2016 Subaru Outback Rating Breakdown
2016 subaru outback
EPA est City/Hwy
25/33
Starting at
$24,995
Engine
2.5L H4
Power
175 hp

Starting at

$24,995

Engine

2.5L H4

Power

175 hp

City/Hwy

25/33

Seats

5


The Car Connection Expert Review
Bengt Halvorson

Bengt Halvorson

Deputy Editor

DISLIKES
  • A cautious evolution in design
  • Manual gearbox is gone
  • Lack of a power seat for passenger
  • 3.6R model isn't fuel-efficient
subaru outback 2016

The look of the 2016 Subaru Outback has evolved nicely inside, although some might find its rugged, simple look somewhat ubiquitous from the outside.

Subaru created a new style and segment of its own with the original Outback, which was introduced more than 20 years ago. Then it almost pigeonholed itself into too tight of a niche, as many of its key rivals grew a half-size larger. But Subaru stoked the popularity of the Outback by upsizing it both in terms of measurements and in the boldness of its outdoor-themed cues.

The 2016 Subaru Outback actually shares no sheet metal with the Legacy sedan on which it continues to be based. That said, while the Outback rides a few inches higher than the Legacy, you can see the resemblance.

Last year's comprehensive changes made the design both a little more assertive and a little more space-and-functionality focused. The Outback carries a look that's more rakish and swept back, yet simultaneously more blunt and SUV-like. To go with that, the grille is more upright and the hood curvature is different. Within the grille there are active shutters that help improve fuel efficiency, while the front windshield pillars were made a bit steeper, with a little more arch given to the roof. With the mirrors drawn back from the A-pillars, and some lower-body cladding, the look becomes more rakish yet more forceful.

Inside, just as outside, the new design changed in evolutionary ways. It wasn't a radical rethink, but we see it as better in nearly every respect, and universally easier to use. The 2016 Outback can feel more upscale inside than you might have expected from the rugged exterior.

Gone is the upright, winged look that the dash had before; instead it's more squared off, with the middle control stack more obviously influenced by high-end audio. Corners have been pushed out, while the trim has soft, organic contours. Upgrades to the seats and the trim materials themselves helps top-trim models a lot more convincing.

The look of the 2016 Subaru Outback has evolved nicely inside, although some might find its rugged, simple look somewhat ubiquitous from the outside.

There's more depth of character in the way the 2016 Subaru Outback performs, compared to nearly every other entry you'd cross-shop.

For anyone who's considered an Outback in recent years, what's offered under the hood or by the numbers is going to be quite familiar. Across the lineup, you can choose between 2.5i and 3.6R models. The Outback 2.5i models come with a new 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter flat-4 engine, while the 3.6R models offer a 3.6-liter flat-6, making 256 hp and 247 pound-feet of torque.

As to whether you should upgrade to the 3.6R, Subaru says that it makes at least 225 lb-ft of torque from 2,000 to 6,000 rpm. Yet in real-life driving it feels as if the 3.6R doesn’t quite serve up the wall of torque offered by the Subaru turbocharged four found in the Forester.

Both engines now have a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) that, for this generation of the Outback, might have you fooled as being a conventional 6-speed automatic. It's not, but it's tuned to follow simulated ratios up the rev band, and shift in steps, in that same way—even when you mash your foot to the floor. Even during mild acceleration, it ratchets the ratio up so rapidly and subtly that we pronounce it one of the best such transmissions.

With either engine, sluggish launch performance (from a standing start) is our only complaint, really; for the flat-4, it doesn’t seem to be an issue of the rather narrow range of ratios from the CVT sets the 4-cylinder engine off on a rather tall starting ratio. That said, the Outback can tow up to 3,000 pounds with the 3.6R or 2,700 pounds with the 2.5i, provided you keep the tongue weight down to 200 pounds.

Trail prowess and all-weather ability have always been the flip side of the Outback’s performance appeal. It should get a step better in the new Outback after it inherited an enhanced all-wheel-drive system and new off-road mode from the Subaru Forester. Active torque vectoring should allow better control of individual wheels in some low-traction surfaces, and some wheelspin to help power through low-traction situations like snow or mud.

X-Mode sounds like it could be a marketing gimmick, but what it amounts to on the trail is a wonderful, single-mode set-it-and-forget-it toolkit for lower-speed driving far after the pavement ends. In short, it makes the accelerator pedal less touchy, changes the shift pattern for the transmission, and makes the all-wheel-drive system much more proactive and eager to send power to the rear wheels. Further, the electronic stability system is more aggressive in its efforts to quell individual wheelspin and send engine torque where it can be used. X-Mode includes hill-descent control and hill-start assist for less-than-ideal traction.

The Outback maintains 8.7 inches of ground clearance—more than some taller crossovers with more rugged profiles.

