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When an SUV is too big but a sedan isn't big enough, there's the Subaru Outback.

Subaru Outback Review | CarMax

Go ahead, we dare you — try to drive through a few busy intersections these days and not cross paths with a Subaru Outback. Bet you can’t do it!

They’re seemingly everywhere, these wildly popular, all-wheel-drive wagons from Subaru. CarMax has sold more than 10,000 of these wagons since 2006, and for good reason: Subaru has forged a reputation for go-anywhere flexibility over decades of Outback production.

In this Subaru Outback review, we’ll share some of this car’s many highlights, including some of our Subaru price averages2, so you can decide if it’s the right choice for you.


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What type of car is the Subaru Outback?

Is the Subaru Outback a wagon or a crossover? Or is it a midsized SUV? Subaru has built wagons for the US market since the 1970s, before the Outback came along — plenty of time to refine systems like their all-wheel drive. It started as a wagon, and Subaru still calls the Outback a wagon. Crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and the Ford Escape are some vehicles that are similar to the Outback.

And the Outback is Subaru’s most capable wagon yet. It conjures notions of ably tackling the great outdoors, and to be sure, there are stories of some owners who’ve turned their Outbacks into real off-road-capable adventure vehicles. Drivers really seem to love their Outbacks!

One of our sales consultants at the Lancaster, PA CarMax store says his customers love that their Subaru Outbacks can take them almost anywhere they want to go. “I’d say that people who come to see me are motivated by the wagon’s all-wheel-drive system, and its flexibility,” he says, adding that customers who come to the store for an Outback tend to be “do-ers.”

“They have dogs that they take with them when they travel, and they take their Outbacks to go kayaking in the summer and skiing in the winter,” he says. “It’s the extra space that comes with a wagon that they need, plus they want the extra versatility that can be hard to come by in some other wagons.

Subaru Outback Review: Backseats | CarMax

“Want to go mountain biking in the Appalachians? Take an Outback. Need something to tow your Jet Ski® to the lake? Take an Outback.”

What are some of the Outback’s best features?

  • All-wheel drive. Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive has been standard equipment on all of its US-market wagons for more than 20 years. This system gives Outback drivers full-time AWD.
  • Lots of space inside. Outbacks are good at carrying passengers and their luggage; the 2017 Outback 2.5i Limited has 41 inches of headspace and nearly 43 inches of front- and rear-legroom. There’s also 73 cubic feet of cargo space when the rear seats are folded down.
    Subaru Outback Review: Folded Seats | CarMax
  • PZEV. Outbacks with a PZEV badge on their tailgates are partial-zero-emissions vehicles; Subaru says its PZEV-equipped cars are designed to reduce smog-forming emissions, thanks to specialized fuel systems that can help to limit fuel vapor from escaping from the vehicle.
  • Eye Sight® driver-assist technology. Subaru says that this system, available starting in 2013 model-year Outbacks, uses windshield-mounted sensors to give you a heads up in the event of motion in your Outback’s path; it’s also designed to apply the brakes in the event of something in your path, and also alert you about lane changes.
    Subaru Outback Review: Dashboard | CarMax
  • High ground clearance. A Subaru Outback AWD has a taller suspension for extra ground clearance; the 2016 Outback 2.5i missed our own CarMax list of cars with high ground clearance by fractions of an inch. Coupled with AWD, this can be a real plus when you’re navigating rough and snowy roadways.
  • Pancake-style engine layout. What’s the deal with a flat-layout engine? Subaru says its engines — with pistons that move horizontally, rather than up and down — can be mounted lower in their vehicles for a lower center of gravity, which helps handling.
  • Relatively fuel-efficient for an all-road vehicle. As far as Subaru Outback mpg goes, the 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i gives drivers an estimated 25 city/32 hwy mpg1; compare this to a four-cylinder, four-wheel drive 2017 Jeep Cherokee (estimated 21 city/28 hwy mpg1) or a four-cylinder, AWD 2017 Chevrolet Equinox (estimated 20 city/28 hwy mpg1).

What are the differences between the Subaru Outback model trims?

Here’s a breakdown of the Outback trim packages across some different model years all with automatic transmission:

Trim Levels: Average Price2  in stock: Performance: Features (include but are not limited to):
Outback 2.5i
  • 2006-2017: $17,816
  • 2014-2017: $21,475
(2014 Outback 2.5i)
  • Horsepower: 173
  • Estimated Fuel Economy1: 24 city/30 hwy mpg
(2014 Outback 2.5i)
  • Full roof rack
  • All-wheel drive
  • Cruise control
  • Auxiliary audio input
  • Alloy wheels
Outback 2.5i Limited
  • 2006-2017: $24,290
  • 2014-2017: $26,547
(2016 Outback 2.5i Limited)
  • Horsepower: 175
  • Estimated Fuel Economy1: 25 city/32 hwy mpg
(2016 Outback 2.5i Limited)
  • Leather seats
  • All-wheel drive
  • Bluetooth®
  • Sunroof
  • Front seat heaters
Outback 2.5i Premium
  • 2006-2017: $21,268
  • 2014-2017: $23,336

(2017 Outback 2.5i Premium)
  • Horsepower: 175
  • Estimated Fuel Economy1: 25 city/32 hwy mpg
(2017 Outback 2.5i Premium)
  • Full roof rack
  • All-wheel drive
  • Rearview camera
  • Bluetooth®
  • Front seat heaters
Outback 3.6R Limited
  • 2006-2017: $26,480
  • 2014-2017: $30,685
(2015 Outback 3.6R Limited)
  • Horsepower: 256
  • Estimated Fuel Economy1: 20 city/27 hwy mpg
(2015 Outback 3.6R Limited)
  • Leather seats
  • All-wheel drive
  • Navigation system
  • Bluetooth®
  • Harmon-Kardon® sound system

How do the different Outbacks perform?

