Getting our first perimeter check on the Outback, the look is familiar. While this new sport utility wagon shares no sheet-metal with the old one, it brings its all new style in an evolutionary way.
Trademark lower body cladding defines the Outback as it has for well over a decade, giving it a rugged look while at the same time offering protection from rock chips, sand pitting and scrapes from places like this.
Our fully decked 3.6R Limited has HID headlamps which are more rectangular and sleek this year as well as a new 18” alloy wheel design. At the rear, a power liftgate opens at the touch of a button either on the key fob or on the dash.
Roof rails complete the adventurous look while adding a sense of height to the Outback. When you park this next to contemporary crossover SUV’s, it matches them shoulder to shoulder in silhouette. It’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance is more than visible to the passer by too.
Inside is where we find a new level of quality and upscale materials. Subaru added soft touch trims in places like the doors where your arms can feel the difference. The dash and console materials also impress with their feel.
The dash is laid out very traditionally in terms of design. As I got behind the wheel, just about all the controls were just where I expected to find them. The Limited’s heated leather front seats were easy to adjust and save my settings in memory.
There’s generous storage in the center console, glove compartment and plenty of cup holders to go around. Space is plentiful throughout as while the Outback has the proportions of a car it’s got the dimensional equivalents to many of its mid-size SUV competitors.
The view out and seating position leans more toward car than SUV, which in this instance is well fitting. Theme in here is very much American in style but definitely Japanese in quality, fit and finish.
In our Limited this is the top of the line Harman/Kardon 12 speaker audio system with 7” touch screen. In addition to touch and swipe control capability, it also offers voice-activated commands to help with audio and navigation functions while on the road.
The rear cargo area came with a nice thick rubber mat which is fitting, offering a wear resistant and high grip surface for all your rugged living gear or bags of groceries. Convenient levers are mounted near the rear opening to release the rear seats down flat for a full open space too.
Rear seat passengers will like the cavernous head and leg room afforded by the Outback’s SUV size. Rear vents and headed seats will keep them happy.
Under the hood is Subaru’s venerable 3.6 liter flat-six Boxer engine which contributes to a lower center of gravity. With 256 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft of torque, the EPA rates it at 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 22 mpg for combined cycle.
Power delivery through the Lineartronic CVT is very smooth and refined. The constantly variable transmission is one of the better we have tested, almost fooling you with its traditional transmission “shift feel”.
While power comes on smooth, it’s not a great lot of it. The optional six-cylinder is of a mild tune at only 256 horsepower, most of its competitively sized peers pushing out about 300.
Suspension up front is MacPherson struts with a double-wishbone design at the rear. Extensive quiet tuning has been done on the Outback including a new acoustic windshield and liquid filled motor mounts.
This makes for a hushed ride on the highway. The body structure and suspension do an excellent job of serving up a solid and quality feel to the driver. Body motions are well damped on curves, braking and accelerating.
The Outback has standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and Active Torque Vectoring for ultimate control and agility when the going gets tougher than smooth pavement offers.
On our washboard back roads of the Sonoran Desert, the Outback glided over the rough and rocky surfaces recently washed over by remnants of Hurricane Norbert. It’s suspension and body showing nary a shudder or rattle that this road usually brings out in a crossover.
While we didn’t test it to extremes, the 2015 Outback’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system has a continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch which manages the front-to-rear torque split depending on traction needs.
A standard driver selectable X-Mode optimizes engine output, CVT ratio and all-wheel drive torque management in combination with the vehicle dynamics control to reduce individual wheel spin when in the real challenging terrains.
When it comes to safety, the 2015 Subaru Outback offers eight-airbags and makes the IIHS Top Safety Pick + trophy case status. This is due to its crash performance in all categories, but also its available crash prevention systems which ours had.
In our week of testing with the Outback we achieved 25 mpg combined city and highway which is about 3 mpg more than the window sticker promises. In pricing, ours came to $36,835 which included the Moonroof Package and Destination Charges.
The Outback scored well in our week earning 4.5 out of 5 stars in our rating scale.