Capsule Review: 2010 Subaru Outback 2.5

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
capsule review 2010 subaru outback 2 5

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.

Join the conversation
2 of 40 comments
  • Chris Coulter Chris Coulter on Dec 15, 2009

    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.

  • Mhadi Mhadi on Dec 17, 2009

    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..

  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.