About five minutes after leaving the airport in Redmond, Oregon, it was clear that Subaru's total market saturation in this part of the state must have been part of the decision to introduce the 2015 Subaru Outback here. Subarus were so ubiquitous that calling them out became a game, like Slug Bug, but with Subarus, and no sore shoulders. 

These days that's true in a lot of places. The Subaru Outback constitutes about a quarter of all Subaru sales, making it one of the tentpoles of the company's lineup in the U.S. The previous generation combined its do-anything, go-anywhere reputation with a new, larger size, to make it the best-selling Outback ever. This new fifth-generation 2015 Subaru Outback is about the same size, offers the same engines, but is reengineered in multiple ways to make it even more capable and comfortable, on and off road. 

High Roof, High Tech

The new styling builds on the 2015 Subaru Legacy, upon which the Outback is based. Incorporating classic styling cues like the round foglights and lower body-cladding, the new body is stiffer as well, for a better ride. Cool elements include roof crossbars that pivot into the roof rails when they're not in use, and lower grille shutters to help improve highway fuel economy. Inside, the 2015 Outback is virtually identical to the new Legacy, albeit with considerably more cargo space.

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Like the Legacy, buyers can choose from a 175 horsepower 4-cylinder or a 256-horsepower 6-cylinder. Both use Subaru's "boxer" layout, which positions the pistons horizontally instead of vertically, lowering the center of gravity for better handling. Continuously variable automatic transmissions help improve fuel economy, up to an EPA-rated 33 mpg highway for the 4 cylinder. No manual transmission is available, but both CVTs allow drivers to select pre-determined "gears" using paddles on the steering wheel. 

The standard all-wheel drive system's off-road capability puts the 2015 Outback's 8.7-inches of ground clearance to even better use thanks to the addition of X-Mode. By controlling engine output, and using the brakes and all-wheel drive system to prevent wheelspin, X-Mode helps maximize traction at low speeds in tough situations, and incorporates a hill-descent control program to let the Outback slowly creep down steep grades without the driver touching the brakes. Active Torque Control helps route engine power to where it will enhance traction at higher speeds. 

Into The Wild

The first leg of our route headed west on two-lane highways toward the Cascade's Three Sisters range. Not surprisingly, the 4-cylinder struggled to accelerate the 3,600-pound Outback quickly, but it had no problem maintaining velocity; the 6-cylinder was better, but the Outback is no speed demon, regardless. On the bending, undulating pavement, the Outback always felt stable despite leaning noticeably in corners, and at highway speeds it was clearly quieter than the previous-generation car.

Three off-road sections let us put the Outback's X-Mode and Active Torque Management to the test. The first let us try out Hill Descent Control, and the Outback easily crept down a 40-degree slope covered in loose volcanic rock with no input from the driver besides steering. Later came off-road trails that gave the Subaru's long suspension travel and high ground clearance a workout. Finally, there was the loose gravel of fire roads to test out the Outback's Active Torque Vectoring. It was most noticeable when coasting into a corner: at first, the Outback's front end would start to slide, but adding a bit of power helped plant the car, eliminating the slide, and made the surface feel much more stable. In each trial, the 2015 Outback inspired confidence, and reminded us why this Subaru is so popular with outdoor sports enthusiasts.

Subaru's EyeSight collision avoidance and active cruise technology is more widely available this year, and a collision avoidance demonstration showed its effectiveness. Hurtling toward an inflatable barrier at 30 mph, Eye Sight detected it, warned us, then brought the car to an emergency stop before ever touching the barrier. 

Affordable, Unless You Want Power

Quiet, comfortable, and capable, the 2015 Subaru Outback is also affordable. Prices start reasonably enough with the Outback 2.5i, at around $25,700 including destination. The Premium model, with its all-weather package, power seats, automatic climate control and 7-inch screen, costs $27,850. If you want leather and even more goodies, the Limited model starts just under $31,000. The 6-cylinder 3.6 Limited starts at just under $34,000.

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While we're glad that EyeSight is now available on models costing less than $30,000, we wish we could say the same for the 6-cylinder engine. Among the vehicles Subaru cites as competitors, the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge and Kia Sorento are all available with 6-cylinder engines for less than $30,000, and we think an Outback Premium with cloth seats and a 6-cylinder engine would expand the Subaru's appeal.

However, even without the mid-level 6-cylinder, we're guessing that it won't be long before there are a lot of these on Oregon roads and beyond.

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