While station wagons have long been out of American favor nationwide, drive around New England and you’ll see lots of square-back, Subaru Outbacks. Now maybe it’s because of their standard all-wheel drive, or even that Subaru uses the word “utility” to describe it. All we know is that where Volvo wagons were once king, the Outback now reins. And, this all-new, 5th generation, 2015 Outback shows no sign of surrendering that crown.
While being the “World’s First Sport Utility Wagon” may have started as a marketing tag, there’s no denying that the Subaru Outback has come to embody the rugged, all-weather, all-road station wagon.
Visually, like the companion Legacy sedan, the new Outback is a little more vanilla and a little bit less “Subaru-unique”. Yet, you still know it’s a Subaru, and perhaps THE Subaru.
Familiar too is the way it drives, though there is a welcomed amount of steering and road feel added in, and a little bit more noise kept out. Some staffers found the suspension to be firmer than expected, though that clearly fit’s Subaru’s “rugged and livable” image.
Many other detail changes focused on what owners asked for; like a better navigation system, moving the info center from the dash to the gauge panel, a real temperature gauge, more safety features, and softer materials. It’s mostly all for the good, though some of the useful info has become a little harder to read, and there’s now way too many controls on the steering wheel.
Seats however, have taken a step back. They are a little more supportive, but also harder. Plus, the optional perforated leather rubbed some of our staff the wrong way.
No one can deny the wealth of interior space for the money, both in seating, and in cargo room. The latter climbs to 35.5 cubic-ft. with the seat backs up, 73.3 cubic-ft. with them down. Roof rails with retractable cross bars are again standard, and a power lift gate is now available.
We’re not sure how many people pony up for the 256-horsepower 3.6-liter boxer-6 with 247 lb-ft. of torque, but it’s very smooth as is the CVT transmission attached to it. Base Outbacks find the CVT fitted to a slightly enhanced 2.5-liter boxer-4 with 175-horsepower.
Regardless of engine choice, this Outback does enhance its rugged ways as the standard all-wheel-drive system now includes X-Mode traction management, with hill descent control, and 8.7-inches of ground clearance. That makes it more capable than most crossover utilities.
Despite that high ground clearance, there was very little roll through our slalom course. And while the Outback prefers a relaxed pace, there’s very little understeer and only minor computer intervention. New Active Torque Vectoring is standard, using selective braking to the inside front wheel to help the Outback pivot around corners.
As for acceleration, despite sounding very aggressive and jumping off the line, power build is slow and steady; taking 7.5-seconds to hit 60. The full ¼-mile took us 15.8-seconds, crossing the line at 91 miles-per-hour.
Simulated shifts are added into the CVT transmission. Reaction is better but you still won’t be fooled into thinking it’s a real automatic. Panic braking produced lots of nose dive and an out-of-sorts rear end; as well as average stops from 60 of 133-feet.
Dimensionally, the new Outback has grown a little bit in all directions, but you’d be hard pressed to notice it. 3.6R Limited models get the highest level of content ever in an Outback; including HID headlights, dual stainless exhaust tips, 18-inch alloy wheels, turn signal mirrors, heated front and rear seats, and both wood and matte finish interior accents.
New safety features include a standard rear view camera, the latest version of Eye Sight, Subaru’s Rear Vehicle Detection System, and front seat cushion air bags. An electric parking brake is carryover. New is Hill Holder and Incline Start Assist.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 20-City, 27-Highway, and 22-Combined which we matched perfectly on regular gas. But most buyers will give up some guts and go with the four-cylinder for a 25% economy gain and a combined rating of 28 MPG. That makes for a reasonable Energy Impact Score of 11.8 Barrels of Oil used and 5.2 Tons of CO2 emitted annually.
That 4-Cylinder 2.5i Outback starts at $25,745. Our 3.6R Limited goes for 8-grand more at $33,845.
We think the 2015 Subaru Outback has received the perfect amount of change. It has been upgraded, sure; but it’s still a unique vehicle with great appeal. It’s likely more practical than most crossovers, and definitely more efficient, performing equally well in daily commuting and weekend getaway duties. So yes, Americans are still buying wagons, and most of them are Subaru Outbacks.
Torque: 247 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 7.5 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.8 seconds @ 91 mph
EPA: 20 mpg city/ 27 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 11.8 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 5.2 tons/yr