Executive Wheels: Wonderful … But

If everyone drove a Subaru Outback, the roads would be a heck of a lot safer

I have long been a Subaru fan, mostly because I believe all-wheel-drive is the all-time best safety feature and Subarus are, by and large, AWD vehicles; the lone exception these days is the BRZ, which is actually a Toyota 86. This wasn’t always the case: Back in the dark ages – before 1990 – there were some pretty goofy Subaru models, and many without AWD. But the Japanese carmaker decided to make itself distinctive and go primarily AWD the last decade of the 20th century. And, it worked. Subaru is one of the more distinctive car lines on the planet.

But it’s not like the company hasn’t had some issues in its wake, mostly on the naming side. Its more venerable models are probably the Legacy, launched in 1989 with both a sedan and a station wagon model, and the Impreza, the smaller hatchback launched in 1992. A few years later, in 1994, Subaru introduced a beefed up trim of both models and gave it the catchy and rugged sounding name “Outback.” For many years there was no car in the line called “Outback,” only a trim of two models, but it long confused the public. Everyone, at least here in the United States, began calling the Legacy station wagon – any Legacy station wagon – the Outback, even though there were non-Outback wagons and even Outback sedans. Finally, a few years ago the company succumbed to gravity and made it official: The Outback is the station wagon and the sedan is the Legacy. The Impreza Outback Sport became the Crosstrek.

Now that we have that straight we can talk about this Outback.

The first thing you notice about Subaru is they are well-made, solid vehicles that just make you feel safe and sound. Plus, if you look around you see a million on the road, spanning many, many years, so it is also obvious that Subarus generally and Outbacks in particular last a long time. That is comforting.

I have to be honest: If there was only one car that everyone had to drive, it should be the Subaru Outback. I’m glad there are many choices, of course, but if everyone drove a Subaru Outback, the roads would be safer. The Outback is no speed demon. It’s a wagon, and therefor sober, so there would be far less grandstanding. It’s AWD, so it would hold the road far better than many other cars. It’s reliable, so there would be fewer trips to the dealership and/or car mechanics. It has a great safety record, so there would be fewer injuries in accidents. Overall, I think people driving Outbacks would just drive better, with more courtesy. And, there would be fewer collasal pickup trucks driven by wanna-be cowboys. Just sayin’.

People ask me all the time: “What would be the best car for my new teen driver.” I always say, “Subaru Outback.” An added benefit is that, since they stay on the road for many years, there are a ton of Outbacks in the used car market that would be good buys for a teen and/or college car. Or, anyone for that matter.

I really enjoyed driving this Outback 3.6R Touring model, and I would love to own one. But – there’s always a “but” – I would not like to pay for one, and here’s the rub.

First of all, let’s go through the great stuff. This vehicle is a great size, not too big, not too small and very fun to drive. It is also easy to drive; it handles extremely well, is powerful (3.6-liter 6 cylinder engine, putting out some 256 horsepower, with a 6-speed continuously variable automatic transmission, which is smooth), roomy and very comfortable. It is a relatively quiet vehicle.

You can get a base model Outback, the 2.5i (and the 2.5i Premium and Touring), all with a 2.5 liter 4-banger putting out some 175 hp (we’ll talk price in a moment). These models are rated at 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined. When you move up to the model I drove, with the 3.6 6-cylinder engine, the rating goes down to 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway. All of these, really, are great mileage ratings for AWD vehicles, but 20 mpg/city is something to think about if you care about such things, and to be honest, the smaller engine in the Outback is fairly peppy and will do all the Colorado stuff with aplomb.

Of course, they send the best model out to car reviewers, so I got the top-of-the-line 3.6R Touring. What that means is that it comes with all the extras. Here are a few of those extras that are pretty cool:

  • EyeSight Driver Assist Technology with adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking, lane departure and sway warnings, lane keep assist, and high beam assist. I have seen these systems in other vehicles, and Subaru does as well as anyone.
  • Blind spot detection, rear-cross traffic alert. I like both of these.
  • Steering responsive headlamps that curve as you do, which is a feature I can do without.
  • Power rear gate with memory height. Nice.
  • Leather seats and steering wheel in Java brown, which is very nice.
  • STARLINK 8” multimedia navigation system, which all together is the system that pairs a smart phone so all the apps can run, upgrades the radio, offers voice commands, and essentially is all the tech even a millennial would love. My only reservation is that navigation seems superfluous in the modern smart-phone era.

The Outback is beautiful, unbelievably well-equipped and a solid, solid vehicle.

But I mentioned the rub.

The lower models in the Outback line can be had for MSRPs beginning at $25,896, and then rising to $36,490 depending on what extras come in the trim. This 3.6R Touring, with everything, starts at $38,690 and, with destination and delivery, comes is at $39,605. That’s not too much for all that is here, however, once you get in an Outback more than $35,000 the competition from other similarly sized SUVs/Crossovers gets pretty stiff. At $30,000 or less, the Outback is hands down the choice and there won’t be many other vehicles you can test drive that will match up. But at $40,000? Whoa. Jeep Grand Cherokee. Mazda CX-9. VW Atlas. Mercedes GLC or GLA. Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Jaguar F-Pace. And more, all right around that level.

If you’re thinking about the 3.6R Outback, you’ll have to do a ton of research.


RATING: THREE-AND-THREE-QUARTERS WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation