It rides like a Lexus, works like a Jeep, delivers fuel economy like a Toyota and looks like … well, it’s too big and roomy to be a Subaru, isn’t it?
We drove Subarus as company cars as long ago as the early 1980s, and a few family members have owned them over the years. In those days, the Subaru watchwords were rough, durable, reliable, economical and versatile. Scratch out the first one and you have an idea of what the 2012 Outback wagon is like. It does what Subarus always have, but it also pampers you.
Subaru aficionados might wonder what became of the coarse but weirdly endearing personality the cars once had. Listen carefully and you can hear the rumble of the 4-cylinder boxer engine under the sculpted hood; look around and you’ll notice it has substantial off-road capability, with 8.7 inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive. But in every other respect, it’s been endowed with a heavy dose of civilization.
Today’s Outback doesn’t have enough leg room for tall drivers — it has more than they need. Our six-foot driver ran the cloth bucket seat all the way back, as he does with every car drives, but this time he had to move it forward an inch or two after settling in. Nor is the back seat cramped, as is so often the case with compact crossover SUVs. Head room and knee room are ample for tall passengers.
The familiar Subaru personality manifests itself in the simplicity of the controls. Although the sticker price for our Deep Indigo Pearl 2.5i Premium model exceeded $30,000, the Outback lacked such complicating factors as navigation, driver’s information center and automatic dual-zone climate control. The conventional controls — audio system, seat heaters, wireless phone, cruise control — were easy to find and operate. Where many automakers are loading their products with electronic gadgets, the Outback remains pretty basic, at least in the Premium and lower trim levels.
Options included a package with heated seats and mirrors, a premium audio system, XM satellite radio, power moon roof and auto-dimming rear-view mirror with integrated rear-vision camera, $3,240; and continuously variable shiftable transmission in place of the six-speed stick shift, $1,000. This package is a sensible addition in southern New England’s climate, but it did boost the price from $25,870 to $30,179.
Rated at 22 mpg in the city, 29 highway, our Outback averaged about 25.5 mpg on regular gasoline, in mostly highway driving. The boxer’s power output is no better than average by modern crossover standards — just 170 horsepower — but a 6-cylinder, 270-horsepower boxer power plant is also available.
Prices for the Outback range from $23,295 for the base 2.5i to $31,695 for the 3.6 Limited, equipped with the 6-cylinder engine.
The Outback emerged from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-testing with a Top Safety Pick designation, and it’s also rated as a partial zero-emissions vehicle. It is assembled in Lafayette, Ind.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 2.5-liter Four, 170 horsepower, 170 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: Shiftable continuously variable automatic
Weight: 3,402 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear
Ground clearance: 8.7 in.
Wheels: 17×7 in. alloy
Tires: 225/60R17 98T all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 34.3 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 71.3 cu. ft.
Towing capacity: 2,700 lb.
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular