Be­hind the wheel of the 2018 Subaru Out­back 2.5i Tour­ing

Wisconsin Gazette - - The Sets List - By Cliff Leppke Con­tribut­ing writer

Subaru’s Out­back wagon is an all-wheel-drive in­sti­tu­tion, a paragon of ver­sa­til­ity. And Subaru’s mo­tor­ing tal­ents make the ve­hi­cle fam­ily friendly.

Ta­lent doesn’t mean per­fec­tion, how­ever. The Out­back’s up­scale in­te­rior en­sem­ble, for ex­am­ple, runs the gamut from tacky to re­fined.

The shifter, for in­stance, is a plas­tic orb with­out a high­lighted gear-range in­di­ca­tor at its side. Ob­vi­ous plas­tic flash­ing mars door bins. Daytime in­stru­ment il­lu­mi­na­tion needs im­prove­ment. Gauges and the hands-warmer sta­tus in­di­ca­tor lack punch.

In con­trast, USB and 12-volt out­lets are well lit. Open-pore, faux-wood trim ap­pears au­then­tic. It’s tidy un­der the dash­board and your Birken­stocks won’t snag wires or sharp hard­ware. The dash pad and up­per door pan­els are cushy. The heated steer­ing wheel has thumb-happy switchgear.

Large two-zone cli­mate-con­trol knobs present tem­per­a­ture nu­mer­als in their cen­ters — a slick, space-sav­ing trick. Vol­ume and tun­ing knobs poke through a STAR­LINK 8-inch mul­ti­me­dia in­fo­tain­ment touch screen. Side in­dents guide you to­ward key points. Smart­phone-linked oper­a­tions in­clude Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto. Clear trip-com­puter info re­sides be­tween the two main gauges.

Su­bie’s stuffed front thrones bulge a bit too much. One can­not sit back and get full thigh and back sup­port. The con­toured aft row lacks thigh sup­port and the mid­perch is hard. The cen­ter shoul­der-belt reel at­taches to the ceil­ing rather than the seat, which steals cargo room. Hu­man con­tact points are padded like a boxer’s glove. Back­seat driv­ers en­joy bun warm­ers and HVAC out­lets.

SAFETY FEA­TURES

Subaru’s Eye­Sight twin-cam­era scheme fo­cuses on driver aids. One item is for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing. Oth­ers in­clude pre-col­li­sion brak­ing, adap­tive cruise con­trol and lane keep­ing. Eye­Sight doesn’t see front cross traf­fic — although few sys­tems do.

Still, the Out­back de­serves ku­dos for the next best thing: good sight­lines. Its slim cloth-cov­ered “A” pil­lars abut­ting the wind­shield are life­savers. They let me see and re­spond to a “Mil­wau­kee mis­sile” — an east­bound motorist blow­ing through two sets of traf­fic lights at West Bradley Road and North Teu­to­nia Av­enue. The dan­ger­ous mo­tor­ing sce­nario is now com­mon­place. My traf­fic light turned green. As I eased for­ward, I saw harm, a reck­lessly driven pickup to my left. I braked just a few feet short of be­ing T-boned. Many SUVs have wide pil­lars and mir­rors, which im­pair your vi­sion. Thanks, Subaru.

Lane-keep tweak­ing in­volves two steps. A dash-mounted but­ton mutes de­vi­a­tion warn­ing beeps, while a steer­ing wheel but­ton turns off the cor­rec­tive steer­ing. When chart­ing your course, you can stop wrestling the wheel by press­ing one, leav­ing the au­di­ble alerts.

SLOW-GO TRAIN

Subaru’s sole trans­mis­sion is a chain­driven, con­tin­u­ously vari­able unit. A wellde­signed CVT pro­vides a step­less wider­a­tio range re­duc­ing fuel con­sump­tion.

The Out­back’s unit sim­u­lates a six-speed man­ual, if de­sired. Most CVTs let the en­gine rev an­noy­ingly while vary­ing ra­tios un­til you reach your de­sired ve­loc­ity. Subaru’s CVT op­er­ates un­ob­tru­sively. It has elas­tic sen­sa­tions — the en­gine whines like a Dyson vac when cold or per­form­ing lots of city driv­ing.

And the en­gine revs higher than ex­pected upon ini­tial throt­tle tip in. En­gine rpm at 60 mph varies from 1500 to 2500 — no thrum­ming, but rather a pleas­ant hum.

The CVT’s mate is a hor­i­zon­tally op­posed 2.5-liter, 175-hp four-cylin­der en­gine. Power is merely ad­e­quate. Due to its de­sign, it doesn’t vi­brate much. Its low height con­trib­utes to the ve­hi­cle’s clean un­der­body, which lets one climb curbs with­out smash­ing me­chan­i­cal pieces. Ob­served fuel econ­omy is 26 miles per gal­lon. The EPA’s num­bers: 25 city, 32 high­way, 28-com­bined.

Subaru’s comfy ride trumps the han­dling. While smooth com­port­ment is the norm, the Out­back jig­gles, bobs and yaws (side­ways head-rock­ing move­ment), when en­coun­ter­ing bumpy pave­ment.

Re­designed side-view mir­rors and nois­ere­duc­ing front-door glass im­part li­brary­grade quiet­ness — if li­braries had wind rush.

The steer­ing ef­fort off cen­ter needs more heft, but it’s pre­cise.

Brak­ing is like step­ping on a marsh­mal­low — the soft pedal lacks feed­back.

A car­peted cargo hold — rated 35 cu­bic feet with seats up or 73.3 cu­bic feet with seats down — has two sets of con­ve­nient seat­back re­leases. They’re ad­ja­cent to the back­rests and in the stor­age bay. There’s also space un­der the aft floor for a spare tire, tools and the win­dow-shade-like lug­gage cover.

The thought­fully de­signed $37,405 ve­hi­cle also calms your nerves with the pleas­ant seat-belt warn­ing chime that hushes when park­ing.

Subaru’s Out­back isn’t for en­thu­si­as­tic driv­ers who dig road-rally drama. In­stead, it’s a com­modi­ous peo­ple-pleaser with ex­cel­lent safety fea­tures — and that gen­er­ous 8.7 inches of ground clear­ance.

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