A Wagon Everyone is Thankful For
A Victory & Reseda review of the 2017 Subaru Outback
Let's talk about stereotypes for the moment.
When you see the vehicle featured in this article, what does it come to mind? According to those who have seen photos…or have seen it in person…think of one specific stereotype: It is a vehicle for Lesbians.
I think it's time for some education. In fact, have you read Ryan Senensky's Historiography on the rise of Subaru as the leader in all-wheel drive vehicles? Nowhere in his article does it state anything about ownership stereotyping – not even the stereotype of the vaping habits of WRX or STi owners.
As an automotive media person, I have to intake and absorb all feedback from each vehicle I work with. As a gay man, I have to wonder if I should be complicit in the automated feedback of people equating one vehicle as belonging to a certain culture or population. Between my lesbian friends and vaping enthusiasts, we are not amused.
Yet, the Subaru Outback is the biggest selling car sold by Fuji Heavy Industries in the USA. For 32 consecutive months, Subaru sold over 10,000 Outbacks a month in this country. In October, they sold over 18,000 Outbacks – more than a lot of vehicles out in the marketplace.
Subaru's approach to this mid-sized lifted all-wheel drive wagon is simple: It is made for active lifestyles. These are people who are active running on dirt trails through forests, climbing the face of mountains and rocks, mountain biking through uncharted passes and canoeing through the rapids. They could might as well be lesbian or bisexual. They might enjoy a vape or two. But, these are the customers that the Outback appeals to.
Did you also know that the Outback appeals to urban warriors, Baby Boomers looking for better traction in a wagon or anyone who cannot afford esoteric European long-roofed vehicles with all-wheel drive? If you actually visit a Subaru dealership and see who buys an Outback, will be very surprised.
Enough ranting about applying stereotypes on automobiles! I had the chance to drive a 2017 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited during a cold Thanksgiving week in Minnesota. Let me say this…drop your pretenses and erase any stereotype you have! Let me tell you all about this alternative to the SUV buying habits of Americans (and Canadians).
The genesis of the Outback is from its mid-sized product: the Legacy. Both vehicles were heavily revised for the 2015 model year, with extended A-pillar areas and other cosmetic evolutions upon prior generations. The 8.7-inch ground clearance raises the profile, which distinguishes the Outback from anything in its class. In fact, having one of the highest ride heights of any capable station wagon helps make this a great alternative to crossovers and SUVs.
As an alternative, there are some advantages the Outback have over a typical crossover/SUV. Overall height means not having to worry about fitting into smaller spaces, including garages. The doors have good width and open angle and the tailgate is perfect for tall people to load things without stooping down. Outbacks are distinctive enough to be familiar sights anywhere, even in places where the big SUVs rule the school drop-off and the grocery store parking lot.
When I look at the Outback, I fall on its charms of being rugged off-road capable wagon that is a great companion for life. It is exactly how Subaru attracts its customers to it.
Where the Outback will charm you is inside. Our 3.6R Limited tester offer leather seats up front that are huge and quite comfortable. You will find some bolstering to keep you locked in, along with power adjustments for rake, recline, height and lumbar support. Rear seat room is very good, along with reclining seatbacks and comfortable leather upholstery. A small transmission tunnel is in the way for a middle passenger, but you can fit three average-sized adults just fine. Overall headroom with the moonroof, was no problem.
Instrumentation is fine and easily readable. The center TFT screen offers trip, fuel economy, and active safety feature information. The controls are fine, especially on the steering wheel; however, some switches are below the instrument panel's main line – in particular, to the left of the driver – and are hard to reach for taller drivers. The console set up is also just fine with the gear lever toward the driver and two key off-road function switches available at the ready. Not to mention, this 3.6R Limited has paddle shifters to make ratio changes quicker through the Continuously Variable Transmission.
Starlink is Subaru's infotainment system, which has been getting some updates from Toyota. Why would I say that? Those graphics look exactly the ones found on any given Toyota or Lexus. There is more to Starlink, as it is a telematics suite design to connect Subaru with the vehicle. Services through Stralink include Automatic Collision Notification, Enhanced Roadside Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Recovery, and Remote Services. An app is available for your smartphone to manage other connected services available onto the in-car system. Connectivity is also available via Bluetooth, an Aux port and two USB ports. Sound for the Starlink system is filtered through twelve wonderful Harman Kardon speakers.
