The 2009 Subaru Outback lineup includes several versions, including a wagon body style. All receive the rugged treatment, picking up a raised heavy-duty suspension and body-side cladding that hints at greater brawn. The Outback is otherwise mechanically similar to the Legacy sedan, which is covered by a separate review.
The Outback is offered in a wide range of models, now ranging from the basic 2.5i up to the sporty XT Limited and luxurious 3.0R Limited. The 2.5i and 2.5i Limited models get a 168-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed ("flat") four, while the 2.5 XT and XT Limited upgrade to a high-performance turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four making 243 hp. And at the top there's a 245-hp, 3.0-liter flat-six powering the 3.0R.
With the base engine, the 2009 Subaru Outback has adequate power with a light load, but if you plan on hauling a lot of stuff or driving in the mountains, the engine can feel taxed. It's made worse by the four-speed automatic, which can shift abruptly and has rather widely spaced gears. The turbocharged engine in the XT is the most responsive, with none of the lag that sometimes plagues turbos, but the six is the smoothest and most refined.
Across the line, the Outback models get all-wheel drive and have up to 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which may prove very useful in deep snow or mud. Subaru models with the base engine have either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, while XT models get either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic, which includes Sportshift paddle shifters. At the top, the six-cylinder engine comes with just the five-speed automatic.
Models with the turbocharged four or the six-cylinder engine get SI-Drive, a system that has three different modes allowing throttle response, transmission shift, and other characteristics to change from smooth to sharp as desired in the 2009 Subaru Outback.
Despite having the heavy-duty suspension, Outback models handle very well on the road, with crisp, rather communicative steering and not much body lean; ride comfort is quite good as well, but road noise can be an issue inside.
Overall, the interior is rather basic but attractive with matte-metallic materials and mid-grade plastics. There are no overt luxury pretenses here, except in the top models, which pile on the convenience features and upgrades. Seating in the 2009 Subaru Outback is comfortable for five normal-sized adults, though front-seat occupants might find headroom tight with the available moonroof. A 440-watt Harman-Kardon premium audio system is standard across the line for 2009.
Anti-lock brakes, front-seat side airbags, and active front head restraints are all included. For 2009, Subaru's electronic stability system is standard across the line. The Subaru Outback receives top five-star results from the federal government in both frontal and side impact tests.
Top 2009 3.0R Limited models get a navigation system, upgraded heated seats, dual-zone climate control, leather trim, and a six-speaker sound system. Some of the latest expected tech features, such as a Bluetooth interface, an iPod interface, and live traffic updates, aren't available.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009 Subaru Legacy Outback boasts more toughness than most wagons and is a good, practical alternative to tall, ungainly SUVs.