Back in 1995 buyers who wanted off-road capability and good cargo space were limited to truck-based SUVs. Then Subaru came to market with a special edition of its AWD Legacy Wagon called the Outback. Billed as a “sport-utility wagon,” it had raised ground clearance and SUV-like styling — and the crossover was born. Fast-forward twenty years and the Outback still shines in the now-crowded crossover segment. Still more wagon than SUV, the 2015 Outback gets more space, fresh styling, better fuel economy and a slew of new high-tech features for entertainment and safety.
The 2015 Subaru Outback is available in four trims: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited and 3.6R Limited. All Outbacks have Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, Active Torque Vectoring, Hill Descent Control, Incline Start Assist, and an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance. With a starting price of $24,895, the 2.5i also includes a standard rearview camera, stability control, a much-improved infotainment system; AM/FM stereo and HD Radio®; Subaru STARLINK smartphone integration with Aha, Pandora and iHeart Radio; and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.
Outback 2.5i Premium
Priced at $26,995, the 2.5i Premium adds 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control and an upgraded infotainment system featuring a 7-inch touch display, voice-activated controls, 6-speaker audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio with Travel Link (subscription required) and SMS text messaging.
For $29,995 buyers can upgrade to the 2.5i Limited, adding many amenities including leather trim, a power passenger seat, 18-inch alloy wheels, a power rear tailgate, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a high-end harmon/kardon 576-watt sound system. Another $3,000 gets to the top-level 3.6R Limited which adds the 3.6-liter boxer engine and dual exhaust.
Avoiding Collisions with Subaru EyeSight
Available on all but the base 2.5i is Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist system with Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and Pre-Collision Braking. The camera-based system is improved for 2015. It’s considerably less obtrusive mounted behind the rearview mirror. It also provides 40% greater range, which means it can react faster to vehicles stopping ahead of it — the system can even recognize brake lights.
Subaru Boxer Engine
Like the new Legacy, the Outback is available with a choice of 2 engines: a 2.5-liter four cylinder or a 3.6-liter six cylinder, both in Subaru’s standard horizontally-opposed “boxer” configuration. The 2.5-liter produces 175 horsepower (a slight increase over the previous generation) and 174 lb-ft of torque, while the 3.6-liter puts out 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. The 3.6 is only available on the top-level Outback Limited.
Both engines are teamed with Subaru’s continuously-variable transmission (CVT), which features a 6-speed manual mode and steering-column-mounted paddle shifters. The manual transmission has been discontinued.
Subaru expects most buyers will opt for the 2.5-liter engine, which provides more than adequate power and impressive fuel economy. EPA ratings for the 2.5i is 25 city/33 highway — an improvement over the previous-generation’s 24/30 numbers. If you choose bigger power you pay the price in fuel economy. The 3.6 is rated at 20 city/27 highway, which is also an improvement over the 2014 model.
New Entertainment System
The Outback interior is much improved over the outgoing model, primarily in the audio entertainment system with its 6.2-inch high-resolution touchscreen display. Both the small and larger screens work well, with good touch control and an easy-to-navigate menu via the display as well as buttons surround the screen. Hooking up a phone to the Bluetooth is quick and easy, and music services such as Aha and Pandora make the Outback a bit hipper.
Roomy Rear Seat
Slightly wider than the outgoing model, the 2015 Outback feels roomier, especially in the rear seat. Front seats in leather or cloth are supportive and comfortable and there’s even heated rear seats in the top-level Limited. Bonus: Cushy armrests give the new Outback a more luxuriant feel. There’s also plenty of space in the center console for drinks, phones and other items, as well as bottle holders in the doors. A long road trip in any season would not be a problem in the Outback.
On the Road
An Outback press trip took us on- and off-pavement in central Oregon, and the updated Subaru felt right at home. (Perhaps because everywhere we looked there was another Outback — usually very dirty with a kayak or bikes on the roof.) Whether cruising the highway or carving through twisty roads, Outback feels solid and planted, thanks to a stiffer body, redesigned suspension and quicker-response steering.
The 3.6 R offers strong acceleration, but the 2.5i is more than adequate for most situations. Mashing the accelerator full-throttle from a stop proves the bigger engine has more grunt, but unless you need to tow 3,000 pounds, there’s no need to bump the price another $3,000.
The Outback really shines where the pavement ends. The ride stays comfortable on rough road surfaces, and full-time AWD and 8.7 inches of ground clearance mean you can get through all but the toughest terrain. While the Outback doesn’t have a low-range setting, it does offer hill-descent control. We tried it on a steep downhill on very loose lava rock — push the button, aim the car and steer — the system keeps the speed steady and the car composed.
New for 2015 is X-Mode which, according to Subaru, “optimizes engine output and CVT ratio position, increases Active All-Wheel Drive engagement and uses enhanced control logic for the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system to reduce individual wheel spin.” Whew. There are situations in which this would be beneficial; however, we didn’t notice any significant difference with X-Mode engaged.
The Subaru Outback has a very loyal following — we saw dozens of past-generation Outbacks on our drive through central Oregon — and it’s easy to see why. Outback offers the off-road capability and cargo capacity of most crossover SUVs without having to compromise on comfort, handling or style. And with prices starting at around $25K, the Outback is a good value. Unless you have plans for some extreme off-roading — in which case a crossover isn’t right for you anyway — the Outback continues to be an excellent choice in the crowded crossover segment.
Subaru makes its popular crossover more comfortable, more efficient and more capable.
Comfortable ride, on or off road
No low-range for extreme off-roading
Limited towing ability