Cargo space is very good in the Outback. Keep the rear seats up and you have 35.5 cubic feet to work with, flip the seats down and there is a maximum of 73.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Compare this to a SUV within its size range and you will find plenty of parity between the Outback and the rest.
Outback models start with a 2.5 liter horizontally oppose four-cylinder engine, with 175 horsepower on tap. This is what powered a huge bulk of Outbacks sold in this country. However, you can get more power – such as the horizontally-opposed 3.6 liter six-cylinder engine that resides in our tester. This 3.6R engine has 256 horsepower with 247 pound-feet of torque. For those of us wanting more torque to master going "over the river and through the woods" to Thanksgiving, this engine is it!
The 3.6R engine is connected to a continuously variable transmission, called Lineartronic, connects the boxer engine to its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. In all, it does the job nicely, both on the road and off of it. By “off-road,” I mean gravel and dirt tracks away from the tarmac. You can also through snow and some manageable ice to this mix, as well. That is where the Outback is truly exceptional. It also helps to have a feature called X-Mode, which adjusts the AWD system to conditions, including managing steep declines through the Hill Descent Control. On its own, the Outback can handle a lot of situations that it encounters every day.
If there is a way to settle the argument between getting a typical compact crossover/SUV and getting the Subaru Outback, take a look at fuel economy. At the end of my time with the Outback with the horizontally-opposed six cylinder engine, I averaged 24.4 MPG. This is above average for this specification.
By having an 8.7-inch ground clearance, you expect the ride to be managed well with such a long wheel travel. It actually does, with the suspension absorbing road imperfections while maintaining a smooth ride overall. However, handling is on the soft side. Some lean is felt in the corners, if pushed. Otherwise, the Outback is very poised through any maneuver.
Steering action is also quite good. Turns are fine and it has a decent turning radius for tight spots. On-center feel is exact and steering wheel weight is balanced. Braking's also quite good. It does linear and smooth stops in both normal and panic situations.
Getting the Limited trim on the Outback means getting all of Subaru's active safety features. It begins with EyeSight. This optical camera/sensor system enables these active safety features to work extremely well on the Outback. The EyeSight system is connected to a good active cruise control system, pre-collision braking, vehicle sway warning, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring systems. The rearview camera on the Starlink screen also offers blind spot warnings on it, along with rear cross-traffic warnings.
All of these impressions sure do get technical. If you really want to know how the Outback turned out in my care, follow me as I took it get some turkey and fixins.
To really get to know a vehicle, take it somewhere outside your own comfort zone. That is exactly what I did. My destination was a restaurant in Albert Lea, MN, as suggested by a Facebook friend. The promise of a good meal was there, but I have to improve getting there to do so. That meant doing a photo shoot upstream along the Minnesota Valley around the town of Henderson, taking roads I never traversed in South Central Minnesota. By accident – and thinking I had some time before my reservation at The Trumble's in Albert Lea – I ended up crossing into Iowa on US Highway 69. Luckily, I had enough time to circle back to Albert Lea and partake in the meal.
It was your standard Thanksgiving fare – all delicious for the price. The cranberry salad was actually quite delicious! So was everything else. Certainly, I could either stuck around The Cities or took a further trip for a more expensive fare, but this was exactly what I wanted. It absolutely fits the purpose of the drive in the Outback perfectly. In turn, the Outback turned into a good companion for an adventure into Thanksgiving away from the usual trappings of the city.
Let us get back to the review, then! The Outback lineup is priced from $25,645 for a 2.5i base model. This 3.6R Limited tester came with a sticker price of $37,465. If you consider this price range, this will put you in the heart of the popular compact SUV/crossover market.
It is no wonder why the Outback is the most popular Subaru in this country. Its value and capability makes it attractive to the widest customer base for the brand. The Outback is also very versatile and much easier to drive than a SUV or crossover. It is a wagon – let us agree to that! Even with a higher ground clearance, the Outback offers the security of a wagon that enables those who rather not get into a SUV or crossover to easily enjoy the accessible qualities this Subaru offers to everyone.
Throw away your stereotypes! This is one wagon that will handle everything you put yourself into – no matter who you are.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Subaru of America
All photos by Randy Stern