Our jobs occasionally become increasingly difficult. Even though we’re supposed to be an impartial source with regards to every new vehicle we test, it’s hard to set aside biases. We’re all Subaru guys here; we love the sound of the Boxer engines and their awesome all-wheel-drive systems. In the brutal Canadian winters we face here, it’s always a pleasure to get behind the wheel of whatever Subaru’s latest offering is and drive about effortlessly through the white stuff. I was tossed the keys to the 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i, the bare-bones base model, to see how it competes in today’s segment.
The Subaru Outback has been one of my favourite wagons since its conception nearly two decades ago. Of course, back then the market was flooded with wagon versions of many other popular nameplates (i.e. Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, etc.). Since the 90s though, most other manufacturers have abandoned the station wagon in favour of the increasingly popular crossover body style. I personally prefer station wagons, so cars like this and the also-new Volvo V60, while a rare breed nowadays, hold a soft spot in my heart. The redesigned Outback has a bit more elegance to it; the plastic cladding all over the body is now gone, and the car looks a bit more grown-up overall.
Subaru does offer the Outback with a bigger engine, the 3.6L flat-six that we recently experienced in the all-new Legacy, but I decided to check out the motor that’s undoubtedly going to be a volume seller in Canada. My car was equipped with the 2.5L flat four-cylinder, a DOHC 16-valve unit. This engine is good for 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. Our friends at Subaru have done the unthinkable – a conventional six-speed manual is indeed available on the Outback, on the base model. However, my test car was fitted with the more consumer-friendly new CVT, typically something that would provoke a groan or two from me. That’s not the case here, but more on that a bit later.
The 2.5L is a tried and tested motor at Subaru; it was available on the previous Outback as well as the previous Legacy, and is still also available on the excellent new Forester. 175 horsepower is plenty, and the torque figure is perfect for getting the big wagon moving along nicely. The CVT is buttery smooth, and this is one of the first implementations of this transmission that didn’t have me complaining all week. The synergy between this engine and transmission are seriously superb.
2015 marks the fifth-generation for the Outback, so Subaru has had a bit of time to do their research as to what the market likes and doesn’t like. This car (and a few other models from Subaru) have taken quite of bit of criticism for their reasonably plain interior layouts. From my observations, while older Subaru interiors may not be as radically designed or aesthetically pleasing as competitors’, they have always been high-quality and robust. We see older Subarus rusting out because we live in the snowbelt, but we never see interiors falling apart.
The new car has received a full interior makeover and is now every bit as good as any other car with a sub-$30,000 price tag; there’s not even an inch of ugliness in here. The steering wheel, dashboard, and shifter are all soft and pleasant to touch. Climate control buttons and switches for the StarLink infotainment system are all solid and look great. Even this base model comes with Bluetooth/USB/iPod integration through the MediaHub located in the centre console. It’s all incredibly easy to play with, and the Outback has what I think is the neatest Bluetooth setup interface on the market.
Boxer engines have never been known for their fuel economy, and the old 4 and 5-speed automatic transmissions didn’t do them any favours. The cars were great and each and every one felt solid as a rock, but efficient they were not. The new CVT transmission and setup of the all-wheel-drive system adds for much better fuel efficiency. I averaged 9.5L/100km in combined driving throughout my test week. I’d actually like a chance to play with a 6-speed manual model to see if it can do any better, but I seriously doubt it can. Continuously variable transmissions are now at a point where it’s nearly impossible for a conventional manual to match the economy of a well-tuned unit.
With pricing for the base Outback starting in the sub-$28,000 range, this station wagon marks an amazing value for the Canadian. My 2.5i with CVT stickers for just over $29,000. It’s one of the cheapest station wagons available on the market, not to mention one of the safest. Subaru has always received stellar safety ratings anyhow. Being a raised wagon with slight off-roading capabilities, the Outback has a surprisingly comfortable ride. The full-time all-wheel-drive definitely contributes to its capabilities, and the amazing seats make for a brilliant long-haul commuter. I think I’d even go as far as to say that for Canadians with an active lifestyle, the 2015 Subaru Outback is one of the best year-round daily drivers currently available.