The 2018 Subaru Outback combines the best attributes of a wagon with the off-road abilities of a rugged SUV. The Outback’s permanently engaged all-wheel-drive (AWD) system makes it the king of winter driving, yet it rides and handles very much like a comfortable family sedan. The Outback features a cavernous cabin with a huge back seat and plenty of cargo space. It also includes a number of innovative features such as an integrated roof rack with stowable crossbars, the EyeSight collision-mitigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility plus an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Despite its standard AWD setup, Subaru’s Outback returns impressive fuel economy, especially when equipped with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. This setup allows the Outback to confidently venture off-road, a skill enhanced by the addition of X-Mode with hill-descent control and hill-start assist. The Outback is no Rubicon contender, but it’s more than capable of competing with popular crossover SUVs such as the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.
For those seeking the perfect blend of safety, reliability, fuel economy, resale value and impressive off-road capability, the 2018 Subaru Outback is hard to beat.
What’s New for 2018?
The 2018 Outback received a midcycle refresh, with a more aggressive grille and headlight treatment, new wheels for the Limited trim, available steering-responsive headlights and, on Limited and Touring trims with EyeSight, automatic high beams. A revised suspension delivers a smoother ride while sound-insulating glass helps quiet the cabin. Inside, a new dash features more soft-touch material, and a new center stack now features an 8-inch touchscreen (6.5-in on the base trim) and revised HVAC controls. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and a new gray interior option is available for both cloth and leather.
What We Like
EyeSight collision-avoidance system; integrated roof rails; touchscreen audio and navigation system; impressive fuel economy; excellent safety and resale-value figures; real off-road capability
What We Don’t
6-cylinder engine only available on Limited and Touring trims; EyeSight system not offered on base trim; limited color options for Touring trim; missing competitive options such as rain-sensing wipers, ventilated seats and a panoramic sunroof.
The 2.5i base, Premium, Limited and Touring trims all have a 2.5-liter flat 4-cylinder engine teamed to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. This engine develops 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates for the 2.5-liter are an impressive 25 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. The 3.6R Limited and Touring trims are equipped with a 3.6-liter flat 6-cylinder engine that produces a robust 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. EPA estimates for this engine are a respectable 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy.
An optional Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) upgrade is available on the 2.5-liter engine only.
Standard Features & Options
The Subaru Outback is offered in six trims: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, 3.6R Limited and 3.6R Touring.
The 2.5i ($26,810) includes a CVT automatic transmission with a 7-speed manual mode and paddle shifters, 17-in aluminum wheels, a 6.5-in touchscreen radio with Bluetooth phone and music streaming, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Starlink telematics and USB/iPod integration. Also standard is X-Mode with hill-descent control and hill-start assist, cruise control, manual air conditioning, remote keyless entry, a roof rack with integrated crossbars, a rear backup camera, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, a rear window defroster, a rear wiper/washer, a hill-holder feature, a height-adjustable driver’s seat and seat-back release levers in the cargo area.
The 2.5i Premium ($28,910) adds a 10-way power driver’s seat, the All-Weather package (3-mode heated front seats, heated side mirrors and heated windshield de-icers), a 6-speaker audio system with an 8-in touchscreen and SiriusXM radio, the Starlink Safety and Security package, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
Options for the Premium trim include navigation radio, the EyeSight adaptive cruise control and collision-avoidance system (also includes rear cross-traffic alert, a blind spot monitoring system, auto high beams, lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning), a power moonroof and a power rear lift gate.
The 2.5i Limited ($33,610) adds keyless access with push-button start, perforated leather seating, a 4-way power passenger seat, 18-in alloy wheels, rear-seat air vents, dual-mode heated rear seats, a 576-watt Harman Kardon audio upgrade with 12 speakers and a subwoofer, a rear vehicle-detection system with cross-traffic alert, wood grain dash trim and a power rear lift gate.
