For 2010, Subaru has entirely redesigned its legendary Outback, moving it firmly into mid-size territory and making it an even stronger competitor to such sport-utility crossovers as the Toyota Venza, Volvo XC60, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The new 2010 Subaru Outback comes in three trim levels--base, Premium, and Limited--and offers two engines, a 2.5-liter flat-four and a 3.6-liter flat-six. Prices start at $22,995 for the base 2.5i model with six-speed manual transmission, rising to $30,995 for the 3.6R Limited model with all the bells and whistles. TheCarConnection.com drove several different 2010 Outbacks to produce this hands-on road test.
Subaru gives the 2010 Outback bolder styling and what it calls "SUV details"-- exaggerated wheel arches, a thicker rear roof pillar, and chunkier rear side windows. It adds 2.8 inches to the wheelbase, ups the width by 2.0 inches, and lifts it a whopping 4.1 inches, but actually keeps it almost an inch shorter than the previous model. At 8.7 inches, ground clearance is the highest ever, besting rivals that include the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The front styling may be the Outback's least successful aspect, with very large headlights sweeping well back into the fenders. Inside, the Outback is modern without being outlandish, with a slight curve to the center console.
At a base weight of just 3,386 pounds with standard all-wheel drive, the 2010 Outback is 450 to 1,000 pounds lighter than AWD competitors. This lets the new Outback use an engine much smaller than the competition. The base 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed "flat" four-cylinder engine returns 22 mpg city, 29 highway when paired with an all-new continuously variable transmission (CVT) called Lineartronic. Subaru expects more than half of all 2010 Outbacks to be fitted with this combination. If you fit the 2.5-liter four with the new six-speed manual--Subaru is one of the few carmakers still offering manual transmissions--mileage falls to 19 mpg city, 27 highway.
Full-tilt acceleration is adequately unobtrusive; the transmission quickly runs the engine up to its most efficient speed of about 5,500 rpm and keeps it there, but sound insulation alleviates most of the typical CVT whine. Level highway cruising is generally placid at engine speeds below 2,000 rpm. The Lineartronic CVT includes paddle shifters behind the steering wheel that simulate six fixed ratios, holding the engine in the chosen "gear."
The optional engine is a 3.6-liter flat-six that kicks out 256 horsepower. It's mated to a conventional five-speed automatic transmission. It gives 18 mpg city, 25 highway, less impressive than the frugal four. While the company won't quote acceleration figures, the six is smooth and quiet, and it offers rather torquey, un-Subaru-like hustle as it moves the 2010 Outback smartly off the line. It won't win any drag races, but while the four is adequate, the six is actually fun.
Subaru's horizontally opposed, or "boxer," engines keep the Outback's center of gravity low, despite its tall profile and high ground clearance. It handles better than virtually any competitor, driving like a car rather than a truck.
The new 2010 model is surprisingly roomy, especially in the backseat, which comfortably accommodates six-foot-tall passengers even with the front seats pushed all the way back. The 60-40 split rear seat not only folds flat but also reclines. The tailgate opens down to a 33.9-inch liftover, and the high roof and upright sides give a wide opening that even fits two dog kennels side by side. When the rear seats are folded, cargo volume is 71.3 cubic feet; with seatbacks up, it's 34.3 cubic feet. The interior is refined and quiet, as well; the door windows now have frames, and cross bars for the roof rack swing back and stow parallel to the rails to cut wind whistle.
Carrying people and stuff is what Outbacks are all about, in fact. The new roof rail system was designed to ensure that existing third-party roof accessories--from bike racks to storage boxes, kayak mounts to ski holders--would fit on the redesigned rails.
Subaru expects the 2010 Outback to score five stars on all of its crash tests. Dual-stage dash-mounted front airbags, thorax-protecting front-seat side airbags, and full side-curtain airbags for head protection are all standard, as are seatbelt pre-tensioners. Every 2010 Outback also includes stability and four-wheel traction control systems. In addition, Subaru returns to fitting its traditional Hill Holder, which makes starting easier on slopes of 5 percent or higher by keeping the brakes engaged.
Subaru adds many new features to the 2010 Outback to bring it up to par with other crossovers. The steering column not only tilts but telescopes. All models include an outdoor temperature display and three 12-volt power outlets. Premium and Limited trim levels are available with all three engine/transmission combinations. Options include Subaru's traditional all-weather package, with heated seats and mirrors, as well as a deicer for the windshield wipers; a 10-way power driver's seat; dual-zone automatic climate control; a power mooonroof; and a 440-watt, 9-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system. Limited models offer a voice-activated navigation system with a reversing camera that shows in the 8-inch dash-mounted display. To our surprise, ordering the navigation system requires the moonroof to be specified as well. And unfortunately, Subaru doesn't offer memory functions for seat and mirror settings for different drivers.
The Bottom Line:
The 2010 Subaru Outback isn't especially swoopy or fast, and it hardly carries a luxe image. But with more interior refinement and new features, along with rutted-trail ability that sidelines tough-looking rivals, this Subaru will win more fans.