2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited Road Test Review

John Birchard - CAP staff
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While it seems many manufacturers are struggling around them, Subaru presses on. Having found a niche, Fuji Heavy Industries, primary owner of Subaru, is enjoying success by pursuing its own distinct course. The ingredients are well-known: all-wheel drive, boxer engines, reasonable prices, a reputation for reliability and a customer base in snowier regions that wouldn't have any other vehicle.

Subaru Canada, Inc. (SCI) announced a new record for May with total monthly sales having reached 2,436 units, which is a 25.6% increase over May, 2009. It was the fifth consecutive month of growth for Subaru Canada with sales up 32.6% year-to-date. An even better scenario has been playing out in the U.S., with Subaru of America having celebrated its best sales month in the history of the company in May, selling 23,667 units – a 35% increase over the same month in 2009. Its U.S. market share stood at 2.3%. By way of comparison, Volkswagen's U.S. market share is just over 2%.

Looking further behind the overall May figures, the Outback led all Subaru models in the Canada and U.S., more than doubling its sales with a 336.4% increase for the former (124% in the U.S.). The 515 people (more than 7,000 in the U.S.) who chose the 2010 Outback in May found it a roomier, more powerful version of what the company calls "the world's first sport utility wagon." The fourth generation is built on an all-new chassis, with a wheelbase that's increased by 71 mm (2.8 inches) to 2,740 mm (107.9 inches) for a smoother ride. Despite the longer wheelbase, the total vehicle is about 25 mm (almost an inch) shorter than its predecessor. Yet passenger room and cargo space are both up. The new Outback is a touch over 100 mm (4 inches) taller than the previous model, increasing headroom. Ground clearance is improved to 220 mm (8.7 inches). The new packaging helps maneuverability, agility and parking ease.

The base Outback, known as the PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle), is powered by a revised 170-hp, 2.5-litre four cylinder boxer engine. There's a new standard six-speed manual transmission or the customer can choose Subaru's Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission. Base price of the PZEV is $28,995. At the other end of the scale, the top-of-the-line 3.6R Limited (my test vehicle) gets a new 256-horsepower 3.6-litre, 6-cylinder, boxer powerplant hooked to a 5-speed electronic automatic transmission. The price tag on the Limited starts at $38,495. Subaru bundles a power moonroof, navigation system, rear vision camera and Bluetooth audio capability in with the Multimedia Option that adds $2,300.

The new Outback has been re-styled with a bolder look, but it still retains Subaru styling cues. Inside, materials have been upgraded as have fit-and-finish to keep pace with the competition. The seats are more chair-like than before, with added hip and shoulder room and four inches more legroom in the rear. The taller cabin provides ample headroom for most folks. All in all, a spacious place. Speaking of space, cargo room is now 971 litres (34.3 cubic feet). With the seatbacks folded, that expands to 2,019 litres (71.3 cubic feet).

Subaru's rugged reputation has long included close attention to safety matters. The Outback features Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) with electronic traction control, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Brake Assist, Rollover Sensor and the usual array of airbags. The top five-star government safety ratings were awarded the Outback for its protection of occupants in front and side crashes, while it was also named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The new electronic Hill Holder System, standard on all models, holds the vehicle in place until the throttle is applied.

All-wheel drive has a number of attractions – the ability to go in the snow when others give up, increased traction on slippery surfaces and added "stick" in corners. But it has its drawbacks, too. There's the additional weight of its hardware, more pieces to break or wear out and the penalty one pays in reduced gas mileage. The Limited version of the Outback is rated by the EPA as delivering a metric equivalent of 13.1 L/100km in the city and 9.4 on the road. Subaru boasts it has the most fuel-efficient line-up of all-wheel drive products sold in the U.S. market. While that may be true, it's a relatively low hurdle to leap.

My first impression is that this is a bigger buggy than expected. The Outback is taller, wider and definitely more spacious inside. The leather used on the optional leather seats is smooth and expensive-looking. The dash has a variety of shapes to accommodate the displays, gauges, buttons, levers and switches, but it's finished nicely and the surfaces are pleasant to touch. Most controls are placed conveniently for the driver, but I could not figure out how find my favourite satellite radio channel, even after reading the owner's manual.

On the lower left side of the dash is the control for the parking brake, which is now electronic, and which – when you set it or release it – reacts with a groan or maybe it's a sigh. One thing is for sure, no more spectacular hand-brake turns to impress your juvenile friends. That's one of those kid maneuvers we're supposed to leave behind upon entering "adulthood."

I'm impressed with the overall poshness of this Subaru. Yes, the 40-thousand-dollar bottom line may cause your throat to go dry as you fumble for your wallet, but darned if the Outback doesn't seem worth it. It goes quickly, it stops fast, it is quiet inside as well as comfortable. The fuel economy could be better, but remember it's all-wheel drive. Handling could be a little more nimble, but after all it's a rather tall vehicle with impressive ground clearance. The back seat is roomy and there's lots of headroom. Cargo space is good-to-great, depending on whether the 2nd row of seats is flattened. The nitpicker in me calls attention to the tiny rear window, but then I feel compelled to point out the rear-view camera does a nice job of displaying objects – inanimate and otherwise – in your vicinity. You won't find too many flaws in this product.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Subaru, 2010, Outback, $30,000 - $39,999,

Organizations: Subaru

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