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2018 Honda CR-V vs. 2018 Subaru Outback: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Eric Brandt August 2018
  • The 2018 Honda CR-V is a humble, economical people-mover while the 2018 Subaru Outback is more on the rugged side.

  • The Outback carries a higher starting price, but also comes standard with all-wheel drive, which is optional on the CR-V.

  • The CR-V is more affordable, but the Outback has more character.

As more and more new entries enter the SUV segment, two veterans that have been around for quite some time are the Subaru Outback and the Honda CR-V. While not necessarily direct competitors, these two crossovers compete in a similar field. They're both great for anyone who might be looking for a versatile family vehicle or just a reliable commuter.

The CR-V and the Outback are both currently in their fifth generation. The CR-V was just updated in 2017 and the current Outback has been around since 2015. Both have come a long way since their humble beginnings in the 90s and have become popular choices for discerning families looking for modern technology, strong safety ratings and plenty of space.

Let's take a look at what each SUV has to offer and which one is right for you.

Exterior

The exteriors of the Honda CR-V and the Subaru Outback are both representative of their respective brands. The CR-V isn't the most exciting-looking SUV on the market, but it's stylish, subtle and modern. The Outback wears the rugged personality that Subaru is famous for, without looking rough around the edges. Neither one is much of a head-turner, but neither one is ugly either.

Being sort of a cross between a wagon and an SUV, the Subaru Outback is longer than the CR-V by nine inches. The two are the same height and the Honda is one inch wider. That makes the profile of these crossovers pretty different. The CR-V is fairly in line with the rest of the compact SUV segment in terms of its dimensions while the Outback is something a little different.

Interior

Despite the Outback being longer than the CR-V, the Honda actually has more cargo volume than the Subaru, with the back seats folded up and folded down. Incidentally, the Outback's extra length doesn't translate to more room for passengers either. The front seat space is about the same in both SUVs and the CR-V has a little more headroom and legroom in the back seat than the Outback. Honda is good at making space-efficient vehicles and maximizing interior space in cars of all sizes, and the CR-V is a good example of that.

The interiors of the CR-V and the Outback are both comfortable for everyone who is along for the ride. Both are full of quality materials that make you feel like you're in a more expensive crossover. The CR-V has an all-digital instrument cluster that mimics analog gauges in a way that's pleasing to the eye and easy to read. The Outback's instrumentation uses analog gauges with a driver information screen in between. If you like clear digital gauges, you'll prefer the cockpit of the Honda, but if you prefer a more traditional layout, the Subaru might be the one for you.

Mechanicals

The 2018 Honda CR-V is available with two different inline-four engines and the Subaru Outback offers two flat engines (a 4-cylinder and a 6-cylinder). The base engine in the CR-V is a 2.4-liter inline four that makes 184 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. You can upgrade to a smaller engine with very similar performance numbers with a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that makes 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque. The advantage of the turbo engine is improved fuel economy without sacrificing performance. The 2.4 engine returns 26 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway -- which is good -- but it it's even better with the turbo engine returning 28 mpg city/34 mpg hwy. It's worth noting that these numbers are for two-wheel-drive models and fuel economy takes a slight hit when you upgrade to AWD. The only available transmission with both engines is a CVT with sport mode.

The base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that comes with most Outbacks doesn't quite match either engine available in the Honda in terms of performance or fuel economy. It makes 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque while returning 25 mpg city/32 mpg hwy. The Outback gets a big boost in performance when you upgrade to the available 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine that makes 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. Those are numbers that the CR-V can't touch, but that extra driving excitement will cost you at the pump since it only gets 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy.

A big advantage that the Outback has over the CR-V is the standard AWD. Front-wheel drive is standard and AWD is optional on all trims of the CR-V. However, if you don't want or need AWD, you can save some money and some fuel by going with a less expensive, more efficient 2WD CR-V. If you do want the versatility of AWD and don't want to pay extra for it, then you might prefer the Outback.

Features and Technology

The Subaru Outback is available in four basic trim levels: the base trim, Premium, Limited and Touring. The base Outback 2.5i is pretty generously equipped for a base model, with standard features including Subaru's Starlink infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, EyeSight driver-assist technology and raised roof rails. Upgrading to the Premium trim gets you extra features including a power driver's seat, blind spot monitoring, heated front seats and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Outback gets pretty fancy when you get into the Limited trim, which adds leather seats, Harman Kardon premium audio, heated front and rear seats and a power lift gate. Finally, the range-topping Outback Touring adds luxurious features like navigation, a heated steering wheel and a power sunroof.

The Honda CR-V also has four trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L and Touring. The LX trim is a good value and includes a rearview camera, Bluetooth, automatic climate control and LED daytime running lights. Upgrading to the EX trim gives you some nice extra features like Honda Sensing safety tech and a 7-in infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The EX-L trim adds some luxury to the CR-V by adding leather seats, a power lift gate and a two-position memory driver's seat. Finally, upgrading to the Touring model will give you a hands-free power lift gate, navigation, automatic LED headlights and premium audio.

The base Outback has a lot of features that don't come standard on a CR-V LX like AWD, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and some nice safety tech, but it also has a higher starting price.

Pricing

Pricing for the Honda CR-V starts at just $24,250 while the Outback starts at $25,895. The higher starting price for the Outback makes sense when you factor in its abundant standard features. Even when a CR-V is similarly equipped, it's usually still the more affordable car. If you add in the extra cost for the optional AWD in a CR-V, however, the price can climb higher than a similar Outback.

The CR-V is a better value in the higher trims, with the CR-V Touring starting at $32,750 and the Outback Touring starting at $36,490. The price of an Outback can get pretty close to $40,000 if you upgrade to the 6-cylinder engine available in the Limited and Touring trims. You do get a lot of car for the money, but it's still a lot to spend on a Subaru wagon.

If you're on a budget and if AWD isn't a big priority for you, then the CR-V is a better value than the Outback. However, if you're willing to spend a little extra for added performance and some nice luxury features, then the Subaru can outclass the Honda.

Conclusion

For an affordable, reliable crossover that will rarely, if ever, leave the pavement, the Honda CR-V is a hard value to beat. The CR-V is the economical choice, but the Outback has more character and a rugged attitude that the Honda just can't match. That attitude is backed up by real capability thanks to its standard symmetrical AWD that will gladly take you off the beaten path, not to mention the performance of the available flat-six engine that the Honda can't come close to.

You can't go wrong with either crossover and choosing the right one for you all depends on what you're looking for in a compact SUV.

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New 2018 Honda CR-V AWD EX-L
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New 2018 Honda CR-V AWD EX-L
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New 2018 Honda CR-V AWD EX-L
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New 2018 Honda CR-V AWD EX
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Honda CR-V vs. 2018 Subaru Outback: Which Is Better? - Autotrader