Just when you thought size no longer mattered, an absolute bevy of upsized automotive intros populate our driveways. Those hoping for a smaller, more athletic Mustang this coming model year had their hopes dashed quickly; the new one may be more athletic, but for ‘smaller’ you’ll have to visit the SMU sideline – and find a cheerleader. Porsches continue to look in need of carb reduction, while Maserati’s gorgeous new Ghibli does little to remind us of the original , which was both sensuous and sinuous. Finally, Subaru applied a new skin to what is essentially its old Outback, and while the skin may appear more organic and less complex, it sure ain’t any smaller. It’s as if Crocodile Dundee (remember him?) swallowed the whole croc…
With that, you can’t help but like the changes wrought by Subaru’s design team. While occupying – in Subaru’s words – a ‘similar footprint’ to the model it replaces, passenger volume increases by almost 3%, cargo capacity is upped to 73 cubic feet, and fuel economy is improved to an estimated 25/33/28 (combined) on the EPA test cycle. It is the ‘roomiest, most capable Outback ever’. And who are we to argue with that?
We’re CarBuzzard, of course, and the ‘buzzard can always grab hold of an opposing viewpoint when given the opp – and told to generate a few hundred words in support of that viewpoint. In its roughly twenty year history the Outback has evolved from little more than a Legacy with cladding and raised ride height to, well, a Legacy without cladding and a raised ride height. There’s (obviously) more to it than that, but for what has become a sub-brand within Subaru, the maturation of the Outback franchise has required little or no rocket science.
If you look at how Jeep’s Grand Cherokee has evolved over a similar timeframe, know that the Jeep has gone from two live axles to all-independent suspension, and from two powertrains (an inline six and V8) to four (V6, a couple of Hemi V8s and a turbodiesel). Notably, one can now spend almost $60K on the Jeep, a figure that would today buy you not one but two Outbacks.
In the Subaru, the new sheetmetal minimizes the fussiness that enveloped its immediate predecessor. And with a more steeply raked windshield – a trick applied to the Forester redo, as well – the exterior is made more aero-friendly while the interior receives more interior volume. The cleaner skin surfaces, however, do little – or nuttin’ – to reduce the Outback’s visual heft. The front overhang remains too overhung, while the overall impression – whether on the street or in your garage – is that this mother is l-o-o-o-n-g. For those regularly taking people and their stuff, big/long is good; for the rest of us, who’d rather rent a minivan on those rare occasions when we’re confronted with people and their stuff, it simply seems l-o-o-o-n-g.
Under the hood Subaru continues with a completely capable 2.5 liter flat four or available flat six; the optional Hemi, it seems, has been put on hold. Our test Subie, a 2.5i Premium with the four pot, provided 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, all of which is distributed via Subaru’s Lineartronic (can you say it backwards?) CVT. And despite an almost innate suspicion regarding the CVT, credit Subaru for making its unique characteristics seem, well, less unique. Responsiveness was better than adequate, and save for a Subaru tendency to emit a rather diesel-like clatter at idle, notably unobtrusive.
On the road, the Outback’s all-independent suspension offers what Subaru describes as a nimble, sporty feel. And it is, to be sure, more nimble than the footprint might suggest; and it’s almost sporty, with well-connected steering and a reasonably small amount of body lean. We won’t take it autocrossing (unless, of course, we need to carry the cones), but the Outback is so much better than comparably-sized CUVs, armed as they are with more weight and higher hip points. Outward visibility is very good, as is inward visibility; if changing at the beach, bring towels – or nudity with a distinct bias toward ‘attractive’.
At a suggested retail of under $30K (with moonroof package and power rear gate) the Outback constitutes a screaming deal in the segment. Add traditionally high Subie resale value and a simple maintenance regimen, and you’re left with a total cost of ownership that’s among the lowest around. If needing just four doors and a hatch we might opt for the XV Crosstrek, and if needing more cargo volume than the Crosstrek we might go for the Forester. But if your needs are traditional, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better than today’s Outback, even if it seems slightly bigger than absolutely necessary. But then, aren’t most of us slightly bigger than necessary?