isn't shy to claim that the original Legacy Outback (introduced in North America 15 years ago) launched "the world's first Sport Utility Wagon." Interestingly, Subaru didn't coin "Sport Utility Wagon" — an official told us it was actually some of the Outback's happy customers, although Subaru gladly adopted the name into the company vocabulary.
Now entering its fourth generation, the all-new , which is based on the also-new-for-2010 , has grown considerably, just as the did with its redesign for 2009. As with the Forester's redesign, the Outback has lost a bit of its signature Subaru styling. But maybe the car's "hawk-eye headlamps," more upright grille and highly carved fender flares will become new Subie signatures. The molded rocker panels and side cladding distinguish this model as an Outback.
One of Subaru's goals with the new Outback was to greatly expand the passenger compartment. Mission accomplished. Due to a 2.8-in.-longer wheelbase, along with 2.3 in. more height and 2.0 in. more width, Subaru increased passenger volume by 8.4 cu. ft. Most notably, rear-seat leg room is up by almost 4 in. and front-seat hip room by 3.5 in., while there's an extra 5.9 cu. ft. of cargo capacity with the rear seats folded — this last item largely due to the adoption of a new double-wishbone rear suspension. Yet, because Subaru shortened the car's front and rear overhangs, the car's total length is almost 1 in. less than before.
Subaru gave the Outback's interior a thorough going-over as well, highlighted by a bold new dash and center stack. Subaru continues to work on the quality of its interiors, and once again it's a strong step forward in terms of quality. There are more cubbies, too, including one on the door pull that's perfect for a cell phone.
Forced-induction fans might be upset by the lack of a turbo engine for 2010, but Subaru says the take rate for the turbo was quite low. The base normally aspirated 2.5-liter flat-4 has minor internal changes, which help with power delivery and fuel economy. Its output remains the same — 170 bhp and 170 lb.-ft. of torque — but power peaks 400 rpm lower.
New for 2010 is the 3.6-liter flat-6 from the Tribeca, which replaces last year's 3.0-liter version. The 3.6R makes 256 bhp and 247 lb.-ft. of torque, the last a whopping 32 lb.-ft. more than last year's engine. What's more, the 3.6R achieves its numbers on regular-grade gasoline, not premium.
The 3.6R is definitely the model to go with if you can afford it, despite the fact it comes mated only to a 5-speed (how old school!) automatic. The flat-6 makes more than ample power to move the 3600-lb. Outback, and the delivery of said power is smooth at all times. The automatic operates serenely, too, and for 2010 all Outbacks equipped with an automatic transmission come standard with decently sized steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, regardless of trim level.
The 4-cylinder Outback 2.5i comes with a 6-speed manual transmission for the first time in the U.S. market, and we definitely suggest this combo over the optional Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission); the CVT simply makes the whole experience less fun, and the 4-cylinder isn't particularly inspiring to begin with. Subaru cites the CVT's excellent fuel economy, at 22 city/29 highway, versus the manual's 19/27.
Subaru says a shocking 20 percent of Outback owners take their cars off-road at least once per month. Now, "off-road" is a relative term, but there's no doubt the Outback's 8.7 in. of ground clearance, h suspension and tightly screwed-together chassis help it feel at home on even the roughest dirt roads. And its standard all-wheel-drive system works so well at continually apportioning power front to rear as needed that the Outback is able to climb up loose, slippery off-road hills like a mountain goat — even better than some body-on-frame SUVs!
The 2010 Subaru Outback is on sale now. The Outback 2.5i paired with the 6-speed manual starts at $22,995; the 2.5i with the CVT starts at $23,995, while the Outback 3.6R starts at $27,995.