By on April 6, 2017

2018 Subaru Outback, Image: Subaru

It’s just slightly easier to notice the changes made to Subaru’s 2018 Outback compared to, say, next year’s radically refreshed Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.

Though subtle, the Outback’s 2018 styling tweaks brings the all-wheel-drive wagon’s design more in line with its corporate siblings, each of which tries to emulate the brand’s endless parade of Viziv concepts. If you were hoping for a power boost from the vehicle’s stalwart 2.5-liter flat-four, well, dream on.

For its mid-cycle refresh, the Outback maintains its present level of matte body cladding, the acreage of which shrank heavily after the end of the GM Plastic Fantastic era.

Sharp eyebrows creased into the front fascia now surround the Outback’s fog lights. The lower grille opening grows wider, while the headlights adopt C-shaped wraparound running lights. A single chrome crossbar now centers the badge in the upper grille.

Besides this, the only other exterior changes you might notice are new wheel designs, reshaped side mirrors and, if it’s after dark, available steering-sensitive headlights. Limited and Touring models now sport a high-beam assist feature. This automatic system prevents the drivers of other vehicles from being blinded by your headlight negligence, making the world a less aggravating place.


Both engines — the 2.5-liter four and 3.6-liter flat-six — carry over into 2018 with no changes in output. To its credit, Subaru has adjusted the base engine’s timing to reduce drivetrain noise during acceleration.

You might, however, notice a change in the Outback’s transmission. While the Lineartronic continuously variable transmission returns, it does so with a retuned electronic control unit. The automaker claims the changes makes the gearbox (rubber band box?) smoother and more responsive, while a quieter short-pitch chain should help reduce “CVT drone.” Let’s hope the retune also reduces the lag its previous transmission exhibited after shifting.

Other ride-quality areas seeing subtle finessing include the power steering system, brake system and suspension dampers. For a quieter cabin, side window glass grows in thickness.

Inside, the Outback sprouts a redesigned console, higher-quality materials, new colors, and an available 8-inch Starlink multimedia touchscreen. That’s 1-inch wider than last year’s. Base systems make do with a 6.5-inch screen, up by three-tenths of an inch over 2017.

Subaru promises an improved voice recognition system on next year’s model, assisted by two microphones and technology borrowed from the maker of Dragon software. Using Apple Siri or OK Google voice commands should become easier. While the list of minor tech improvements is a long one, some notables include the addition of steering-sensitive guidance lines displayed on the media screen while the vehicle is backing up, as well as a lane-keeping system that now kicks in above 37 miles per hour.

Pricing remains a mystery for now. As the release date draws near, expect any changes to be — like the Outback’s styling — evolutionary.

[Images: Subaru of America]

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25 Comments on “2018 Subaru Outback Barely Messes with a Good Thing...”

  • avatar

    Looks nice. Hope they don’t become too expensive.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I feel like I’ve seen the facelifted Outback wearing slimmer, more-demure roof rails. Is that an option?

    • 0 avatar

      They beauty of their current utilitarian looking rails is that the crossbars swing out and tuck into the rails, absolutely brilliant. And they come standard, unlike having two useless chrome rails that you then pay $200 to get the freaking crossbars for. Gotta give Subaru major credit there.

    • 0 avatar

      You probably saw a Touring, which has lower-profile silver rails. All other models have the black plastic ones (with flip-out cross bars).

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Sadly the Touring model doesn’t have the “swing-out” feature either. Yes it leads to a lower profile rail, but you have to buy the matching cross bars.

        I was hoping they would have added ventilated seats. And a height-adjustable passenger seat – it really sits low. Perhaps at the full remodel in 2-3 years.

  • avatar

    Subaru really mails it in with their engines…come on now, 175 ponies from 2.5L and all of 256 HP from 3.6L?

    • 0 avatar

      A lot of people like them. That’s why Subaru’s sales have been steadily climbing.

      Following prescribed routine maintenance, those boxer engines from Subaru will last as long, if not longer because they are jacketed and watercooled, than the boxer engines of VW and Porsche, which they are patterned after.

      And we all know how long those VW boxers last.