Brake performance is great (Subaru has upgraded the brakes for 2.5i models for 2015, and all models now come with four-wheel ventilated discs), and there’s really not much nosedive. And the ABS includes a logic for unpaved roads; we slammed them on momentarily on a washboard-like gravel road and the system didn’t show any fluster.

The Outback was given a somewhat quicker steering ratio last year. For 2016 that's been retuned, and the Outback gets some additional tweaks—especially to top Limited models, which get a more refined ride from softer dampers. Although we haven't driven the somewhat revised 2016 model yet, the previous versions track very well, and if anything the quicker ratio and suspension tune make it feel a little more tossable than before.

Compared to the 4-cylinder models, 6-cylinder models of the Outback have a noticeably heavier steering feel—simply a matter of more weight over the front wheels, as the steering gear and boost curve is the same.

There's more depth of character in the way the 2016 Subaru Outback performs, compared to nearly every other entry you'd cross-shop.

The 2016 Subaru Outback offers surprisingly good cabin comfort, considering how well it has the rugged part handled.

One of the common complaints of the last-generation Subaru Outback was that, while it made some tremendous gains in interior space, it was a relatively noisy car inside. Last year, with a full redesign to the Outback, engineers went to great measure to make the cabin more hushed and refined. That's achieved by thicker panels for the floor, lower firewall area, rear-wheel apron, and inner fenders, while more foam insulation and floor damping has been used. There's also a new acoustic windshield, and the engines now get liquid-filled engine mounts.

The one exception on the comfort front comes when a trail is extremely articulated and uneven (over small branches or ruts, for instance); because the Outback's car-derived suspension doesn't allow much wheel articulation, there you'll find a lot more "head toss" (a side-to-side shaking) than in some of the toughest SUVs.

Whether it's a cruising along with cross-country trip, taking the kids to soccer practice, or scrambling up a rutted trail to a remote campsite or rock-climbing spot, the 2016 Subaru Outback is set up in a way that allows enough ruggedness for the task—and enough space for people and gear—all without sacrificing comfort along the way.

As for actual seating space, there's a lot of it. With last year's redo, Subaru kept the length, height, and wheelbase of the Outback, essentially, but made it about 2 inches wider inside. Also, engineers have rejiggered rear-seat space so as to free up a couple more inches fore-and-aft. And there's a bit more cargo space.

That results in front seats that are a little more comfortable than before (thanks to just a little more thigh length in the cushions); meanwhile, the upholstery has been upgraded across the model line (Limited models get some impressive perforated leather), and models with heated seats now have warmers for the length of the back area as well as the lower cushion.

Expect plenty of back-seat space for adults; although leg room isn't abundant. Yet there should be enough for most passengers, and thanks to that additional width this is a vehicle where you can do three-across in back without feeling too crammed-in.

The Outback's cargo floor is relatively low and easy to get to; very few people will have trouble lifting the hatch with one arm either, although in Limited models you get a power liftgate with memory height settings. Rear seat release levers for all models are now back in the cargo area, and flipping the rear seats forward is an easy, one-arm task.

The 2016 Subaru Outback offers surprisingly good cabin comfort, considering how well it has the rugged part handled.

The Subaru Outback stepped it up in safety this year, and new EyeSight active-safety features make it even better this year.

The Outback's reputation for safety is unparalleled in this kind of vehicle, especially considering availability of active-safety features without opting for expensive, top-trim versions.

Crash-test results are excellent, including top "Good" ratings from the IIHS, which has given the Outback its Top Safety Pick+ nod. And with federal five-star results in every category except rollover, the Outback is one of the top achievers on the market, and one of the few models to earn our perfect safety score.

In addition, Subaru has made some structural improvements help it achieve those top-tier safety ratings. All models in the lineup include a rearview camera system, and in addition to the usual array of airbags there are new front seat-cushion bags aimed at holding occupants in place during a frontal crash; a rollover sensor also affects side airbag deployment.

What's even more important, perhaps, is that Subaru has stepped up its active-safety features, including its suite of technologies that might help avoid an accident. In the 2016 Subaru Outback and Legacy, the available EyeSight system adds lane-keep assist, a feature that will detect when the vehicle is drifting from its lane and steer it back at speeds more than 40 mph. That’s accompanied by audible and visual alerts.

Subaru's safety system remains an entirely camera-based system, but it’s been expanded in recent years. Adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning are now all included in a package that’s optional on Premium trims, while Limited trims get standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, two features that are also included in the optional package.

All of these versions have the third-generation version of the system, which can see 40 feet farther than before; the system's forward detection and auto-brake capability (top-rated by the IIHS) will now brake for a distance in vehicle speed (versus the vehicle ahead) of up to 30 mph. There's also new brake light recognition, and the camera size is about 15 percent smaller.

