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New 2015 Subaru Outback adds refinement to utility

Do-it-all wagon impresses with reasonable sticker price

Published: August 14, 2014 09:00 AM

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Ever-increasing new car prices can get depressing. But the redesigned 2015 Subaru Outback is something of an antidote. Although the average new car sticker price is over $30,000, we just bought a rather nice Outback 2.5i Premium test car for just $28,852. And as we have found at the track, that reasonable sum gives you a lot for the money.

Now in its fifth generation, the Outback has always been super-practical. This time around the appeal goes deeper. Subaru made a significant effort to improve refinement, and it’s fair to say that the 2010-2014 version left plenty of room for advancement. Its four-cylinder/continuously-variable-transmission combination punched up engine noise while achieving fuel economy gains. Despite a 2013 update, Subaru never quite balanced ride comfort with good handling, either. Early versions were soft but sloppy, and post-update versions felt more tied down but stiff.

The 2015 redesign addressed a lot of those complaints. Handling is responsive and yet bumps are nicely suppressed. Road noise is down, too. (Read our Subaru Legacy first drive.)

Recalibrating the CVT’s shift patterns makes the transmission feel more like a traditional automatic—a welcome improvement. That’s not just a change for mere familiarity’s sake; this new algorithm quells engine noise by keeping revs down. Power from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder feels adequate—a big change from the underpowered feeling of the previous car. Again, some credit goes to the revised transmission. A 3.6-liter six-cylinder is also available, now mated to its own CVT rather than the previous five-speed automatic. It’s very smooth and makes the car feel significantly quicker and highly satisfying, but most buyers will be happy with the thrifty four-cylinder.

Maybe the biggest change is inside. Finally, no one is complaining about the infotainment in this latest Subaru. It’s full-featured and easy to use. That change alone is epic for this long technically-challenged brand. All other controls are simple to use, but we really wish the clock and ambient temperature displays were bigger.

Of course, many of the basics that make the Outback Subaru’s best-selling model still continue. There’s a generous cargo hold, all-wheel-drive for winter traction, and a very spacious rear seat. Visibility is terrific thanks to big windows and thin roof pillars.

So the Outback does a lot, and all for a reasonable amount of money. Even though our car was sticker priced at $28,852, you could pay less if you skip the typical Subaru add-ons. In our case, that included $72 all-weather mats, a $95 bumper cover, $90 for rear seat back protector, and a stiff $450 for a remote engine starter.

Our 2.5i Premium doesn’t want for creature comforts; it includes heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, and automatic climate control. Subaru’s affordable EyeSight advanced safety system, including forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems and low-speed automatic braking to avoid rear-end crashes, will be available later in the fall.

We’re racking up break-in miles right now, and our Outback will enter our formal test program soon.

Tom Mutchler

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the October 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
   

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