You don’t need to be an outdoorsy type to enjoy an Outback. But outdoorsy types will tell you that it helps! All Outbacks are equipped with all-wheel drive, which Subaru says is better than ever at pushing power to each of the car’s four wheels when additional traction is needed, whether it be through snow, mud, or over slippery ground.

Outbacks with the 2.5i designation have four-cylinder engines; these provide adequate horsepower and solid fuel economy. For example, Subaru Outback mpg numbers are an estimated 25 city/32 hwy mpg1 for the 2017 Outback 2.5i.

The Outback 3.6R Limited and Touring models are the top-level Outbacks, and they come with a larger engine — which gives you about 80 hp more than the 2.5i models. Of course, this six-cylinder engine gives you stronger acceleration and added towing ability when properly equipped3.

The cost in mpg for all that extra power? Not too steep a reduction; the estimated fuel economy for a 2017 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited is 20 city/27 hwy mpg1.

Most late-model Subarus, like the 2015 Outback 2.5i and the 2016 Outback 2.5i, come with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Older Outbacks, like the 2011 Outback 3.6R Limited we drove for this review, have a five-speed automatic that does a good job of putting the six-cylinder engine’s ample power to the ground. On the 2014 Outback, you had a choice of a six-speed automatic or the CVT.


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What are some similar Subaru models? How are they different from the Outback?

Of course, if you’re curious what all the Subaru fuss is about and you’re not game for an Outback, you’ve got other options. Here are some other Subarus that are worth checking out.

  • Subaru Forester - This tall crossover has more headroom than an Outback, and it carries five passengers too. This is also one Subaru that’s got a turbo option — the 2017 Subaru Forester can come with a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder that’s good for 250 hp. There’s no six-cylinder option here, but the 2016 Forester’s 2.5L four-cylinder, mated to an automatic transmission, can give you an estimated 26 city/32 hwy mpg1.
  • Subaru Impreza - Available as either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback, the Impreza is a compact AWD vehicle; it’s smaller than the Outback and Forester but not by much. Models like the 2014 Impreza 2.0i Premium have four-cylinder engines and CVT transmissions that return an estimated 27 city/35 hwy mpg1.
  • Subaru Legacy - Sedan fans can check out the Legacy, a four-door without all the Outback’s extra space in back. It still carries five passengers, and cars like the 2014 Legacy 2.5i come with AWD.
  • Subaru WRX - If the Outback isn’t sporty enough for you or doesn’t have an aggressive-enough reputation for performance, there’s the WRX, also known as the Impreza WRX. This little four-door is turbocharged and models like the 2016 Subaru WRX STI have leather and suede seats, quad-tip exhaust pipes, a big rear spoiler, and 305 hp.
  • Subaru XV Crosstrek- As one of the newer Subaru models, the XV Crosstrek is a hotter-looking Impreza that’s been kicked up a notch in ground clearance. Available since 2013, four-door models like the AWD 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium can be had with a five-speed manual transmission or an automatic CVT plus a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that gives drivers an estimated 23 city/30 hwy mpg1 for the stick-shift model and 26 city/33 hwy mpg1 for the CVT model.

What are some similar non-Subaru crossovers and SUVs?

Looking for non-Subaru crossovers and SUVs? The following can be found at CarMax stores and have similar interior space and features, and many are available with all-wheel-drive capability.


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What's it like to drive a Subaru Outback?

We had the opportunity to drive a 2011 Outback 3.6R Limited, right off the lot at the Richmond, VA CarMax store, in October. It’s actually pretty luxurious!

This six-cylinder Outback handled well, and the two additional cylinders gave it plenty of strong acceleration, with a 75+ hp boost over a same-year Outback with the 2.5L, four-cylinder engine.

Our vehicle was a dark metallic gray, with a full roof rack and a sunroof; inside there were leather seats for all passengers, and the front seats were heated. The center dash pod housed a backup camera and controls for a dual-zone heat- and air-conditioning system, and the transmission had a manual-shift mode you could select if you want to play with the paddle shifters. And call us old-fashioned, but we also liked the fact that this model’s entertainment system could play CDs!

Our 2011 Outback 3.6R Limited had some substantial ground clearance. With 17-inch wheels and 225mm-tall tires, we measured 8.5 inches of space between the lowest part of its undercarriage and the pavement.

The bottom line

Subaru has hit on a great formula here with the all-wheel-drive Outback wagon. It offers an appealing mix of performance, family-transport potential with lots of comfort features, and plenty of all-weather capability. Whether you’re an outdoors-conquering, high-adventure type, or you’re looking for a flexible wagon with the added benefits of all-wheel drive, there’s a lot to like about the Outback.

If you’ve set your sights on an AWD wagon and the Outback isn’t your thing, you’ve got other options — check out the Audi A4 wagon, the BMW 328 xi wagon, and the Volvo XC60. And you can also take a look at some of our best AWD vehicles and best SUVs too!

1. Fuel economy and range figures are based on EPA estimates when vehicles sold as new. Fuel economy may vary for reasons like driving conditions and vehicle history. Range will vary based on, among other things, battery age, vehicle condition, and driving conditions. Battery range may decrease with time and use. See fueleconomy.gov for details.
2. Except where noted, average prices based on total make and model inventory, including all trims available for each model, listed for sale on CarMax lots in October 2017. Actual prices vary based on model year, selected features and trim packages. Prices do not include tax, title, tags, and any applicable fees.
3. Various factors may impact towing capacity, including weight of passengers, cargo, and options/accessories.

Unless otherwise noted, information relating to these featured vehicles comes from third-party sources, including manufacturer information.Product and company names may be trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of third-party entities. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by these entities.