PREVIEW: 2015 SUBARU OUTBACK

PREVIEW: 2015 SUBARU OUTBACK
The Outback clamoured over some seriously nasty terrain with ease. A tough off-road section showed off the standard X Mode all-wheel-drive that features new calibrations and hill-descent control.
Peter Bleakney
By Peter Bleakney
Posted on July 24th, 2014
0 Comments

2015 Subaru Outback

Price: $27,995 to $40,095
Engine: 2.5L boxer four, 3.6L boxer six
Power/torque: 175 hp 174 lb.-ft.; 256 hp 247 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 8.1 city, 6.0 hwy; 10.6 city, 7.3 hwy; regular fuel
Competition: Ford Edge, Chevy Equinox, Toyota Venza, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Dodge Journey, Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Chevy Traverse, Jeep Grand Cherokee
What’s best: class leading fuel economy, utility, one of the best all-wheel-drive systems, nimble and comfortable
What’s worst: plain interior, short bottom seat cushions
What’s interesting: 2.5i gets active grill shutters for better aero

Two decades after SUV launch, brand’s famous nameplate is a more refined crossover

ST. JOHN’S, NFLD. — Twenty years ago, Subaru jacked up its Legacy wagon, threw on some plastic body cladding and called it the Outback. With the help of an ad campaign that featured Crocodile Dundee handily outrunning the bad guys in their “normal” clunky SUVs, the Outback became one of Subaru’s most recognized nameplates.

And it certainly was a unique proposition — frameless windows, standard all-wheel-drive, car-like agility and a flat-four that growled like a pit bull on a postman.

Arriving in dealerships now is the fifth generation Outback. In keeping with Subaru’s steady march into the mainstream, there’s absolutely nothing quirky about this new version that is slightly bigger, less thirsty, more refined and styled to blend seamlessly into the crossover landscape.

But the essence of Outback still percolates within. From behind the wheel it feels more nimble than most of its competitors, showing quick steering responses, nicely balanced handling and a surprisingly tight turning circle which came in handy on the narrow streets of this fascinating city.

Subaru has pulled a neat trick in making the 2015 Outback better both on and off the road. + high in the air like the hind leg of said pit bull.

While it’s nice to know the Subie can brush this stuff off, most buyers will be more interested in the day-to-day experience. Thanks to a stiffer structure that uses a higher percentage of high-strength steel, the Outback feels more substantial… more premium.

Increased structural integrity enables the suspension to go about its business with greater efficiency — beefed up, yet also lighter due to the use of more aluminum. Subarus generally deliver impressive ride compliance and this new Outback follows the script. On one occasion, it sailed along a rough gravel road with barely a ruffle entering the cabin.

The new interior of the 2015 Subaru Outback is an improvement - the materials, soft touch surfaces and more intuitive 6.2-inch touchscreen interface are excellent.

The new interior is an improvement over the outgoing model, and while its styling won’t keep anybody awake at Audi, the materials, soft touch surfaces and more intuitive 6.2-inch touchscreen interface are welcomed. Go for navigation and the screen size jumps to 7 inches. A backup camera is standard on all trims and, praise be, the base audio is now quite good.

The recontoured front seats are a little bigger and tall folks will appreciate the NBA-grade rear leg room. Cabin noise is reduced thanks to an acoustic windshield, extra sound insulation and liquid-filled engine mounts. The external mirrors are now mounted on the doors to improve cornering visibility.

There’s plenty of interior storage and the large centre console cubbie will fit an iPad.

While the new Outback strays very little stylistically, it does cut a crisper profile. The wheelbase is stretched 5 mm and the A-pillars move forward, giving the windshield more rake. The old car’s stamped fender bulges make way for cleaner sculpted side panels and a high character line that runs from stem to stern. The lower plastic body cladding has been toned down.

It’s a little wider and higher too, and this bigger box translates to a substantial increase in cargo capacity. The second row folds flatter now — not completely flat but better than before.

Carrying forward from generation four is the 2.5L boxer four, although with 80 per cent newly developed parts (head, cylinder block, pistons, intake manifold) it gains a couple more ponies (now 175 hp) and sips less fuel. A six-speed manual is available (something our U.S. friends don’t get) but most customers will run with the more efficient Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission).

This CVT sees a new feature that goes a long way in mitigating engine droning when hoofing the gas pedal. At over 30 per cent throttle, the tranny introduces between six and eight “virtual” gears that mimic those of a regular automatic. Use the paddle shifters and you have six gears at your disposal.

The 256hp 3.6L boxer six also continues and is now mated to a CVT — the old five-speed auto is history.

My morning was spent in the Outback 3.6R. The engine is strong and smooth and gives the crossover a decidedly premium disposition. Fuel economy is estimated at 7.3 L/100 highway and 10.6 city. Take rate in Canada for the six-cylinder is about 25 per cent.Jump into the four pot model and you’re really not giving up much in the way of drivability and you’re gaining a lot in economy. With a rating of 6.0 L/100 km highway and 8.1 L/100 km city, this new Outback is the most parsimonious fuel sipper of the current intermediate SUV crop.

For 2015, the price of the entry-level manual transmission 2.5i Outback has dropped by $500 to $27,995. I’m guessing the heart of the lineup will be the $32,495 Touring CVT that adds 17-inch alloys, blind spot detection, powered lift gate, illuminated gauges, sun roof, wiper de-icer, dual zone HVAC, auto dimming mirrors, leather wrapped wheel and a few other niceties over the base model. The $35,895 Limited gets 18-inch alloys, leather, heated rear seats, HID headlights and navigation.

Also on the menu is Subie’s camera-based EyeSight collision mitigation system.

The most you can spend on a 2015 Subaru Outback is $40,095 for the 3.6R Limited Tech.

Subaru claims to have invented the crossover segment with the Outback. To this writer, the Outback has always been, and still is, a station wagon.

Whatever you want to call it, this refreshed 2015 edition presents itself as a mighty impressive answer to just about every automotive question you could pose.

Transportation for freelance writer Peter Bleakney was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca.

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