The 3.6R Limited ($36,310) adds the more powerful 6-cylinder engine, a beefed up CVT transmission and steering-responsive HID headlights.
Options for the Limited trims include the EyeSight system, high-beam assist, reverse automatic braking, LED steering-responsive headlights (2.5i), navigation and a power moonroof.
The 2.5i Touring ($37,405) adds unique exterior color and trim, Java Brown leather interior, a heated steering wheel, EyeSight driver-assist technology with high-beam assist and reverse automatic braking, low-profile roof rails and a rear bumper cover.
The 3.6R Touring ($39,605) includes the same features as the 2.5i Touring but adds the larger 6-cylinder engine.
In addition to the factory packages, Subaru offers a plethora of dealer-installed accessories such as remote starting, protective side molding, rear-bumper protectors and speaker upgrades. Also on the list are numerous attachments for the roof rack, including bike, kayak and ski holders, as well as cargo carriers in various sizes.
Every 2018 Outback features numerous standard safety features, including front, front-side impact and full-length side-curtain airbags. Electronic traction and stability control is also standard, augmented by X-Mode, hill-descent control and hill-start assist. Available features include the EyeSight collision detection and avoidance system, reverse automatic braking, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert with lane-change assist.
In crash tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Outback a 5-star overall rating, with five out of five stars in the frontal and side crash tests and four stars in the rollover test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Outback top marks in every crash-test category, plus a Superior rating for its optional EyeSight collision-avoidance system. The Outback’s combined scores earn it an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award.
Behind the Wheel
While the Outback’s handsome interior and host of high-tech features make it an enjoyable highway cruiser, this car takes its off-road heritage seriously. The Outback may not be able to keep up with a full-fledged off-road SUV such as the Jeep Wrangler, but its 8.7-in ground clearance, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive and X-Mode give this rugged wagon the ability to go where most all-wheel-drive crossovers wouldn’t even consider. Even when not bounding over remote areas, the Outback’s design gives it superior abilities on paved surfaces that are covered with snow, ice or rain.
This year’s revised suspension delivers a smoother ride on-road and a greater ability to absorb hard impacts when venturing off-road. The Limited and Touring trims’ 18-in wheel and tire setup does return a slightly harsher ride; we think the 17-in wheels on the base and Premium are the best choice. Acceleration with the 2.5-liter engine is surprisingly good, but it’s the 3.6-liter engine that allows the Outback to pass, merge and tow up to 2,700 pounds with confidence. However, the 4-cylinder’s impressive fuel economy is hard to ignore.
On the road, the Outback drives very much like a car — that is, until you throw it into turns. Then the 8.7-in ride height makes itself known. The cabin is impressively quiet, and the controls are logically laid out, although we can’t say the same for the audio system’s maddeningly complex digital audio controls, which take the place of traditional bass and treble knobs.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk — The Cherokee Trailhawk may be the only compact crossover that can beat the Outback at off-roading, but the Cherokee isn’t as reliable, doesn’t hold its resale value as well and has an anemic base engine.
2018 Ford Edge — The Edge can handle modest off-road situations, and its ride is more comfortable than the Outback’s. The Edge also offers a choice of three powerful engines, but it can’t match the Outback’s fuel economy, safety ratings or resale values.
2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack — The Alltrack is nearly 10 inches shorter than the Outback and offers less interior room but a better driving experience, better fuel economy, a more powerful base engine and the option of a manual transmission. The Alltrack’s 6.9 inches of ground clearance pales in comparison to the Outback’s 8.7 inches.
Used Volkswagen Touareg — A 2012-2016 Volkswagen Touareg offers excellent off-road ability, a luxurious interior and numerous engine options, including a diesel.
We think the best bargain in the Outback lineup is the 2.5i Premium with the EyeSight system. This model gives you everything you need in a family vehicle, offers excellent protection for everyone on board and still remains just under the $31,000 mark (less if you’re really good at negotiating).