equipped base Subaru Outback 2.5i starts a little under $26,000. Premium models start a little under $28,000, and that can increase to more than $31,000 when you start adding options like a moonroof, power liftgate and EyeSight. $31,000 will also let you step into a Limited model with leather seats and wood trim. Add about $3,000 if you want a 6-cylinder engine. A loaded Limited with a 6-cylinder will run nearly $40,000. Note that the least expensive 6-cylinder Outback is in the mid-$30,000 range, while competitors like the Ford Edge and Chevy Equinox offer a 6-cylinder for less than $30,000. We think a 6-cylinder Premium model priced closer to $30,000 would broaden the Outback SUV-wagon's appeal. Subaru Outbacks usually hold their value better than average for the class. Before buying, be sure to check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying.