By on December 14, 2009


Here in the Pacific Northwest, the Subaru Outback has long been one of the most ubiquitous cars on the road. From soccer moms to weed dealers to weed-dealing soccer moms, drizzle-belt car buyers bought the jacked-up AWD wagons in droves, presaging the modern mass-market craze for all things crossover. But in the transition from rough-and-ready station wagon to mainstream crossover, the latest Outback seems to have lost the magic that made it the vehicle of choice for Northwest families looking to retire the old Volvo wagon.

The Outback’s transformation is immediately obvious: its rounded, swollen shape marks it as something distinctly different than a station wagon, looking more like a slimmed-down Tribeca than anything previously carrying the Outback name. For the mainstream market, this only serves to broaden the Outback’s appeal, lending it an upmarket appeal that has nothing to do with the brand’s utilitarian roots. Awkward styling, long a well-established Subaru trait, is well represented in the Outback’s odd proportions and fussy front-end treatment. In this iteration though, Subaru’s odd lines fit well in its new CUV segment, making it just another odd shape in an evolving vehicle category.

Inside, the Outback makes the strongest case to date for its upmarket pretensions. Our full-length Outback review takes the interior to task, but compared to Subaru’s other newly-restyled interiors (the Impreza leaps to mind), even the stripper Outback I tested was a paragon of subtle good taste. Though the dash design echoes the new Subaru theme, with overstyled “wings” flying off the center console, where these elements were finished in cheap Toyota-like silver plastic in the Impreza, the Outback executes the styling cue in a far more subtle and pleasing manner by sculpting the black plastic dashboard material. The use of faux-brushed-aluminum is tasteful and well-executed for the price-point, and the overall impression seems very appropriate for Subaru’s new Audi-junior positioning. The only major disturbance comes from the cheap-and-cheesy gauge face panel, which sabotages the Outback’s appeal by looking like it came from an the least inspired of Daewoo’s suppliers.

Unfortunately, the mainstream-upscale trend means more weight. Sure, the Outback offers isolation and refinement that its predecessors never even aspired to, but it pays the price every step of the way. The 2.5-liter boxer-four engine is wheezy and unremarkable in this application, struggling hard against the Outback’s near 3,500 lb weight. And the CVT automatic doesn’t do any favors either, constantly bouncing the engine from reluctant lug to unproductive thrash. Worse still, the warble of horizontally-opposed cylinders is stifled, making the Outback sound and feel as homogenized as it looks. Paddle shifters help keep the pace up and the engine frantic, but never inject even an iota of fun into the experience.

But even if the engine were up for a lark, the Outback still wouldn’t be. Aimed directly at a segment defined by consumers who need, but don’t want, a minivan, the Outback delivers the snoozy ride and handling its new target audience will never object to. Though the chassis feels solid, the high seating, soft springs and anesthetized steering lends itself to lobotomized cruising and little else. Outbacks have never been performance machines, perennially held back by weight and softness, but the older models were car-like enough to be enjoyable on a back road. The new model loses this versatility, never feeling less than its swollen size.

And this lack of versatility is what defines the new Outback. Extra interior room and interior-design ambition do little to further the Outback’s original role of a car that could jump from commuting to camping without ever feeling like the compromise it always was. The new model might carry its passengers through the snow in more refined comfort, the trashable, thrashable appeal that made the old models a default choice for the Pacific Northwest’s single-car-families is dead and buried.

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40 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2010 Subaru Outback 2.5...”

  • avatar

    I have yet to drive the new 2010 Legacy or Outback. Need to, especially since I suspect the LGT isn’t long for this world, or at least this country. Making it manual-only is good for enthusiasts, but not for its survival. The 2005-2009 Legacy was about the most tasteful design ever from Subaru, but perhaps it was also too anonymous?

    TrueDelta will have reliability stats for the 2010s in February, with a preview for participants about a month from now. Excellent participation by owners of these cars. More always better, of course.

  • avatar

    Interesting that the Subaru 2.5L w/CVT in the 3500lb Outback performs so sluggishly yet the GM 2.4L w/ 6spd performs so well in the 3800lb Equinox. An unexpected turn of events to say the least.

    • 0 avatar

      I blame the CVT. The flat-four requires the driver’s right foot to develop a nose for its sweet spot, a pursuit that faces constant second-guessing from the CVT’s electronics.
      That having been said, I haven’t driven the Equinox yet so I can’t provide a direct comparison.

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect it’s a matter of engine noise and transmission. It’s hard to program a CVT to feel natural, and Subaru’s boxer isn’t the smoothest, quietest four. Driving previous-generation Outbacks with the automatic and non-turbo four, they felt a bit sluggish.

