By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
As we shuffle through the new cars each year, getting a chance to drive the latest and greatest and update our opinion, there are certain cars we especially look forward to driving. Often because it’s a car that would be on our personal shopping list – if we were in the market for a new car today. Perhaps we’ve thought it was outstanding in the past, or maybe it’s because the manufacturer made revolutionary changes or additions to the new model.
We recently spent a week in the 2016 Subaru Outback. This is a vehicle that fits into most of those categories, and in the past has been one of our top recommendations to people in the Northwest, where we live, who ask for a recommendation.
The new Outback takes all the best parts of the first four generations and 20 years of experience and molds them into this latest iteration with important new features.
Starting with a revised and significantly stiffer (51 percent) chassis, Subaru engineers added a smoother, more efficient transmission, Active Torque Vectoring for greater agility and enhanced all-wheel drive with new X-Mode technology to expand its off-road prowess. They packaged it in a stylish new body, with more interior space and luxury appointments. Then for the crowning touch they equipped the Outback with a couple of new state-of-the-art safety technology packages.
The 2016 Subaru Outback 2.5i is much quieter, acoustical windshield, thicker acoustic panels, foam insulation and liquid-filled engine mounts created an extremely quiet interior space at all speeds. The quiet was accompanied by a very accommodating car-like ride and handling with none of the roughness often experienced in many SUV/crossover style vehicles.
Most Subaru Outback buyers will opt for the base 175-horsepower four-cylinder Boxer engine with its horizontally-opposed cylinders. The double overhead cam engine, which is about 80 percent new, propels the Outback from 0 to 60 mph in 9.1seconds according buff magazine figures. The EPA rates fuel economy at 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined. We actually averaged 28.4 mpg on a 300-mile drive to the coast and back – that’s good numbers for an all-wheel drive.
The only available transmission is Subaru’s efficient Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). The transmission is designed to electronically simulate six shift points and can be shifted manually with the console mounted shifter or using the steering wheel mounted shift paddles. While we found this to be a very nice drivable combination, we couldn’t help but think how nice it would be with a turbocharger like the 250-hp version they have on the Forester XT engine.
The 2016 is also available with a 256-hp six-cylinder Boxer engine that produces a significant increase in performance. Zero to 60 mph takes only 6.9 seconds, making this a much better road car. Fuel economy is estimated at 20/27/22 mpg. The 3.6R also has a high-torque version of the Lineartronic CVT, derived from the Subaru WRX performance model. It electronically shifts with even more noticeable shift points, making it feel more like a six-speed automatic. It also has steering wheel-mounted shift paddles and gated manual shift linkage on the center console. The CVT was especially impressive in off-road and on rough dirt roads where the unlimited ratios helped keep the power delivery smooth and at peak performance and efficiency. We also liked the precise, positive feel of the new electric assist steering system.
All Outbacks are equipped with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive with its new Active Torque Split. The system measures acceleration, steering angle and yaw rates and based on the driving conditions and wheel slippage, adjusts clutch controls to distribute torque to the wheels with the best traction. We left the road on our trip to the coast to spend some time driving on Long Beach, where it’s legal to drive along a 28-mile stretch during all but the summer months.
Another new standard feature on the Outback is the new X-Mode system, which debuted on the 2014 Subaru Forester. Engaged by pushing a console-mounted switch, the system optimizes engine output and CVT ratio position, increases Active All-Wheel Drive engagement and uses enhanced control logic for the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system to reduce individual wheel spin. X-Mode also activates the new Hill Descent control system which uses engine braking to control downhill speed. There is also a new Incline Start Assist system that briefly holds the Outback from rolling backward when the driver moves his/her foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator.
Through the magic of engineering and design, Subaru was able to increase the interior size of the new Outback with very little change in the exterior dimensions. We appreciated the roomy front seats and rear seat is very spacious, too, with good leg and headroom. It even had enough width for three adults. Cargo space is 35.3 cubic feet behind the rear seat back and 73.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
The Subaru Outback EyeSight® system is one of the better electronic safety systems on the market. The system uses a dual color camera system mounted at the top of the inside windshield to control the Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking and Lane Departure Warning systems. The EyeSight package also includes a new Steering-Responsive Fog Light system that illuminates the areas to the side to provide better turning visibility. The package added $3,090 to our Limited 2.5i model and included a moonroof package, keyless access with push-button start and navigation. We think it’s one of the best safety value packages on the market.
The new Outback has an improved Infotainment system with a 6.2-inch high resolution multi-function touch screen display complete with rear backup camera. It includes AM/FM stereo and HD Radio®, Radio Data Broadcast System, single-disc in-dash CD player and integrates with a smartphone to access other features like Aha™ Infotainment, Pandora® and iHeart® Radio.
The 2016 Subaru Outback is available in two models, the 2.5i and 3.6R. The 2.5i has three trim levels including the 2.5i, 2.5i Premium and 2.5i Limited with prices, including the destination charge, of $25,845, $28,245 and $31,245 respectively. The 3.6R is only available in the Limited trim and is priced at $34,245.
Subaru has been something of a MVP in auto industry statistics the last few years showing unprecedented annual sales gains. The Subaru Outback gets a “Recommended” check from Consumer Report’s magazine and it’s sibling Legacy earned the Kelly Blue Book Best Resale Value award for 2015. And the ALG said it had the Highest Residual Value for a midsize SUV. Impressive!