The 2017 Subaru Outback is a worthy competitor to many SUVs on capability alone—factor in price and it should be a no-brainer.
Forget Paul Hogan and saccharine commercials about love. Given the finite and dwindling capacity of our medial temporal lobes as we age, what's worth remembering on the 2017 Subaru Outback is as simple as "8.7" and we can go back to whistling candy bar jingles from our childhood.
Subaru's Outback has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which is the same as many rugged SUVs that trade on their tall exteriors and self-affirming badges with "Trail Rated" written on them. The Outback hasn't fundamentally changed since it was new in the 1990s and while others have had to ditch ladder frames and thirsty V-8s to stay relevant, the Outback has remained firmly car-based and wagon-esque.
The 8.0 overall score for the Outback reflects our opinion of the wagon's versatility and safety, with room to improve on interior style and features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
What's left for shoppers now is an enduring over-achiever. Although it's a mid-size vehicle, seating and cargo areas are copious, and its all-wheel drive system—complemented by an "X-Mode" off-road program—is hugely capable. And it's a wagon in a world obsessed with crossovers. What's not to love about that?
In other respects, we yearn for shorter memories. Subaru's insistence on horizontally opposed engine design has left the wagon (at times) on the back foot for fuel mileage, and the Outback's budget-first mission can leave the interior short compared to others.
Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.
The world is flat
Subaru's celebrating the 50th anniversary of its horizontally opposed engine this year and the 2017 Subaru Outback sports the company's oldest examples on sale today.
The 2.5-liter flat-4 base engine produces 175 horsepower in the Outback. It's perfectly adequate for daily use, and is the most frugal. EPA estimates peg highway mileage above 30 mpg and a combined average in the high-20s.
The 3.6-liter flat-6 is the more expensive, optional engine in higher trims—including 2017's newest Touring line—and it makes 256 hp. It's a smoother customer and isn't out of breath making mountain passes, but its fuel economy is in the low-20s combined, and that isn't what we'd expect considering its weight and two rows of seating.
Both engines are mated to a supremely good continuously variable transmission (CVT) that we'll say is one of the best in the business—if not tops.
We'd like the flat-4 to be a little more potent and the flat-6 to be a little less thirsty. The Goldilocks principle means our answer should be somewhere in the middle, but for most buyers we'd say the 2.5-liter is just fine—just keep it on the boil with the available paddle shifters if you need to pass.
Safe and sound(less)
The Subaru Outback is one of the safest cars on the road today and the data is there to back that claim. The IIHS named it a Top Safety Pick+ and the feds give the Outback top five-star scores.
Subaru's optional EyeSight safety system bundles together adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning for an affordable price. Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts are available too. For 2017, Subaru has added rear automatic braking to avoid hitting objects behind the car.
The Outback is considerably more refined than previous generations and its noisy interior has been quieted to a gentle growl. It can rightfully compete with other, much more expensive wagons on comfort and quality—something older Outbacks just couldn't do.
Yet, top-of-the-line trims like the Touring and even Limited models are still fancied up versions of a base wagon built for the trail and it shows. There are some large swaths of black dashboard, hard materials, and plasticky buttons, but the most you can pay for an Outback is still thousands less than the starting price of some competitors.