BY MARK KENNEDY, CHATTANOOGA TIMES/FREE PRESS (TNS)
Car-buyers’ minds often turn to Subarus as the gray days of winter descend upon Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Even though the Scenic City gets only about four inches of snow per year, on average, it doesn’t take much frozen precipitation to throw our mountainous region into a tailspin. Having a Subaru in the garage can give you great peace of mind. And no other Subaru crossover blends this all-wheel-drive utility with everyday comfort like the Outback wagon.
Steve Marlin, general manager of Kelly Subaru in downtown Chattanooga, said the Outback is his store’s best-selling vehicle, and that his inventory is plentiful. Marlin also said Subarus have become year-round customer favorites. In the warm-weather months, outdoors enthusiasts sweep in and carry the sales load, he said.
For 2017, the Outback carries on with the same basic design that has been in place since the 2015 model year, with base prices ranging from $25,645 to $38,195. Our mid-trim, Carbon Gray Metallic 2.5i Premium model lists for $32,160, including about $3,600 in options.
The actual price of owning an Outback is mitigated by strong resale value and good fuel economy, which the government rates at 32 mpg highway and 25 mpg city.
Small SUV shoppers would do themselves a service by test driving an Outback, which they may ultimately find more functional (and civilized) than a boxy SUV. Cross-shoppers also include customers interested in the Audi Allroad and the new VW Alltrack. Both are small wagons with all-wheel-drive.
Styling and features
The Outback is a five-passenger wagon that’s built with a rugged vibe, witness the creek-hopping stance and 8.7 inches of ground clearance. The elevation is achieved, in part, by beefy, high-profile tires that sacrifice fashion for function.
Meanwhile, the wagon’s body is more sleek and compact than a typical mid-sized SUV, while yawning side windows help with outward visibility. Plastic cladding along the rocker panels gives the Outback a masculine look, although few mall-bound moms will need the body armor. In fact, all that protective cladding is a bit like wearing shoulder pads to a ballet.
Inside, the cabin is contemporary and more refined than some smaller SUVs. In fact it feels (and drives) more like an elevated sedan than a crossover. Our tester comes with comfortable, cloth seats. Step up to the pricier Limited trim for a leather-clad interior.
The dash is a clean design that accomplishes its tasks without a lot of fuss. A simple, easy- to-read speedometer and tachometer are welcome on the commute home, when your eyes are in no mood to sort out dash clutter.
The elevated driving position is first-rate and winter comfort is enhanced by heated front seats. Second-row leg room is especially generous. In a pinch, the rear seats can be lowered to create a cargo area of more than 73 cubic feet. Outbacks do not offer a third-row seating option.
Standard features on the base 2.5i Outback include 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails with integrated cross-bars, and a rear-view camera. Step up to the Premium model for privacy glass, heated side mirrors, satellite radio, an upgraded 7-inch telematics screen and heated front seats.
A $3,590 option group packages a power moon-roof, navigation and Subaru’s excellent EyeSight suite of safety tech features.
Our tester, like most Outbacks, is equipped with Subaru’s tried and true 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, which makes 175 horsepower and propels the Outback from zero to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds. For those who desire a little more punch, there’s a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine option, too.
The four-cylinder engine will work for most drivers, unless they routinely operate with a full load of people and gear on mountain roads. The smooth continuously variable transmission (CVT) is great for mountain driving because it never has to hunt for gears.
The Outback excels on the highway. Because of its low center of gravity and relatively heavy steering, it feels planted and locked-in in freeway driving.
The bottom line: If a sure-footed wagon with great highway dynamics sounds like your cup of tea, the Subaru Outback should be on your must-drive list. Low cost of ownership also helps make the case for this segment-leading wagon.