The 2016 Subaru Outback is the perfect car for taking the family on a trip into the outback. Outback takes the middle road between rugged SUV and modern crossover. It’s a distinctive choice for shoppers who aren’t entirely happy with familiar SUVs or crossover models, but need more capability than a sedan might offer.
A full redesign for 2015 enhanced the Outback’s family-focused nature. For 2016, there are few changes. Several new features have been added to the EyeSight active-safety system on 2016 Subaru Outback models.
Based on the Legacy sedan, with the same powertrain and trim-level choices, Outback offers abundant interior space, configurable to suit the user. Owners can also benefit from the convertible roof rack.
Two engines are available: a 175-horsepower four-cylinder comes on Outback 2.5i versions, while a 256-horsepower six-cylinder comes on Outback 3.6R versions. Both come with a CVT.
A rearview camera is standard in all models. Upper trim levels can have Subaru’s EyeSight safety suite, upgraded for 2016, adding Lane Keep Assist. Above 40 mph, it can detect when the Outback is drifting out of its lane, then apply steering assist to nudge it back into place.
2016 Subaru Outback models are available with a new subscription-based Starlink Safety and Security system, with such services as emergency SOS and automatic collision notification. A Security Plus Package adds stolen-vehicle recovery and locator, and remote locking/unlocking.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates four-cylinder fuel economy at 25/33 mpg City/Highway. The 3.6R six-cylinder version is rated 20/27 mpg.
The Subaru Outback flaunts its ruggedly simple, outdoors-aimed design cues with lower-body cladding. Sitting higher up than the Legacy sedan on which it’s based, Outback has an abundant 8.7 inches of ground clearance, more than some conventional SUVs.
Outback has a jaunty profile, if blunted in appearance.
Outback’s grille is more upright than it used to be, prior to the 2015 redesign, with active shutters that can improve gas mileage.
Outback’s interior feels relatively upscale, unlike Subaru models of yore. The driving position is carlike, higher up than in a sedan but not as tall as in most SUVs. So, getting in and out isn’t a problem.
Front seats are comfortable. Limited models are upholstered in impressive-looking perforated leather. Models with heated seats have warmers for the seatback, as well as the cushion.
Trim elements feature slightly rounded edges, while the dashboard reaches out to the sides. Rear seats promise ample room even for three average-size adults, though legroom could be a bit better.
Though comfortable in most driving conditions, trudging down highly uneven trails can bring some discomfort to riders, because the car-based suspension does not allow as much wheel articulation as a taller, conventional SUV might.
Whether drifting down a dusty trail, twisting over mountain roads, or hurtling along an expressway, Outback is prepared to deliver a satisfying experience. An X-Mode lets the Outback become more adept along that trail, when that kind of driving is needed, while delivering greater response when on regular pavement. At 190 inches overall, the Outback is easier to park than a lot of rivals.
Acceleration performance doesn’t match the Outback’s other merits. With either engine, the Outback is sluggish when moving out from a stoplight. Even the six-cylinder (3.6R) engine lacks the torque from the turbocharged engine in Subaru’s Forester XT. Subaru claims the 3.6R delivers 225 pound-feet of torque between 2000 and 6000 rpm, but acceleration isn’t that much swifter than the four-cylinder version.
Subaru’s continuously variable transmission feels almost like a regular 6-speed automatic transmission, though it works with pulleys and belts, not gears. Performance from its CVT beats that of many rivals, partly because even during leisurely acceleration, the ratios change quickly and subtly, without a hint of engine/transmission mismatch.
All-weather capability and trail driving are improved because Outback uses the Forester’s Enhanced Active all-wheel drive system with X-Mode. Active torque vectoring provides control of each wheel when traction is an issue. X-Mode promises to reduce touchiness in the gas pedal, also altering the CVT’s shift pattern.
Though the Outback wagon doesn’t really look like an SUV, it handles a similar set of tasks, with greater gas mileage and more adept handling. The Outback is highly capable on gravel roads and on snow-covered roads. Occupants get a smooth ride, though acceleration performance isn’t strong.
James M. Flammang contributed to this report.