Behind the wheel of the 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring
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.
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.
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.