The Subaru Outback was never meant to be. At least it wasn’t in the conventional sense. It was merely a stopgap until Subaru’s compact SUV; the Forester arrived in the U.S in 1998. As such it was merely a Subaru Legacy station wagon with increased ground clearance and outdoorsy trim. The Outback arrived for the 1994 model year and has never gone away.
Unlike, that is, the Subaru Legacy Wagon, which was discontinued for 2008 because Americans don’t buy station wagons. They do, however, buy crossovers, which is what the Subaru Outback is.
The Subaru Outback has gone its own way from the Legacy, however. Its styling is deliberately brawnier and of course there’s that added ground clearance that gives the Outback legitimate off-pavement capability. At 8.7 inches from its belly to the ground, the Subaru can go over what ordinary automobiles can’t.
And because, like every Subaru except the rear-drive Subaru BRZ sports coupe, it has all-wheel drive; the Subaru Outback has the traction to get through snow and mud that would have ordinary cars hopelessly stuck.
Our test2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium was powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in classic Subaru horizontally-opposed configuration. It’s one of two engines available in the 2012 Outback, the 170 horsepower 2.5 and the 256-horse 3.6-liter horizontally-opposed six-cylinder that powered the 2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R we tested. The turbocharged 2.5GT engine used in the Legacy is not available.
For the Outback, the model lineup is split between engine, the fours designated 2.5i while the sixes are 3.6R models. Each engine comes in base, Premium and Limited.
There’s a big difference between the four and the six, particularly considering the 2012 Outback’s not inconsiderable heft, some 3400 lbs., a task for the 170 horses to accelerate with any snap. According to our notes: “Engine has its work cut out for it. Has to work hard to climb hills.” Yup.
Our test 2012 Outback was equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and in normal operation was loose enough that the accelerator could be used to play tunes with the engine revs when going uphill. Paddleshifters on the steering wheel will let the transmission mimic a six-speed manual, however.
Ride is smooth and controlled but it feels heavy. This is not a toss-about car, but you already knew that. The higher center of gravity, thanks to the increased ground clearance, conspires against agility.
An odd operational aspect is the replacement of the engine temperature gauge—now a warning light—with a “fuel economy” gauge that essentially tells the driver how hard the accelerator is being pushed.