The 2017 Subaru Outback arrives at dealerships breaking sales records, selling at the pace of about 16,000 per month. In our test drive we think we might have found out why.

In a world of Ford Explorers and Toyota Highlanders, the Subaru Outback offers up a unique recipe of SUV utility and off-road capability with car-like handling and fuel economy. Testing a 2.5 liter four-cylinder model only underscored the latter.

Styling has become ubiquitous, no big changes for 2017 since the Outback got its all new design for the 2015 model year. It has rugged black plastic under-cladding all around, big fog lights and a healthy roof rack on top to give it a taller silhouette.

That roof rack is more than styling however as its robust design can support a number of accessories to strap just about anything from a kayak to mountain bikes. The door sills have extra side steps front and rear so you can use them as a step to do just that.

Selecting the Limited also gives us 18-inch alloy wheels that while filling the styling check box generously still afford enough tire sidewall height to offer up a comfortable and confident off-road driving experience.

Interior trims include heated leather seating front and rear, about every creature comfort known to man, all put together with a handsome array of satin woodgrain trim. Material quality is top of class in look and feel, switchgear tactile and easy to find.

Front seat comfort is good with firm support adjustable ten ways for the driver with memory and four ways for the passenger. A good range of height adjustment allows for a car like feel from behind the wheel or a taller more SUV-like position.

The leather wrapped steering wheel is jam packed with controls for infotainment, driving computer, and driver assistance safety systems along with paddle shifters for the continuously variable transmission. It’s well done and not overly complex.

17-subaru-outback-17Audio from its Harman-Kardon sound hardware is excellent. Using the touch screen system is a snap with good graphics and intuitive menu structures. The only complaint is a bit of sunlight glare on its unshielded screen.

The console center stack too is down to business without the fussiness some competitors offer. Storage is generous storage both up front and under the arm rest lid give you plenty of space for your devices and plugs to connect them.

Rear seat passengers enjoy plenty of leg and head room with a seat that is high enough for a comfortable and natural seating position. Rear seat backs are adjustable for rake and they do fold down in a 60/40 split.

Doing so is easy with pull levers at the rear. The cargo area is cavernous with or without the seats folded due to the extended length nature of its wagon silhouette.

17-subaru-outback-18Powering our tester is the standard 2.5 liter “Boxer” four-cylinder engine. With 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque it’s competitive with similarly sized engines of peers. Here it comes only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that offers manual shifting mode.

Power is adequate and linear. The engine thrums under the hood with a smoothness and tenor quite different than most in-line four-cylinders. The CVT is one of the best we’ve tested and is actually quite fun to use in manual mode where it offers up simulated shift points to please the enthusiast.

The EPA rates it at 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined. We were able to achieve 29 mpg in our week with it combined city and highway with the AC on.

17-subaru-outback-20Handling is an area where the Outback clearly offers an advantage over many of its taller SUV competitors since it it’s based on a car. Even though it has 8.7-inches of ground clearance, its body is lower overall as is its center of gravity.

This means more car like driving behavior on and off-road. On the highway its quiet and stable with little urge to be swayed by wind. Out on the washboard roads, the suspension soaks up the rough without transmitting it through the structure like a drum. Steering is sharp on curvy roads without the top heavy feel a more traditional crossover SUV has.

Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive is one of the brand’s claim to fame so we had to test it’s mettle. On our mogul test where one front wheel and one rear wheel are made free of traction, the system set in X-Mode pulled us out of the high-center hole like child’s play.

17-subaru-outback-5As tested our 2017 Outback Limited 2.5 priced out at $35,250. With a staring price of $25,645 you can get into this car at an outstanding value with the same driving experience and utility as the Limited we had here, just with fewer bells and whistles.

The bottom line for us is that the Subaru Outback offers all the utility of most SUV competitors with the capability most don’t offer. When you factor in the car-like handling and fuel economy to go with that, it’s a stand out. And this is why it makes our TestDrivenTV “Id Buy It” list.