The Subaru Outback stepped it up in safety this year, and new EyeSight active-safety features make it even better this year.


NHTSA 5-Star Safety Rating

2016 Subaru Outback Models

Overall Rating

5/5

Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating: (5/5)
Overall Side Crash Rating: (5/5)
Overall Side Barrier Rating: Not Rated
NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating: (4/5)



Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Ratings

2016 Subaru Outback Models

Side Impact Test Good
Roof Strength Test Good
Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint Good
IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results Good
IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results Good

The 2.5i and 2.5i Premium trims are the value "heart" of the Outback lineup; yet Limited models offer even more.

The 2016 Subaru Outback is offered in 2.5i, Premium, and Limited models. Each of these trim levels adds progressively more standard equipment, with a requisite step up in price. And at the top of the lineup, you can opt for the 3.6R and its flat-6 engine, but only in top Limited form.

Base Outback 2.5i models include air conditioning, cruise control, an overhead console, and power windows, locks, and mirrors.

Moving up to the Premium level, you get dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-way power driver's seat (including power lumbar), a leather-trimmed steering wheel, fog lamps, privacy glass, air filtration, heated front seats, a windshield-wiper de-icer, and heated mirrors.

Step up to the Limited models and you get perforated leather seating, two-position memory settings for the driver's seat, dual-mode heated rear seats, and a power tailgate with memory height. Limited models also get power front passenger seat, but it's only four-way adjustable and there's no fully adjustable option (it's locked in a lower-cushion position that we're not sure everyone will be happy with).

All models have LED taillights; 2.5i models have halogen headlamps while 3.6R models get HID headlights. Limited models and all 3.6R models also upgrade to 18-inch alloy wheels, while other models get 17-inchers. And for utility, the roof rack moves to an enhanced, more supported version of the swing-out design that was previously offered.

Outback Limited models also get a new 576-watt premium audio system that includes HD Radio, 12 speakers, a front center speaker, and a rear subwoofer.

Last year the entertainment systems in the Outback were fully rehabilitated. They're a vast improvement over what Subaru used to offer, and even the system on the base model includes a 6.2-inch touchscreen with HD radio, a single CD player, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, plus iPod connectivity, and a USB port and auxiliary input. These systems have streaming-audio functionality through Pandora, Aha, and iHeartRadio apps. And the optional navigation system in the Outback now has enhanced voice commands, allowing natural-language phrases that can control the phone, entertainment, navigation, and even climate functions.

Additionally this year, Subaru has introduced telematic features to the Outback lineup. With a subscription, the Outback adds emergency SOS services and roadside assistance, plus automatic collision notification and maintenance notifications. Upgraded subscriptions offer stolen vehicle recovery, remote locking/unlocking, a vehicle locator, and other services.

Outback models with the optional EyeSight active-safety package include a 5.0-inch center gauge display, while other models have a simpler 3.5-inch screen. All models have enhanced fuel-economy and trip-information displays.

The 2.5i and 2.5i Premium trims are the value "heart" of the Outback lineup; yet Limited models offer even more.

Is the Outback an exceptionally fuel-efficient SUV or a wagon that's merely average in mpg? Depends on the viewpoint.

The 2016 Subaru Outback is one of those instances for which it's all relative. If you're concerned with fuel economy—and possibly the carbon footprint of your vehicle—the Outback has better fuel efficiency than other off-road-capable crossovers, most of which are much heavier and taller to achieve the same sort of capability (and ground clearance).

Outback models with the 4-cylinder engine now manage 25 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined. That's a significant improvement over the 2014 model, thanks mostly to a completely reworked engine, but also to a tuned transmission.

New technologies have helped fuel economy: active grille shutters, which aid engine warmup, and electric power steering for all models. Aerodynamics have also been improved.

The new high-torque version of Subaru's continuously variable transmission, dubbed Lineartronic, was subbed in last year on flat-6 (3.6R) models of the Outback for the first time, and they now return an EPA-estimated 20/27/22 mpg—a big improvement over the 17/25/20 mpg of the 2014 model.

As for how you see these numbers, it depends on what you’re stacking the Outback up against. When comparing to SUVs such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer, the Outback looks very efficient; although if you take a look at premium-brand rivals—from BMW and Mercedes-Benz especially—the Outback isn’t quite the efficiency standout. Although in all fairness, the Outback is priced much lower.

Subaru has mostly kept a step ahead of those heavier, boxier SUVs, although it still doesn’t offer a hybrid powertrain or diesel engine, as you’ll find on some other utility vehicles.

Is the Outback an exceptionally fuel-efficient SUV or a wagon that's merely average in mpg? Depends on the viewpoint.


Fuel Economy Information

Ratings Based on 4 cyl, 2.5 L, 6-Speed Shiftable CVT

28

Combined

3.6 gals/100 miles

25

City


33

Highway