Out on the road, these models fare very well with regards to overall comfort and smoothness.
Using a very specific niche market and proven recipe for success, the Subaru brand is quickly climbing in the popularity ranks. The Outback station wagon (sort of) and Legacy upon which it’s based are both vehicles that hold uniqueness within their respective segments. The aforementioned recipe includes the year-round capability using the corporate symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, and in recent years, this is combined with the Lineartronic transmission. We were invited to attend Subaru’s full-line drive, which includes the updated 2018 Subaru Legacy and Outback, and experience first-hand what these two have to offer.
The Legacy is especially unique within its segment, as all-wheel-drive is extremely rare within the midsize sedan class. Starting at just $24,995, competitive pricing puts it right in line with the likes of the Toyota Camry (reviewed here) and Honda Accord. Where the Legacy stands out is not only the AWD system, but the fact that it’s standard fare. Last year represents five years of consecutive growth, which is very significant. The Ford Fusion (reviewed here) offers it as an option, but at a much higher price point and only on higher trim levels.
Subaru’s Outback has a serious presence not only in the automotive landscape, and expands to more than just a niche demographic. Despite the vast majority of buyers gravitating towards the crossover and SUV segment, there is consistent demand for the station wagon. The Outback has been around since 1995 and has excellent sales year after year. It initially took on the premise of the now-defunct Legacy station wagon and added raised suspension, unique body cladding, and an enhanced set of features.
The 2018 Subaru Outback and Legacy feature revised exteriors, though the platform is essentially unchanged since the debut of the current model for model year 2015. They both get a new front bumper with LED fog lights (optional), grille, and standard LED daytime running lights. Full LED headlights are standard on models Touring and higher. Out back, there are similar styling updates and give the cars a refreshed look that will be welcomed. It isn’t a drastic change that will be immediately noticeable, but a welcomed upgrade that keeps the vehicles looking fresh and relevant.
On the inside, things are more significant. Cabin materials have been improved, with fewer plastics and a more contemporary design. The climate control has been updated as well, with easier controls and a more straightforward display. This won’t be as immediately obvious as the infotainment, which is an all-new system that now features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility (standard across the line). The infotainment screen is 6.5” on standard models, and 8” on Touring and higher trims. Dual USB ports in the rear are standard on all models, along with dual-pane front windows for noise cancellation.
Powertrains remain essentially unchanged from the 2017 Legacy and Outback (reviewed here). The standard engine is a horizontally opposed 2.5L four-cylinder, which is coupled to the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. Naturally aspirated and boasting active valve control, this motor pushes 175 horsepower at 8,000RPM and 174 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000RPM. The Lineartronic CVT transmission is the only gearbox available, and boasts paddle shifters with a simulated manual “shifting” mode. After very minimal sales, the enthusiast choice six-speed manual has now been discontinued.
The optional motor on both Legacy and Outback is the 3.6L six-cylinder, also horizontally opposed. This is a buttery smooth motor with the confident grumble of a boxer-style setup. Also mated to the CVT, output here is 256 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 247 lb-ft. at 4,400RPM. This is the motor to have, but you do pay to play, both with regards to up-front price as well as fuel economy.
Mechanical improvements for this update include weight reduction overall, along with refreshed dampers all around for better ride. The CVT has been revised significantly and is much smoother, quieter, and more efficient. Steering feel has been tweaked and is a little bit more responsive, along with more refinement from both motors. In the real world, this isn’t immediately differentiated without driving the models back to back with their predecessors. What we can say is that the new vehicles no longer have that “rough” feel associated with previous Subaru models, and are right up there with all competitors as refined and
Out on the road, these models fare very well with regards to overall comfort and smoothness. Power delivery is perfectly adequate on the 2.5L motor, though the abrupt throttle tip-in is still an issue on this model. It’s a bit smoother on the 3.6L, and of course, the additional torque and refinement of the higher-displacement engine helps with this. The new cars have a soft ride, with the Outback exhibiting more composed body control and mild off-road capability. Handling is competent, and we actually prefer Subaru steering to rivals like Ford, Toyota, and the Hyundai/Kia twins.
The minor refinements in powertrain and aerodynamics directly impact fuel economy for the better. The new Legacy 2.5i is rated at 9.3L/100km city and 7.0L/100km highway, while the 3.6R sits at 11.9L/100km and 8.3L/100km. Outback models are rated at 9.4L/100km city and 7.3L highway for the 2.5i models, and 12.0L/100km and 8.7L/100km, respectively, for the 3.6R. All models are tuned to receive 87-octane fuel and tank capacity is a generous 70L. We can’t comment on real-world mileage as this first drive consisted of a closed course both on and off road. Stay tuned for this in a full road test.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) holds the Subaru brand in high regard, with Top Safety Pick Plus ratings for most models across the line. This is brought upon using the excellent EyeSight safety suite (reviewed here) combined with the overall structural rigidity of the vehicles. EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, pre-collision automatic braking, and more using a dual-camera system located in the front windshield. This isn’t limited to just these two vehicles; the Forester (reviewed here) and Impreza are also available with EyeSight.
Pricing starts at just $24,995 for the Legacy and $29,295 for the Outback. The Legacy we recommend most would be the 2.5i Touring with the EyeSight package, which stickers for $29,795 ($34,295 for Outback). This particular trim level incorporates what most buyers want, including but not limited to alloy wheels, a power sunroof, LED headlights, and the active safety features of the EyeSight technology. Adding features like leather and navigation requires a step up to the 2.5i Limited, and the range toppers include the 3.6L motor. The Outback features a unique Premier trim grade on both engines, which adds special interior trim and other luxury amenities.
The Outback is priced very similarly to crossovers like the Honda CR-V (reviewed here), Mazda CX-5, and even to some degree a competitor, the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack (reviewed here). It’s a bit larger on the inside than the Alltrack, and thanks to the lower load floor, makes putting large objects in quite easy. Front and rear passengers will all be pretty comfortable, and the driving position is quite good. At 6’1, I was able to comfortably sit behind myself in both the Legacy and Outback.
After a day’s worth of testing both on and off the beaten path, as well as a track test, we are able to accurately describe the 2018 Subaru Legacy and Outback family as better than ever. These vehicles offer similar refinement to their competitors, and now have incorporated the latest infotainment technology, to make Subaru a viable alternative to the typical crop of mainstream Japanese vehicles. This is the interesting choice, and these are the cars to have if you want something truly unstoppable regardless of season.