2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium review: Subaru’s surprise

2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium

2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium

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.

2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium driver seat

The 2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium with “Option Package 09,” which includes harmon/kardon audio, heated front seats, rear vision camera, moonroof and more. (Click photo to enlarge)

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.

2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium back seat

The back seat of the 2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium is roomy and comfortable. (Click photo to enlarge)

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.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.