    • 0 avatar

      And every non turbo Subaru I have driven sounded like they were at wits end and never had power.
      Maybe its the AWD system without turbo.
      Sorry, but I don’t get the Subaru love.
      Maybe when their turbo diesel comes, if its a turbo.

  • avatar

    Subarus are solid and rleiable, but why in the world do they have to be so effing ugly?
    Look at the front end of this thing. Look at the grille. Doesn’t it look as if it has been in some kind of an accident and got bent?

  • avatar

    My family is the heart of Subaru’s target market, and they missed. We live in the part of the Pacific Northwest that’s in the snow belt, not the drizzle belt, and my wife currently drives an ’02 Outback sedan. She will be buying a new car next year, but the Outback isn’t on the list due to the increase in size and ugly.

    • 0 avatar

      And you think the 02 is attractive?  Isn’t the whole point of a subie that it’s so hideous?

      The baja, the WRX, flying vagina TriBeca – all charming in their hideousness.

  • avatar
    jonny b

    Are there any non-luxury brand AWD station wagons left in North America? The AWD Matrix is a bit too small and the AWD SX4 is way too small. Who’s left?

    • 0 avatar

      The Jeep Patriot/Compass & Dodge Avenger platform offers AWD in wagon format. For all effects the Jeeps are more wagon than SUV. IIRC the Patriot offers a “low range” setting for the CVT. The Compass and Avenger both suffer from styling that makes the 1st Gen Tribeca look good though. Until this year you could get the Dodge Magnum Wagon with AWD.

    • 0 avatar

      Thats a question as old as the history books themselves..

      Its almost physically impossible.. to find a wagon.. (as described by the EPA) in the U.S, that isnt luxo, and these days.. Subbie is kissing Luxo with a mad crush.

      But Ian Williams…
      Would you want to drive a Fiatsler vehicle.. especially as bad as the Patriot and Compass are, ntm the Avenger… ?

      Heck, I liked the Magnum (like every other non luxo wagon in the U.S — Mazda 6 hatch / wagon come to mind, as well as the Freestyle).. but it failed for obvious reasons.. (its main competition were vehicles from its own company.. .. SUVS / CUVS, Magnum v Nitro and or Durango.)

      If I was moving to the NW.. and I needed a better vehicle tham my 00 Accord.. and I needed a hatch, and if snow tires on a Mazda 3 hatch just wouldnt do..

      I’d pick up a 2-3yr old Legacy wagon.. anything to stay away from the current bloat.

      Is it really anyones surprise and amazement.. that the motor cant pull a 3800 (bordering on 4000lb motor with a 2.5ltr 4.. with or without a CVT?) Only reason GM can do it.. is because their motor is DIRECT INJECTION.

      And of course.. they push that technology in a vehicle that essentially replaces the Envoy / TB crew.

  • avatar

    I think you hit it on the head, Edward – this is now the ride of choice of the crunchy granola crowd. It’s the new Volvo wagon, now that Volvo’s gone all…well, wherever Volvo’s gone.

    Slap an Obama sticker on the back, and it’s a done deal.

  • avatar

    The Outback has gotten progressively (no pun intended) better looking over the past two generations, IMO. The current version looks really nice, if only it were about 10% smaller and lighter.

    Same complaint applies to the Forester, in turn (though I feel its last gen was the high point in style and form).

  • avatar

    Actually, Subaru is quite proud of the fact that the Legacy did not get heavier with the redesign. Looking at the specs, the Outback picked up about 150 pounds. I’m not sure why the Outback gained a little weight when the Legacy did not.

  • avatar

    Every time I see one of these (from behind) I think, wow, they really changed the Tribeca.
    *taps on the microphone*
    How hard is this: LEGACY GT WAGON . . .
    There’s your Outback :D
    (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  • avatar

    I’m really surprised at the curb weight. 3,500 is really light for such a big vehicle.
    I would like to hear the difference in the 6-speed manual. I’m sure that’s a lot better.

  • avatar

    It appears that we have one more example of a utilitarian, quirky car getting all pretentious on us and driving up-market.  The BMW 2002, the Saab 900, the Volvo 240, and even the old Jeep Cherokee.  And now the Subie.  Is there anything left that fits the bill?  Maybe this is one market that Chrysler could chase.  If it builds something that is durable and basic, these customers are loyal.  Maybe an all wheel drive Valiant Wagon!

  • avatar

    I’ve test driven a 3.6 with the 5sp auto.  Entirely a different vehicle from the reviews I’ve seen of the 2.5 with CVT.  The 3.6 has plenty of power, good ride around town, decent mileage on regular fuel.  Seems to be the way to go.

