ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: This new 2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited is an odd sort of vehicle. Not a bad vehicle -- Subaru managed to tuck some open-grain wood veneers in the cabin, so there are even a few luxury touches here and there -- but an odd one.
The basic long roof proportions are there, but it’s seemingly a few inches bigger in every direction. More headroom, a wider cabin, longer from nose to tail, etc. Looking at our first drive, it seems that the only thing that’s grown substantially is roof height -- it went up a substantial 2.2 inches. Well, that and cabin volume; there’s more room from armrest to armrest, even though the car itself isn’t much wider than its predecessor.
Anyway, I’d hesitate to call the Outback a wagon at this point. It’s more of a high-riding wagony crossover, to invent a segment. And I can’t really think of anything else it compares with except maybe the more-expensive Audi Allroad.
But then, I’d have to say the Allroad is more fun to drive; the Outback doesn’t wander over the road or anything, but its CVT -- it jumps off the line, to be sure, but its kind of…boring at speed. Light steering and soft brakes mean it’s not built for carving up trails.
The price seems high to me for a Subaru (oddly, the more-expensive WRX STI made perfect sense), but I think that’s because I’m used to seeing the automaker’s offerings as gutsy bargain-buys. The XV Crosstrek, an inexplicable favorite of mine, can be had for around $20,000 to this car’s $37,000. It’s smaller and lacks the luxury touches of the Outback, though; material quality is lower as well.
Subaru is moving a lot of cars lately, so I’ll assume they have the sales side of the Outback all figured out. And when you look at what an Outback buyer may cross-shop -- likely another unibody van pretending to be a brawny SUV -- this wagon-on-steroids really does make a certain sense. I like it; you might, too.
The 2015 Subaru Outback took a bow at the New York auto show on Thursday. It gets a new front fascia with a hexagonal grille, a standard CVT -- not sure how we feel about that -- and the same 9 or so ...
The 2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited is equipped with a 3.6-liter H6 mated with a continuously variable transmission.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I like Subaru wagons, and this new 2015 Outback 3.6R Limited is a nice one. I say new because that’s what I’ve read, though it sure looks and acts like the outgoing one. This right here is perhaps the definition of evolutionary. Maybe it’s a little sleeker I guess.
Same with the way it drives; like, well, an Outback. It goes about its business quietly and confidently. It’s pleasant. Nothing jumps out as outstanding or awful, though it does seem a little quieter and more refined.
The CVT? Get used to ’em, they’re here to stay. This one’s OK -- not great, not awful. It just is.
The 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder is OK, too. The Outback isn’t a race car of course, but as with the rest of the car overall, it basically gets the job done. It drones a little, but I blame the CVT.
The Outback’s cabin is plenty roomy and nicely built and thank goodness Subaru finally made its radio controls big enough for normal-sized thumbs and fingers.
The nearly $37K sticker might make you gasp, but then, I consider there’s really nothing I’d want or need that isn’t already here. It’s loaded. Overall, this would make a great year-round car, especially if you live where the snow flies.
Our test 2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited was rather loaded for the $37K price.
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: Thankfully the automotive marketing phrase “active lifestyle” seems to be dying a slow death. No longer do carmakers portray potential buyers of bland crossover utility vehicles as rock climbing kayaking mountain bikers with square jaws and perfect teeth. Today’s CUV marketing is a little more realistic. But if you go to the trailheads and river put-ins where people who really do have active lifestyles park their rigs you’ll find two distinct vehicle types: smaller Toyota pickup trucks with cheap fiberglass shells on the back, and Subaru wagons. For as long as there have been lifestyles that were genuinely active it has been thus. People needed some ground clearance, some all wheel-drive and a relatively cheap sticker. Thus, if you checked around you might find that most of those Toyotas and Subarus had been bought used because the adventure lifestyle doesn’t pay well and telemark skis are expensive.
I have to think though that most of those real active lifestylers would be impressed with this ride. It has all the basic requirements they crave. You can see the airy 8.7 inches of ground clearance when it’s just sitting in your driveway. Likewise the steep approach and departure angles. And since all Subarus are AWD now, this one with “Active Torque Split AWD” that electronically manages front to rear torque distribution, it meets the second requirement, too. The cavernous interior could hold a year’s worth of gear for four seasons of adventure.
If you’re not an active lifestyler, you will still appreciate this ride. The big block flat six has more than enough power and torque to get you through the worst winter snowstorm or over the emptiest Baja beach. It will also do a great job transporting you to the PTA meeting with all the stage props for the kid’s school play. That 3.6-liter flat six makes a mighty 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, more than enough to haul the 3,810-pound Outback plus you and all your gear anywhere you want to go. Even the CVT, as I’ve said before, is not anywhere near as intrusive as every other CVT on the market. For typical suburban errand-running you won’t even notice it. Subaru makes the best CVT in the world, so far.
But the best thing about the Outback is that it meets some off-highway adventure needs without sacrificing the on-highway ride and comfort of a “car.”
We like the Subaru wagons, and the 2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited is a nice one.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: When did the Subaru Outback become a luxury car?
Color me impressed -- slightly. The Outback’s interior is light and airy, its design straightforward and handsome. Its leather seats feel real nice. Its navigation system is great, as I found in the Legacy I drove a few months back, but not as quick or snappy as I remembered. The air conditioning is downright woeful -- owing to this wonderful heat wave that Los Angeles is experiencing, in September, I have an irrational demand for any car to make me feel like I’m ice fishing in New Hampshire.
It feels more dim-witted than that very Legacy: slightly less composed, certainly more truck-like. The suspension shakes and vibrates. The steering is off-road numb, all the softer for when you're heading down some gnarly logging road at a speed that could void your warranty. The seating can be raised to skyscraper heights, until you’re literally sneering down at traffic (and other Outback drivers). It’s got X-Mode and hill descent and the requisite buttons asserting to that modern brand of off-roading, where you point your prowl at some Camel Trophy trail and floor the throttle and let the computers figure it all out.
In essence, this thing is full-on truck, baby. And that’s exactly what Subaru classifies it as. We’ve had two generations to fondly remember the Legacy wagon, and it’s never coming back. The Forester is still relatively cheap, and the XV Crosstrek even more so. And since the SVX is even deader than dead, it all makes sense: Subaru can finally, triumphantly, transform the Outback into its luxury flagship.
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