USA Today loves the 2015 Subaru Outback – Ruge’s Subaru

20 Oct
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The latest version of Subaru’s Outback station wagon/SUV is full of fine surprises.

The smaller Forester crossover remains the brand’s best-seller in the U.S., but Outback’s been a mainstay for years, and we would expect sales to get even stronger because of how good the 2015 re-do is.

Aimed at 40-something, active, high-income types, Outback seems a great choice among midsize vehicles, even for people who don’t wear bike shorts and dash about with a kayak strapped atop the car.

Here’s what impresses us:

Infotainment. A Subie WRX we drove earlier this year had Stone Age methods for connecting your phone and audio player and controlling them. Outback, the opposite. It seems to set a new standard.

Both Windows and Apple phones paired in a jiffy and, the best part, displayed all the data on the dashboard screen via streaming.

Refinement. Quiet, composed, smooth. A serious threat to some low-end luxury models if buyers have open minds. Repositioned outside mirrors, acoustic foam even in underbody components, sleeker silhouette, thicker glass, all combine to cut noise remarkably. Windows up, you think the car’s stopped running or moving. Wow.

Simultaneously, the suspension glides over bad spots without ever making the car feel sloppy or under-controlled.

Drivetrain. It’s a car, after all (though often advertised as an SUV), so it needs to go properly and provide some satisfaction.

With the car’s specifications we’d never have guessed that it would. The test car had the small engine, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder, with a modest 175 horsepower and 174 pounds-feet of torque. (An optional 3.6-liter six wasn’t tested.)

Outback is fitted, as are most Subarus, with a dreaded continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It’s the only Outback transmission; the manual offered for 2014 is discontinued.

But neither the modest power nor the CVT mattered. At all.

The engine has plenty of low-speed punch and is strong at higher speed, too. Far more peppy than 175 hp should be in a 2-ton car.

The CVT was modified to “create a ‘step’ program to mimic a regular automatic,” spokesman Dominick Infante says. “The only time it feels like a CVT is at wide-open throttle,” he says, and we agree. No absurd overreving or slipping-clutch feel, even in pure CVT mode.

Well done, Subaru.

Mileage. Subarus have done well on this front lately, and the newest Outback continues to improved. The government ratings are 1 to 3 mpg higher than the 2014s. Vigorous suburban and urban roaming in a mix of conditions with the test car yielded 24.8 mpg.

Handling. A strong point? On a high-riding, all-wheel-drive station wagon? Yep. And that’s no accident. The new Outback has a much stiffer chassis to deliberately address complaints that the previous version was a bit sloppy.

Very impressive.

Details. Upholstery and interior trim on high-end versions are attractive. Factory-supplied roof rack continues the 2013 upgrade of multi-position crossbars to secure longer cargo.

Engine oil filter is mounted where you can see and reach, also a 2013 improvement, which is a boon for owners who do their own work. Subaru says that’s common because of how long they keep their cars. Engine also continues with the 2013 switch to a timing chain, which won’t need to be adjusted or replaced like a belt.

All-wheel drive is standard on all Subarus but the rear-drive BRZ sports car. We had no suitable bad weather or mud bog to test it in, but Subaru says it has improved pretty much everything about the AWD. It now includes “X-mode” that, when activated by the driver, will take over if you’re uncomfortable or incompetent in off-roading. It prevents giving the car too much gas, for instance, and triggering wheelspin or sliding.

Subaru says its data show that only Jeep and Ram brands have higher proportions of owners who say they use their vehicles off-road.

Some quibbles:

Seats. Physiques differ so you might have a different reaction, but we found the lumbar support too intrusive even when fully retracted, as well as misplaced for comfort.

Engine. Minor matter, given how well it runs and how little fuel it uses, but we continue to hate the cackling racket the flat-four-cylinder engine makes upon starting.

Styling. Reasonable people often disagree on matters of taste, but Test Drive wishes the front end weren’t stretched so far past the front wheels, and that the overall appearance were slightly more interesting. Subaru says the styling harks back to and older version, which Subaru considers one of its best looks.

In sum, the 2015 Subaru Outback is stunningly good. Get in line.

ABOUT THE SUBARU OUTBACK

What? Overhaul of Subaru’s mid-size, all-wheel drive (AWD), four-door, five-passenger wagon/SUV.

When? On sale since July.

Where? Made in Indiana.

How much? Base 2.5i starts at $25,745 with shipping. Well-optioned 2.5i Limited trim test car was $34,190.

What makes it go? Base is 2.5-liter flat (“boxer”) four-cylinder gasoline engine rated 175 horsepower at 5,800 rpm, 174 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. New in 2013, it’s new again, with 80% of parts different. Optional (not tested): 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder rated 256 hp at 6,000 rpm, 247 lbs.-ft. at 4,400 rpm.

Both engines come with AWD and continuously variable-ratio automatic transmission (CVT).

How big? About 2 inches shorter, lower, narrower than a Toyota Highlander.

Weighs 3,593-3,810 lbs.

Turning circle diameter, 36.1 ft.

How thirsty? Rated 1-3 mpg more than the 2014.The 2.5-liter is rated 25 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined; 3.6-liter rated 20/27/22.

2.5-liter test car registered 24.8 mpg (4.03 gallons per 100 miles) in spirited city/suburban driving.

Burns regular, tank holds 18.5 gal.

Overall: A jewel.

WHAT STANDS OUT

MPG: Good

Infotainment: Exceptional

Noise: None to speak of

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