Editor’s note: You may be interested in more of Autotrader’s model vs. model comparison car reviews as well as the 2005-2009 Subaru Outback review and the 2007-2010 Honda CR-V video review on our YouTube channel.
If you’re looking for a used compact SUV or crossover that boasts impressive versatility and reasonable pricing, we suspect your shopping list includes the 2005-2009 Subaru Outback and the 2007-2011 Honda CR-V. Indeed, the CR-V is an obvious pick, and while the Outback isn’t technically an SUV or a crossover, its raised ground clearance, standard all-wheel drive and roomy cabin should certainly earn it a spot on your list.
But which of these two models is better? And which one should you buy? We’ve created a close comparison that sums up all the key differences and similarities between these two models to help you figure it out, but first let’s take a look at the basics.
2005-2009 Subaru Outback: The Basics
The 2005-2009 Outback was the model’s third generation. Offered in sedan or wagon form, the Outback was available with a 4-cylinder, turbocharged 4-cylinder or 6-cylinder power, along with the model’s signature standard all-wheel drive. Standard on all models were anti-lock brakes and side-curtain airbags, while options included leather upholstery, heated seats and automatic climate control. Find a 2009 Subaru Outback for sale near you
2007-2011 Honda CR-V: The Basics
The 2007-2011 Honda CR-V also represented the model’s third generation. Available in LX, EX or EX-L trims, the CR-V touted front- or all-wheel drive, along with a more commanding view of the road than the Outback. Standard safety features included an anti-skid system, anti-lock brakes and side-curtain airbags, while options included leather upholstery, a power sunroof and dual-zone automatic climate control. Find a 2011 Honda CR-V for sale near you
According to exports at Consumer Reports, the 2005-2009 Subaru Outback suffered from reliability that was far worse than average, especially because of problems with the engine and drivetrain, likely due to head-gasket failure on some models. The CR-V, meanwhile, has the exact opposite rating — far better than average — with Consumer Reports giving the car favorable scores in every single category.
As a result, this one’s obvious: The CR-V will likely be a more reliable companion than the Outback, but that doesn’t necessarily count out the Subaru. Just make sure to get a thorough mechanical inspection from someone you trust before signing the papers.
The CR-V offered only one engine: a 166-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder (later upped to 180 hp), which was mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy reached as high as 20 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
The Outback offered three different engine choices. Base models used a 170-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, which offered up to 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with the standard 5-speed manual transmission or 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy with the optional 5-speed automatic. Drivers looking for more power could choose between a 243-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder (rated at up to 20 mpg city/26 mpg hwy) and a 245-hp 3.0-liter 6-cylinder (rated at up to 17 mpg city/24 mpg hwy).
The result: The Outback is more efficient than the CR-V, even with its standard all-wheel drive — an item that usually diminishes gas mileage. In fact, you can opt for the 243-hp turbocharged Outback XT and still get the same fuel economy as the 166-hp CR-V, while the Outback’s base engine beats out the CR-V by 3 or 4 mpg.
In crash-test ratings carried out by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, both the Outback and CR-V earned a perfect 5-star score in front- and side-impact tests. However, while the Outback also earned a perfect 5-star score in rollover tests, the CR-V earned only four stars — a function of its higher center of gravity. Although the Outback was not thoroughly tested by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the CR-V earned the firm’s Top Safety Pick designation.
As for safety features, this is an area where the 2005-2009 Outback shows its slightly more advanced age compared to the 2007-2011 CR-V. While both the Outback and the CR-V offer standard anti-lock brakes and side-curtain airbags, the Subaru only offered an anti-skid system on top-of-the-line models; such a system was standard on the CR-V. Honda also offered a backup camera on the upscale CR-V EX-L, while the feature wouldn’t be available in the Outback until the wagon’s next generation.
As a result, we think the CR-V has a slight leg up on the Outback when it comes to safety features, especially if you opt for an upscale EX-L model with a backup camera. Meanwhile, the Outback has a slight leg up in crashworthiness, largely because of its lower likelihood of rolling over in a collision.
By modern standards, neither the CR-V nor the Outback was very advanced. Both cars offered navigation systems (and, thus, center screens) only as options on their top-end trim levels, and neither model offered any sort of iPod connection beyond an auxiliary jack. In fact, the most advanced feature you’ll find on either of these models (aside from the navigation systems) is dual-zone automatic climate control — now a fairly simple extra on the vast majority of new cars.
The result: We wouldn’t buy either of these vehicles if technology is a huge priority. Then again, that’ll be a problem with just about all used cars at this price point. If you want tech, you’ll at least want to spring for that navigation system, which was optional on the CR-V EX-L and the Outback Limited.
There are currently around 1,300 different 2005-2009 Outback models listed on Autotrader with an average price of around $9,500, while there are about 4,800 different 2007-2011 CR-V models with an average price of around $14,400. The difference is largely due to the age gap, as the 2005-2009 Outback both debuted and was redesigned 2 years before the 2007-2011 CR-V.
To us, the price difference makes the Outback a highly appealing proposition, especially when you factor in standard all-wheel drive, as the CR-V’s average price jumps to around $14,700 if you add all-wheel drive to your search criteria. It’s also particularly appealing when you consider that the Outback offers better fuel economy, slightly stronger crash-test scores and about the same level of equipment.
Yes, the CR-V is more reliable, but with a $5,000 price gap, you could make a lot of repairs to an Outback and still come out ahead. The result: We think the Outback is a slightly better value than its CR-V rival.
Both the 2005-2009 Subaru Outback and the 2007-2011 Honda CR-V are competent, affordable crossover models with versatile interiors and reasonable pricing. To us, the CR-V is the better model overall, as it touts a better driving position, more available safety features and dramatically improved reliability compared to the Outback. But is it worth $5,000 more than an Outback? If you’re on a tight budget, the answer is probably not, though we’d make sure to get any 2005-2009 Outback thoroughly inspected by a trusted mechanic before buying it.