Overall, the Outback remains a sturdy competitor in this segment.
I spent a good portion of my childhood confused. I thought Beanie Babies were a stellar investment, I wondered why Jack didn’t climb out of the icy water onto the big door, and I was sure Subaru was an Australian company. Back then, the Outback was a slightly jacked up Legacy wagon, and it did indeed look like one. Now however, the 2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Premier has inflated into a mid-size crossover. The question is; does it continue to be a rugged, dependable adventure vehicle that would satisfy the likes of Dundee, and take on the ruthless Aussie Outback?
I am a genuine Subaru fan. I like their history, I like their all-wheel-drive, and I like their drivetrains. But sadly, several modern Subies feel a bit behind the times. The drivetrain in the newest STI (reviewed here) falls fairly flat compared to its competitors, and the boxer four-cylinder in even the newest Impreza feels slow. That said, a lot of what Subaru is doing right now works very well. The Forester XT goes like a rocket, and is both comfortable and practical. And the flat six-cylinder in this Outback is a really excellent engine.
The Outback used to be a wagon, and as it slowly grew in size it became a crossover. My tester had an automatic liftgate, folding rear seats, and lots of interior space. New for 2018 is an improved steering wheel, some revised exterior and interior styling, more sound insulation, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity is now standard. If you select the higher trim levels, you can get an 8″ infotainment screen and some really nice interior stitching. In fact, visually, the interior of the Outback is excellent. The brown leather on the doors and seats is of a high quality, the steering wheel looks good, and the dash design is simple and pleasing. Unfortunately the gauges are trimmed in a blue light that doesn’t match anything in the car, and the center screen between the gauges feels outdated.
Comfort and usability wise, it’s a bit of a different story. A family member of mine owns a previous generation Outback, and the seats aren’t very good. For some reason, they haven’t been improved much. They still dont support the underside of your legs, and I managed to get a sore back after only an hour in the car, no matter how I adjusted the seats. Thankfully the infotainment is far superior to the previous generation and is actually easy to use, and the climate control system is much better as well. A few issues aside, the Outback is quite a good vehicle from the cockpit.
The Premier trim level of my tester had the Subaru EyeSight system. As always, it’s a welcome addition for the commuter. I occasionally found the lane departure warning to be a bit intrusive, but radar guided cruise control is just about my favourite thing in the world while commuting in Toronto traffic. This system isn’t a must in my books, but if you find yourself to be an easily distracted driver, it certainly isn’t a bad idea to have the extra layer of active safety.
You can get the boxer four-cylinder in the Outback, but it only sports 175 horsepower. My tester had the 3.6L flat six-cylinder, with 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft. of torque. You do have to fork out over $42,000 for the 3.6L at this trim level, but performance wise it’s worth it. The six very responsive, and delivers power quickly and smoothly. It makes a good sound too. Some might find the throttle to be very touchy and difficult to modulate off the line, but I suppose that is something that you could get used to.
The manual transmission option is now gone on the Outback models so the only available choice here is a CVT. This isn’t really an issue, as Subaru’s CVTs are done well. It never gets in your way, and avoids any jerky transitions. It does simulate gear ratios if you rev it out, but I found them to be inconsistent, and not realistic. The paddles mounted to the steering wheel didn’t seem to allow much control over the transmission. You are better leaving it in auto and allowing it to sort everything out for you.
I didn’t get a chance to really test the Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system as the weather didn’t allow it, but I have faith that Subaru will deliver, as they always do in this department. Usually fuel economy suffers because of all-wheel-drive, but my result of 11.0L/100km is acceptable for a large vehicle with a six cylinder engine. Better numbers can be achieved with more highway driving.
Speaking of the Outback being large, this is something you can really feel. The Outback seems to have a bit of a hard time handling its mass, and the front end felt very soft to me, no doubt exacerbated by sloppy sidewall winter tires. The steering isn’t good either. The previous generation was worse, but the steering still feels very numb.
Regardless, the 2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited remains a sturdy competitor in this segment. I think I would like to see a turbo four-cylinder however, and perhaps a bit more connected road feel. The Forester XT (reviewed here) would be my choice out of Subaru’s lineup, but as a family travel vehicle, the Outback is still a solid option. I just can’t help wishing that it was a little less SUV-like, and more of a “Sport Utility Wagon.” I’m hard on the Outback, because I want it to be good. It should be the dependable wagon we all deserve. With a few issues ironed out, I think the Outback could still be one of the best options in the segment, and might continue to be worthy of a getaway vehicle for good ol’ Crocodile Dundee in the rough Australian Outback.