  • avatar

    What I’m reading here is not a review, but a rant from someone who really wants to dislike the Outback, regardless of what it has to offer–and who picks the least exciting model in the line-up to justify all possible complaints.

    Yes, older Outbacks were more nimble, but the were also slower, less fuel-efficient, cramped in the rear seat and tail-happy in emergency cornering.  These issues were all raised by owners and reviewers alike, so Subaru addressed them.

    But more to the point, why don’t you judge the Outback for what it is, rather than complain that it is no longer what it used to be?

    The Outback offers AWD, 8.5 inches of ground clearance and an SUV-sized interior, yet weighs only 3400-3500 lb and gets EPA fuel economy numbers comparable to a base Mitsubishi Lancer or VW Golf.  Topping it off, it has earned among the best crash-test results of any vehicle on the market.  No other crossover or SUV can claim as much.  How does this translate to a “lack of versatility?”

    Some of the complaints about the new Outback are justified.  But after the Outback’s multiple SUV/Crossover of the year awards in several countries and the Legacy’s vaulting from mid-pack to class-leading in Consumer Reports’ rankings, it’s hard to take such an overtly negative review seriously.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you for writing the comment I was just about to add. This “review” is nothing more than vitriol against Subaru for no longer offering the Legacy GT Wagon, which Subaru got rid of a few years back and enthusiasts still haven’t been able to offer forgiveness for. The review completely ignores the fact that the Outback was designed with nearly every complaint about the last generation OB in mind. Sound complaints should could ride quality, interior quality, performance, etc.  This “review” is nothing but a bunch of pronouncements that Subaru has lost its way (even though they are selling in higher numbers than ever) because the OB doesn’t perform like a WRX – huh?

    • 0 avatar

      This is just more of a personal opinion. And at least i like it that way. I like to read personal opinions on cars. If one dislikes a car, for whatever reason, one should be allowed to write a review stating that opinion. And others should be able to criticize it, of course.  Your comments seem more directed at the reviewer though, as if he stepped on your toes because he does not like the new “improved” Outback.
      A link to the previous 2010 Outback review on TTAC is found in this article(beginning of third paragraph), it offers a slightly different perspective which might be more to your liking. Or, if you prefer, im sure you can submit your own review.

  • avatar

    Our city’s airport just registered – 46 degrees cecius (-51 F) last weekend, not including windchill. Yeah, it’s a new record for that day.
    Lots of stalled vehicles. But our 09 Legacy didn’t feel a thing. I am surprised by the very high ground clearance of this car. Seems much higher than the larger Accord.

  • avatar

    Legacy GT Sedan awesome, Legacy GT Wagon double awesome.  Old generations of Legacy Outback and Impreza Outback Sport practical and IMHO desirable.

    New Outback: Makes me want to run over it with monster truck.  Lack of a Legacy GT Wagon, makes me want to hold down every Subaru executive and tattoo “SELLOUT” across their backsides. 

  • avatar

    Personally, I think the Legacy sedan is not at all offensively styled… but this heap is just plain hideous.  I think the 150lbs are in all of that stupid cladding… it just RUINS what little style the car has.  And the back… oh dear, the back…

  • avatar

    I have never been able to work out Subaru’s management. They do some things so well (including safety and reliability) and others so wrong – styling, transmissions and interiors included.

  • avatar

    I think you hit it on the head, Edward – this is now the ride of choice of the crunchy granola crowd.
    I don’t think so, if for no other reason than the crunchy-granola crowd doesn’t tend to have much money and tend to buy old Volvos and such even if they did.  Being the Japanese Saab or Volvo is all well and good until you see what’s happened to the real Saab and Volvo.
    Subaru really has no choice in this: niche players are vulnerable to failures of the market, to getting eaten by bigger fish, or having their niche scooped by someone who does their “thing” better.  Subaru needs to sell more units, and they’re not going to do that by peddling turbo manual Legacy GT wagons to the six or seven people who buy them, especially when Legacy and Impreza buyers leave the brand when they need something bigger.  Given all that, the Outback really isn’t that bad, especially when you compare it to the (much more space-compromised) two-row crossovers it competes with.
    Subaru has three very serious problems, and they have nothing to do with this car:
    * The base Impreza is expensive and it makes it hard for new buyers to enter the brand.  They really need a smaller, cheaper car (something like the SX4).  The time could be ripe to ressurect the Justy.
    * The Tribeca is badly outclassed.  It’s too cramped in all positions, too heavy and too slow.  This should be the Subaru you buy when you have more than two kids and a dog (and all Subarubians probably have at least one kid and a Retriever) ut the Tribeca is so inadequate it would drive them right to the competition.
    * They need to fix the two above before the competition cherrypicks their AWD advantage just as they did Volvo’s “safety” angle.  I’m sure Subaru, like Audi, will always have a slight technical advantage, but for the average Joe or Jane, the difference between Haldex/Quattro/SH-AWD/Symmetrical AWD/Whatever is moot.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, I don’t know about Toronto, but here in Colorado, I’m gonna disagree. Drive through Boulder – a place that’s as liberal and crunchy-granola as anything this side of Berkeley – and it’s like every other car is an Outback. Ditto for the city of Denver (the ‘burbs, of course, are still stuck in four-door-pickup-mode, at least until they can pay off the eight year notes on them).

