In the 1990s, crossover vehicles were a radical new idea. Early Crossovers like the Suzuki X90 and Isuzu Vehicross were confused, odd looking little things that were impractical on the road yet unable to make a serious dent on a real off-road trail. By the late 1990s the formula started to come together in vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Outback.
Originally the Outback was a small station wagon with a few SUV-ish features added like all-wheel drive, more aggressive tires and a raised ride height. Today’s Subaru Outback continues with that basic formula but a full redesign in 2010 added extra interior space and even more SUV like features.
Kinda Like an SUV
On paper, Subaru’s changes to the Outback are modest, but in reality this new Outback is nothing like previous versions. The vehicle feels notably taller and wider without losing its carlike driving dynamics. The Outback has seating for five people, if you need a third row of seats the Outback won’t work for you. However, if cargo carrying ability is important to you the 2011 Subaru Outback actually does quite well. Fold the rear seats down and there’s a little more than 71 cubic feet of space, that’s more than the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano.
Both front and rear seats are comfortable and the added interior space versus the previous Outback is obvious right away. Head, leg and hip room are all abundant.
On the road the ‘11 Outback feels solid and well built. You can clearly tell it’s not a truck and that’s both good and bad. The good is that it feels like a midsize sedan on paved roads offering sharp handling and plenty of acceleration from both of its available engines. Venture off-road and the Outback feels like what it really is, a car with an elevated ride height. The Outback is no match for serious off-road trails but steep gravel roads, sand, mud, dirt, snow and even neglected fire roads are well within the Subie’s ability. Standard features such as hill holder, a six-speed manual transmission and stability control enhance the Outback’s ability to tackle even the nastiest weather. The all-wheel drive system that’s standard works well on the Outback although you can occasionally feel it working when there’s little traction.
Lots of Choices
Powering the Outback are the same two engine choices you’ll find in the Subaru Legacy. The Outback 2.5i comes with a 2.5 liter flat-four that makes a more than adequate 170 hp. The 2.5i Limited uses the same engine but adds a constantly variable transmission (CVT) to make the most of that power. Subaru’s four cylinder engine is just as smooth as any found in a Honda or Toyota and the seamless, quick responding CVT makes the Outback feel quicker than it really is. With the CVT, the Outback 2.5i gets an EPA estimate of 22 mpg city / 29 highway.
A more powerful engine is offered too. The 3.6R version of the Outback means a 3.6 liter, 256 hp flat-six. A five speed automatic transmission get the power to all four wheels on this Outback plus it adds a few extra features versus the base 2.5i like a rear cargo cover, rear privacy glass and 17 inch wheels. The six cylinder engine is rated at 18 mpg city / 25 highway. That’s better than many SUVs and on par with most minivans.
But even the base 2.5i Outback comes with a decent level of comfort and convenience features; air-conditioning, cruise control, power windows, mirrors and door locks, remote keyless entry, steering wheel mounted audio controls, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and stability control are all standard. That’s a fairly substantial list considering the base model’s $23,000 retail price tag. Depending on which Outback model you choose, the usual upscale options are available too including leather, satellite radio, premium stereo, navigation and a rear parking camera - mobile internet is newly available for 2011.
Most versions of the 2011 Subaru Outback are priced well below $30,000. The Outback 3.6R Premium and Limited will run north of $30,000 even if you limit yourself to just a few options.
So is the 2011 Subaru Outback a real crossover SUV or just a station wagon with beefy tires? Really, it’s both. It matches or tops some crossover SUVs in terms of bang for the buck, interior space and all-weather ability and yet behaves a lot like a car when you want it to.