2015 Subaru Outback
Years ago, the Subaru Outback was the car of bucolic rural types who needed a car with some hauling capacity, and the ability traverse muddy dirt roads. Somewhere along the line, the Outback was discovered by outdoorsy communists and ladies with short-hair and broad shoulders. Since then, it’s become an increasingly upmarket vehicle, probably because Trotskyites have always been a little hazy about financial matters, so they’re easier to fleece.
In fact, despite a base MSRP of $24,895, you probably won’t be able to find an Outback at any dealership selling for less than $26,329—in California, anyway. Sprinkle in some options, and you’re rapidly exceeding $30,000, as Subaru seems to have copied the German strategy of raping you on the options packages. You’d think the vanguard of the proletariat would prefer a cheaper car, but I guess not.
Still, the Outback has an awesome reputation for mobility, cargo space, and reliability. With a complete makeover of the platform for 2015, it’s time to see how well that reputation holds up.
How it looks
Subaru’s overhaul for the 2015 model year significantly upgrades the look of the vehicle inside and out. The exterior styling has been upgraded, with less plastic cladding and a nicer looking nose. It’s also 0.6 inches longer than the 2014 model, 0.7 inches wider, and the wheelbase has been lengthened by 0.2 inches. Its 8.7 inches of ground clearance remains unchanged.
Where the really noticeable changes have been made is on the inside. Subaru has traditionally filled the interior with acres of cheap plastic. Let’s face it, Subaru interiors have traditionally felt cheap and crappy, which is a big hurdle for me to cross when I’m expected to shell out thirty grand for a car. My biggest complaint about the 2014 WRX STi’s interior was that it was ugly enough to induce clinical depression, for which Subaru expected you to shell out thirty-six large. Nope.
The refresh for 2015 has replaced this GM-level awfulness almost entirely. Most of the hard plastic is gone, replaced with soft-touch materials. Switchgear and other controls have a more of a quality feel to them. Color-matched accent materials that look like wood or carbon fiber are now standard.
It’s roomier, too, with total cargo space of 73.3 cubic feet when you fold the rear seats down. That’s two cubic feet larger than the 2014 model. With the rear seats up, the passenger cabin is much roomier, too, with a 2.7 cubic foot increase. Absolutely nowhere in the front or back do you feel cramped. I suspect this is Subaru’s secret method of subverting hippies into enjoying the room and comfort that the 1% enjoy in their vehicles.
Mobile connectivity for all of your gadgets is provided—both wired and Bluetooth—while the leather-wrapped steering wheel tilts, and telescopes. Satellite navigation is available via one of the pricey options packages. The steering wheel isn’t overly festooned with buttons and switches, but still gives you control of just about everything from the driver’s seat. There’s a rear-view camera, as well as lane change safety warning built into Subaru’s iSight safety system.
Just about everything inside the Outback is noticeably nicer than it was in the 2014 model, though, admittedly, that’s not a really high bar. Suffice it to say that the interior now matches what you’d expect from the price dealers are asking.
Actually, the interior can be a little too nice. The optional leather seats are quite comfy and supportive, and the leather is buttery smooth. It’s also, in a disappointingly high percentage of Outbacks, cream-colored. This is the worst color choice imaginable, as it will show every scuff, and every bit of dust and dirt. Two weeks after you buy it the interior will look like your Outback is owned by filthy animals. It’s a really bad choice for an interior color in a car that’s expected to make regular trips down dirt roads to the feed store so you can haul Purina Goat Chow back to your anarcho-syndicalist commune. It would certainly make me hesitant about hauling around my slobbery, saliva-slinging mastiffs. Happily, a range of darker, less fragile colors are available.
How it drives
You have the choice of two engines for the Outback. Eighty percent of Outbacks are powered by the 2.5l, 4-cylinder boxer motor that’s standard across Subaru’s range. This is a relatively bullet-proof engine, and puts out 175 horses and 174 torques. There is an available 3.6l, 6-cylinder, boxer power plant, though. It has 256 HP and 247 lb.-ft. of torque, and it’s really the motor you want.
Enragingly, however, getting the 3.6l motor automatically adds $10,000 to the price of the Outback, as you can only get it with the premium options package attached. So, getting the more powerful motor raises the price to $35,000.
The trouble with the 2.5l is the lack of power it has to push the 3,700 lb. wagon with any authority. Getting to 60 MPH from a standing start takes a full 9 seconds. Passing another car on the highway takes a geological age. This is complicated by the fact that the Outback is now available only with a Continuously Variable Transmission that adds to the glacial pace of the 4-cylinder boxer engine. It’s a very good CVT setup, but this is much like saying the Bulgarians were the very best communists. It may be true, but, so what? Essentially, getting any sort of decent performance is impossible with the 2.5l motor.
Most of these performance frustrations fall away with the 3.6l engine. Acceleration to 60 comes in the mid-seven second range, even though the Outback’s weight increases to 3,850 lbs. Passing power is much more acceptable. Considering the size and weight of the Outback, the 3.6l motor—not an overpowered motor by any stretch—is simply the best match to the Outback’s heft. The CVT transmission, of course, along with the fact that no manual transmission option is available for 2015, still remains enormously disappointing.
Other parts of the driving experience are brighter. The Outback retains its maneuverability, along with the outstanding ability to make a 360-degree turn in what is seemingly its own length. It handles responsively as a result, with the ability to get the Outback through tight corners on narrow dirt roads.
There is an utter lack of feel to the steering. This is not, however, the downer it would be on another sort of car, because the Outback’s selling point isn’t sportiness, but utility. It goes where you steer it, which is exactly what it’s designed to do.
The ride is comfortable, and the cabin is decently quiet, although the 2.5l motor gets a bit shouty when you ask it to perform more spirited duty like passing at highway speeds. (The 2.5l motor is definitely a city motor, rather than a highway motor.)
The real highlight of the Outback is not its highway manners, but its soft-road capability. The nearly 9 inches of ground clearance avoids a lot of obstacles, while Subaru’s symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system keeps power going to whichever wheel needs it. There’s little short of a full-on 4×4 that’s better at handling dirt roads.
What’s good about it
The 2015 Subaru Outback is—if not attractive—not ugly, and certainly not as aggressively ugly as other Subarus. I’m looking at you WRX STi. The Interior is quite nice. It has all of the electronics and mobile device connectivity you expect at a car of its price, and the iSight safety system works well. It’s plenty spacious for both people and cargo. It’s a comfortable car to drive, with good road manners, end even better soft-road manners. The 3.6l engine is perfectly suited to the Outback’s size. It’s enormously practical.
What’s bad about it
The 2.5l motor is underpowered. The CVT transmission is disappointing, as these things usually are, and there’s no manual transmission available. The Outback is almost too nice to be used for trips to the garden center without worrying about messing something up. You didn’t have to worry as much about the cheaper interior of the previous generation Outback. This new level of luxury seems like it goes against the original purpose of the Outback, which was biased towards simple practicality. Obtaining the 3.6l motor is far too expensive.
Appreciation of the Subaru Outback may be the only thing that communists are right about. It’s pretty much the Swiss army knife of cars. It seats 5 comfortably, has loads of cargo room, and can go pretty much anywhere there’s a minimally decent road. It’s more luxurious for 2015, but it hasn’t lost a bit of the practicality the Outback is known for.
Subaru asks for a lot of money for the Outback, but they give you a lot of car in return. It’s an easy car to like.