      Not so with the rest of the line…only the Outbacks seem to have the crunchy granola magic formula.  But I’m with Edward – this is the new Volvo wagon for the tweedy-prof set.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think so, if for no other reason than the crunchy-granola crowd doesn’t tend to have much money and tend to buy old Volvos and such even if they did.

      Where do you live?  Here in MA there are tons of families where the husband is the director of planned giving at local college making 85, the wife runs clinical trials for biotech company makes 125 – family income 210k.  They drive outbacks to as they like to think of themselves as progressive and outdoorsy. 

      There is also still a bit of the old yankee/WASP aristocracy that makes good money and still has the family compound on Nantucket, but feels that showing off with a fancy car is something that just isn’t done….

  • avatar

    Didn’t Motor Trend just name this SUV of the year?

  • avatar

    I continue to wonder why Subaru went all-AWD. With the exception of the high-perf models that need AWD to get the power to the ground, Subarus simply don’t sell in the desert Southwest.
    I suppose that’s mostly because AWD adds weight and decreases mileage. I rarely see a non-WRX Subaru here in Las Vegas. I contend that if Subaru went back to offering FWD wagons, they could increase sales by 50%, just by adding sales in the South and Southwest.

  • avatar

    Legacy GT wagon would have been nice, but HELLO folks – like the Forester, this is a real station wagon AND its available with a manual transmission.   You can get into one for less than $25K – I don’t understand the views that Subaru has gone “upscale”.  All of their models are quite affordable.

  • avatar

    Well, myself and the wife just drove the Outback 2L diesel with “stick” here in Australia on the weekend. It’s a very nice combination. I’d love to do a review if we buy one (I think we will). The Subaru guys say diesel orders are going well, but they can’t get cars until sometime in February! Oh well.
    We’d really like to have had access to that engine in the Legacy/Liberty instead however as we have no need for the Outback’s ride height.
    I really wanted the Lexus GS450h but can’t justify it – drive one if you get a chance – beautiful machine.

  • avatar

    I was recently looking at the legacy (smaller engine) as something for the wife since I’m happy with my STi.  We recently moved into a more (rural) area that gets more snow (near southern wisc border) but I’m really not a fan of CVT’s.  All the reading I’ve heard about them is that if they blow-up, it’s big $$$$$ to fix.  Is this still true?

  • avatar

    This is the car of the psuedo crunchy granola crowd, who have the added security of tenure/civil service protected jobs.  Now that the average federal employee makes over $71,000 per year and state and municipal workers are not far behind, the more expensive Outback is easy for Subaru’s target market to afford because they have no fear of layoffs or pay cuts.

    No wonder Subaru sales are up while every other manufacturer is down!

  • avatar
    Ken Kirkland

    I did not test drive the Outback 2.5, reckoning that it would be under-powered. I have however ordered a 3.6 R , and yes, it will replace my ’87 Volvo 240 wagon which is on its last legs.

  • avatar

    Yes, the 2.5 sucks… and yes, the L-GT wagon was badass.  But you know what?  So is this new Outback.  That is, if you get it with the 3.6 and 5sp auto.  No, it’s not much for hoonage, but if that’s what you want, spend the same $$ and just get a WRX.

    I’ll agree with several others here.  This review is off base because it’s trying to measure the Outback on a scale where it doesn’t belong.  It would be like riding a BMW GS 1200 and complaining that it’s not as nimble or balls-out as a Yahama YZF-R1.  Different critters built for different purposes.  A concentrated effort to review the Outback in comparison to its intended purpose, intended buyer, and likely competition would almost certainly yield a far more favorable verdict.

  • avatar

    I disagree with the comment that these Outbacks are more upscale. If anything they are a step downwards from the last generation Outback, which was the nicest and most upscale Subaru designed. The interior of this cheap plastic cockpit is just terrible.
    I will not buy another Subaru again. Why buy something as hideous as this? There are options..

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