Subaru Outback ‘scales up’ to traditional SUVs

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Capability, trim, fuel efficient, affordable are just some words you can use to describe the 2017 Subaru Outback, which is a midsize wagon competing in an SUV market.

The Outback’s front end has a big nose packed with plenty of lighting. The fenders are bulging and the wheel openings and rockers have thick plastic trim pieces to protect the metal from sticks and stones that might come up while driving on the road or on the trail.

The Flat-6

My Limited tester came with the tried-and-true up-level 3.6-liter flat-6 engine option. It’s still a viable engine as it’s a solid runner with enough low-end grunt for semi-rough trails and steep mountain roads. Unfortunately, this engine puts a premium on fuel economy.

My tester came with the top continuously variable transmission (CVT) the market. Subaru should license it out to other manufacturers that offer CVTs, as it is just so much smoother and responsive than any other CVT I’ve tested to date.

Utilitarian Comfort

Outback is less expensive than most mid-size competitors and just as roomy as most two-row five-passenger vehicles in the segment. My tester was quieter, better trimmed and screwed together nicer than previous generations. That said, its interior design looks a generation behind newer, pricier wagons.

What the Outback does have is refinement and passenger comfort for five. My Limited trimmed tester was basically a spiffed-up version of the regular Outback. This is not a luxury vehicle, there are lots of durable plastic panels, inexpensive feeling buttons, but it did have leather seats. Don’t expect a lot of cutting-edge tech, but my car had a 7.0 infotainment system, Bluetooth, Smartlink smartphone connectivity and a backup camera.

‘Scaling Up’

Where the 2017 Subaru Outback “scales up” is 8.7-inches of ground clearance. That is the exact amount (or greater than) some very capable, rugged SUVs. The Outback’s platform hasn’t really changed since it was new over two decades ago, it’s still basically a wagon platform on steroids.

My Outback Limited tester came with Active Torque Split AWD with electronically managed variable hydraulic transfer clutch. This system continuously varies front-to-rear torque split based on inputs from acceleration, steering angle and yaw rate sensors and can proactively transfer more torque to the rear wheels, or in response to wheel slip.

Active All-Wheel-Drive

Additionally, driver-selectable X-Mode optimizes engine output and CVT ratio position to increase Active All-Wheel Drive engagement and it uses enhanced control logic for the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system to reduce individual wheel spin. The Outback’s angle of approach is 18.4 degrees, angle of departure is 22.7 degrees and breakover angle is 20.0 degree. All of these features combine to help the Outback achieve some aggressive off-road chops limited only by the 18-inch all-season tires.

On the safety front, Subaru has added rear automatic braking, high beam assist, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert this year.

Subaru is celebrating 50 years in the U.S. with the 2018 models. Since its humble beginnings in the U.S. with the tiny Subaru 360 mini, it has morphed into an all-wheel drive, crossover alternative.

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