The Subaru Outback sprung from the now-defunct Legacy wagon to become an instant hit. Given more protective body cladding and elevated eight inches from the ground, the Outback became the perfect platform to highlight the capabilities of Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. The Outback's loyal following is legendary and the envy of many car makers, so much so that the Outback was one of the few cars that actually saw its sales increase during the great economic crash of 2009. Despite strong demand, Subaru was aware that the Outback's wagon-like silhouette and small back seat were a problem for many SUV buyers looking to downsize. So, in 2010, the company redesigned the Outback to have more room, a more SUV-like appearance and better fuel economy. The result is the 2010-11 Subaru Outback, a vehicle that is actually one-inch shorter than the 2009 model, yet provides ample room for four adults and all their gear.

Why You Want It

Whether you're an avid outdoors junkie or simply one of the millions who find inclement weather is the biggest obstacle to their daily commute, the 2010-2011 Subaru Outback makes a great four-wheeled companion. Though it may appear big, the Outback is actually about the same size as most midsize sedans, only it sits much higher. The Outback's large, roomy interior is nicely appointed with quality fabrics and plastics as well some cool options, such as the mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. But, if you're looking for the best reason to own this vehicle, it would have to be a combination of its capable, permanently engaged all-wheel drive system and its outstanding fuel economy. The base 2.5-liter engine has enough power to give the Outback fair marks for acceleration and passing power, and the car's CVT automatic transmission delivers impressive fuel economy of 22-mpg city and 29-mpg highway. For those who want or need the power of six-cylinder, the Outback offers that too. There is even a manual transmission option, but only on four-cylinder cars. Add to this all the cool accessories offered by Subaru, such as the numerous roof-top attachments, the gated dog partition and under door puddle lights, and it's easy to understand why so many people find that the 2010-11 Subaru Outback is all the car they'll ever need.

Notable Features & Options

The Outback is offered in three trims and with two engine choices. The most basic Outback comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine, a six-speed manual transmission and Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Standard equipment includes power window, locks and mirrors plus a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, AM/FM stereo with CD, steering wheel controls for the audio and cruise control, manual air conditioning, a roof rack with stowable cross bars, remote keyless entry, electronic parking brake with hill holder (keeps the car from rolling back when the clutch is depressed), and a rear wiper/washer. The Premium model adds an upgraded audio unit, a power driver's seat with power lumbar support, 17-inch alloy wheels and rear privacy glass, while the Limited trim brings leather seating, heated front seats, windshield wiper de-icer, a power passenger seat, the CVT automatic transmission, a 440-watt harman/kardon audio system with six-disc CD changer, automatic climate control, and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity. Equipment for the six-cylinder models is the same except the only transmission is a five-speed automatic. Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes, electronic traction and stability control and six airbags including front side-impact and front and rear side curtain airbags. Options are mostly bundled into packages and include the Cold Weather Package (heated front seats, windshield wiper de-icers and heated side mirrors), a power moonroof and Bluetooth. The Limited models can be equipped with a power moonroof, and a voice activated navigation system with a rear backup camera.

Model Milestones

2010 - All-new model debuts with more interior room, an innovative new roof rack with folding cross rails and a new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

2011 - Last year's fixed side mirrors are replaced by folding ones, while new options include a rear backup camera with rearview mirror display and a Wi-Fi mobile hotspot that can connect to devices up to 150-feet from the vehicle.

