It's grown up a lot, but has it lost its charm?To me personally, a good wagon makes more sense than a comparable CUV. You get nearly all the passenger and cargo space (sometimes more).
I like wagons. Let’s get that out of the way first. They have, for the most part, been labelled as “uncool” by the North American public. They say that the car you drive can say a lot about you. One of the stereotypes that come to mind is the slightly nerdy individual that values functionality over form, driving a boxy 1980’s Volvo 240 wagon at a leisurely pace in front of you. Current social expectations these days suggest a more outward presentation. Something flashier, fresher, and more accepted by today’s public.
It is obvious even to the non-enthusiast – the SUV changed the game. It changed the automotive industry in such a way that entire segments were nearly killed off or rendered irrelevant for years to come. SUVs became cheaper to buy and they started to emphasize on-road manners. Combine that with (relatively) affordable gas prices and marketing that made it acceptable to truck around the city, automakers jumped on the bandwagon. The rugged SUV eventually evolved into the Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV), bring with it car-based designs, much more refinement, and much better fuel efficiency. The marketing focus behind the CUV didn’t change much, and as a result, you now see CUVs of all sizes nearly everywhere in urban and suburban environments.
To me personally, a good wagon makes more sense than a comparable CUV. You get nearly all the passenger and cargo space (sometimes more). Less weight means better fuel economy and better road handling. A smaller footprint means it is easier to park and move around. It’s the practical side of me talking. Wagons have generally been praised by enthusiasts and the automotive press for being excellent all-around, but the numbers don’t lie – the sales numbers pale in comparison to what the market is buying these days.
I recently tested a 2013 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited with the EyeSight option. It sits at the top of the Outback range with a MSRP of $39,995. This puts it in a crowded segment, competing directly with CUVs from many different manufacturers. Heated, leather-trimmed seats, full satellite navigation and Bluetooth integration, and all option boxes checked. The EyeSight feature is given its own package at a $1500 premium above the Limited trim level. EyeSight is Subaru’s implementation of an active driver assist program that combines a collision-avoidance system, lane-departure warning system, and active cruise control. It works by way of two small cameras mounted on both sides of the rear view mirror that constantly analyze the view in front of the car. One nifty feature that EyeSight offers is that it will nicely tell you if it sees that the car ahead of you has moved away. Imagine you’re at a traffic light – distracted – the light turns green, and the car ahead of you drives off. If you do not respond within about 3 seconds, the car will beep once to get your attention back onto the road.
The 3.6R models get Subaru’s excellent 3.6L horizontally-opposed six-cylinder motor, codenamed EZ36. It produces 256hp at 6000rpm, and 247lb-ft of torque at a very usable 4400rpm. The benefit of a horizontally-opposed (Boxer design, as Subaru calls it) motor is a low-centre of gravity, buttery smooth power delivery, and a great torque curve. Subaru’s Boxer motor is a gem – it sounds great at all points of the rev range, and transmits very little vibration and harshness to the passenger cabin due to its inherently balanced design. This flagship Subaru motor is paired up with their 5-speed automatic transmission. It features steering wheel paddles for more direct control.
The 2013 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited is rated at 11.8L/100km in the city, and 8.2L/100km on the highway. I managed an observed 12.2L/100km in the city. This is impressive despite its large six-cylinder motor and full-time all-wheel-drive. I attribute these results to the Outback’s relatively light weight of 3647lbs. The gearing of the 5-speed automatic helps as well – the generous torque output means the powertrain can remain in a higher gear to keep revs down. Furthermore, the Outback 3.6R does not require premium fuel. All things considered, the numbers are all in-line with its competitors.
I find Subaru has always created slightly awkward-looking cars. The latest Outback is no exception. It simply is not a “pretty” car. It seems they are a company consisting of mostly engineers. This explains their mastery of all-wheel-drive traction, the amazing powerplants they produce, and all-around good cars. The interior feels about average. The seats are good and rear legroom is very good. The navigation system is a little slow and cumbersome. There are no soft-touch surfaces on the dashboard. This seems to be a requirement for a lot of people nowadays. To me, all the important touch points give off a high-quality feel, which is good enough. The sightlines were much better than I was expecting. The rear quarter-panel windows help significantly when reversing. I had no issues with the thickness of the front and rear pillars. Compared to a lot of CUVs with “stylish” beltlines, the Outback’s more traditional shape is a big bonus when it comes to visibility from within.
Some additional test notes:
– The parking brake is electronically operated. There is one lever on the left side of the dashboard that controls this function. You can hear it engage and disengage the rear brakes. I am told this feature is necessary to allow the Hill Holder function to operate. This prevents the car from rolling back on hills when you start moving.
-The 36.8-foot turning radius is very good! For such a large car, this improves maneuverability in tight places and may help avoid the dreaded three-point-turn.
-Subaru has chosen to remain with a hydraulically-assisted power steering system. This traditional configuration returns good feedback and steering weight.
-You can actuate the steering wheel shift paddles in standard D mode – there is no requirement to switch to Manual shift mode. This is handy for passing traffic on the highway.
-The gear selector clicks once as the car comes to a stop. This is normal behaviour, but is quite audible.
-It is possible to confuse the transmission when slowly coasting, then getting back onto the throttle just before you come to a stop. The resulting gearchanges are not very smooth.
Subarus just happen to look a little different. For some people, different is good. This goes back to the choice of a wagon versus your typical crossover soccer-parent mobile. The Outback has made a very compelling case for itself. The increased ride height gives it a CUV-style driving position, but with a lot of positive attributes a traditional car platform would give you, and few drawbacks. If you can deal with the looks of the Outback and understand the benefits this alternative choice can give you, I think it is a great choice. It is a shame Subaru no longer offers the standard Legacy wagon in Canada, because that would be just perfect.
2013 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited Gallery