      • 0 avatar

        The Subaru boxer engine is patterned after the Lloyd/Borgward Arabella’s flat-4 engine. Some say that Fuji used Arabella engines in their early prototypes.

        • 0 avatar

          You’re right, and IIRC, Fuji Heavy chose the Arabella to prevent the heat-expansion experienced in VW and Porsche engines by using a watercooled H design.

    • 0 avatar

      “175 ponies from 2.5L”

      That’s literally the same specific output that other manufacturers have squeezed out of port injected 4cyl motors. On the 6cyl I agree, it lags behind somwhat in terms of both rated power, fuel economy, and the sort of acceleration numbers seen in the real world. I think it’s a case were people wouldn’t object over Subaru swapping in the 2.0T from the Forester FXT.

    • 0 avatar

      The 3.6 is out of date, but it’s also one of the most problem-free and durable engines out there at the moment. If I wanted an Outback (which is not an unreasonable thing), I’d choose the 3.6 without hesitation.

    • 0 avatar

      I drove a H6 Legacy as a loaner the other day (thank you Takata!). It was fully loaded with all the electronic goodies, but I didn’t happen to clock the badge before I got in. As I was motorvating it occurred to me to wonder if it had the 6, so I stomped on the gas. I thought to myself: nope, this must be the top trim 2.5. Maybe it’s the throttle software but it didn’t feel any faster than the old manual transmission 2.5

      • 0 avatar

        The move to the CVT hurt the H6 a lot.

        With the CVT version, Car and Driver recorded more than a 1 second increase in 0-60 and 0-100, and a .5 second increase in 5-60 compared to the older 5A.The FE rating did increase from 20 to 23 though.

        An 8A would probably be best, but I’m guessing the H6 doesn’t have the volume to justify it.

        • 0 avatar

          There’s nothing about a CVT that should compel that result. The move from 4A to CVT made the Forester XT a LOT faster.

          I expect it’s CVT programming that’s poorly optimized for the H6’s relatively peaky torque curve, probably to avoid “drone.”

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Are CVTs limited in their minimum ratio versus a six or eight speed geared automatic? I’ve noticed that most CVT equipped cars produce more rapid 0-60 times than similar geared automatic cars, but have slower 0-30 times. In the case of the Legacy 3.6, it is quite a bit slower to 30 with the CVT vs the 5spd auto, but 30-60 mph times and passing times are the same.

  • avatar

    Do Canadians still get a manual transmission option?

    • 0 avatar

      I wondered about that myself but couldn’t locate any information on that online earlier today. Maybe someone on the editorial staff can simply phone SIA in Indiana and ask? (Currently the Subaru Canada website still lists the 2017 Legacy and Outback, both with manuals standard for 4-cylinder cars.)

  • avatar

    I wish Subaru would dump the CVT. I would rather deal with having their 4 speed automatic than have a CVT.

    • 0 avatar

      Drive a 4-speed auto FXT and a CVT one back to back and you will be cured of that affliction.

      Source: owned ’13 FXT with the 4-speed, test-drove ’14 FXT which was a vastly superior drive in every respect.

    • 0 avatar

      I strongly disagree. I have a Legacy 2.5i with the 4AT and it is awful. One of the worst transmissions in any car that I have ever driven. The CVT in my friends Outback while somewhat noisy makes the car much more smooth and responsive.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve owned an Outback with the 4AT, and I’ve driven one with the CVT as a loaner. Hated the CVT with a passion.

        The 4AT with the 2.5i was a bit of a dog, but the brakes weren’t really suited to more power in my opinion.

  • avatar

    2015 2.5i Limited owner here. This refresh is what I expected, but I think Subaru is missing on the boat on not at least offering an XT package with this car. Offer unique colors (Polestar blue, for example), tighten up the suspension a bit, and drop in the WRX motor.

    My car has been great, but the 2.5, especially for the 1st 10-15 minutes on a cold morning below 35, is painfully loud and slow.; I feel like I’m hurting the damn thing by pressing the accelerator!

  • avatar

    wife bought a 2018 6 cylinder touring with all the options. so far so good! note that consumer reports under “problems” states “none” for this vehicle. it is the only vehicle in the entire 2018 issue with “none” in that column. i hope they are right on this one. we paid out the door about 40K.

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