Engines and Performance

Subaru engines use a horizontally-opposed piston design known as a Boxer engine (so named because the moving cylinders resemble a pair of boxers punching at each other). The base four-cylinder engine is a 2.5-liter unit that produces 170 horsepower and 170 pounds-feet of torque. Although off-the line acceleration is good, passing requires the engine to rev high before delivering more power. This is a bit of a problem with the manual transmission, which requires constant up shifts, but not with the CVT automatic which finds and holds the optimum gearing. All automatic equipped Outbacks also feature steering wheel paddle shifters that allow manual control of the gear changes, a nice feature particularly helpful at using engine breaking to slow the vehicle on icy roads. The Outback's other engine is a 3.6-liter six-cylinder good for 256 horsepower and 247 pounds-feet of torque. While this engine definitely provides more power and better acceleration, its fuel economy figures of 18-mpg city and 25-mpg highway give it slightly less range than its four-cylinder sibling.
As for driving performance, the Outback delivers a smooth and controlled ride, but its tall ride height and soft suspension makes it feel a bit tippy when cornering, and the steering feels slightly over assisted. Of course, get the Outback off road and that soft suspension makes quick work of rutted trails and rock strewn washes. Although it does not possess a hi-lo transfer case found on most true off-road vehicles, we found our Outback capable of tackling some pretty rough off-road conditions, including steep dirt hills, deep snow and sandy desert trails.

Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has issued the following recalls for the 2010-11 Subaru Outback:

2010- Recalls were issued for a possible crack in the CVT transmission's cooler hose, and for a possible defect in the steering wheel wiring connector that could crack and lead to the failure of some electrical components.

2010-2011 - A recall was issued for manual transmission equipped cars that may be missing a lubrication hole for the transmission.

Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed and if not, will fix the car at no charge to you.

As for safety, both NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) give the 2010-11 Subaru Outback their highest marks for safety, scoring five out of five stars in NHTSA's front end and side impact tests, and four out of five stars in the rollover test. IIHS calls the Outback a Top Safety Pick earning GOOD ratings in the frontal off-set, side impact and roof strength crash test.

All Subaru Outbacks come with a 3-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 5-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty. If you purchase your Outback through Subaru's Certified Pre-Owned vehicle program, the powertrain warranty period is extended to 6-years/100,000 miles, and owners have the option to buy plans that will cover electrical, steering, suspension, brakes, air conditioning and fuel system.

Word on the Web

Consumer sites such as ConsumerReports.com give the 2010-11 Subaru Outback excellent marks for dependability, quality, and overall design. JDpower.com, however, gives the Outback only average marks for initial quality, design and reliability. After looking through some enthusiast sites such as SubaruOutback.org, we think we know why the J.D. Power scores are so much lower. While just about every Outback owner loves the car's all-wheel drive abilities, impressive fuel economy and comfortable interior, there are a number of complaints regarding wheel shake at high speed, awkward shifting from the CVT and some vibration issues on early six-cylinder cars. While Subaru seems to have found fixes for most of these, a solution to the wheel shake reports seems to be a mystery. Some dealers swapped out the Outback's Continental tires while others attributed the problem to ice or mud clinging to the alloy wheels thus causing them to become unbalanced. We also read numerous complaints about the $2,000 optional navigation unit, which is difficult to use and once in motion shuts the driver out of most controls including the ability to select songs or artists when connected to an iPod (only the playlist menus are accessible).

Competitive Set (say something about each, strengths and weaknesses)

You could shop for a compact CUV such as the Honda CR-V which is less expensive than the Outback but doesn't have a very robust all-wheel drive setup. Like the Outback, the Toyota RAV4 offers a choice of four or six-cylinder engines and can be equipped with a third-row seat, but again, its all-wheel drive system is not as capable as the Outback's. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited can certainly go places the Outback will never see, but it is heavy, gets poor gas mileage and its overall safety and reliability scores are not as strong. The best competitor to the Outback comes from Subaru itself in the form of the Forester. The Forester uses the same four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive setup as the Outback, but it costs a lot less. Then again, the Forester's transmission choices are somewhat antiquated and it's not as luxurious.

Auto Trader Recommendations

We think the four-cylinder Outback does pretty well in most driving situations, prompting us to recommend a Premium or Limited model with the CVT automatic. Those who require more pulling power will be satisfied by the 3.6R, but know that going with the six-cylinder car will definitely increase the bottom line. A look at some used Outbacks on Auto Trader Classified reveals that for the price of a base 3.6R you can get a nicely equipped 2.5 Limited.

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Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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