2015 Subaru Outback Review | Autos ca

2015 Subaru Outback Review


by Jacob Black, photos by Jacob Black and courtesy of Subaru Canada


It has been 20 years since Subaru unleashed the Outback on an unsuspecting North American market. Back then, Subaru sold some 4,000 units a year – now, it sells closer to 40,000 – and Subaru says Outback is a big part of that growth.


In a market that also has the Forester, some might argue that the Outback is superfluous, but Subaru has improved the demarcation between the two lines by increasing Outback’s cargo length and overall cabin size – further setting it apart from the Forester and pushing the Outback more into crossover territory and the Forester into SUV configuration. When the larger, current-generation Outback debuted in 2010 it triggered a doubling in Outback sales – bigger, it seems, is better.


Always a difficult car to categorize, the Outback is its own deal – neither car, nor wagon, nor SUV. Subaru took pleasure in pointing out that RAV4 and CR-V came after it. So if anything, Outback was the first of the crossovers by Subaru’s logic. And I can see their point. In an effort to gain a bit better perspective on the Outback niche, Subaru told us the previous model was benchmarked against cars like the Toyota Venza, this more recent edition is targeted at the Audi Allroad and the Volvo XC70.


The Outback has always enjoyed a good reputation for capability, value and reliability, but like many Subaru products has suffered from poor interior quality, a below-standard HMI and audio/infotainment system and dull styling. To Subaru’s credit, they didn’t shy away from those facts during the morning presentation, and instead told us they had worked steadfastly to resolve them in this model.


And they have succeeded.


I gave Subaru a total pasting for its backwards interior in my XV Crosstrek test drive review, but I no longer have any such complaints. This system is intuitive, feature-packed, slick, stylish and cool. There are some notable similarities with the new Toyota units but there will be more on that in a separate story.


Subaru has also worked to capitalize on their reputation for capability by offering the same X-Mode system as seen on the 2015 Subaru Forester. The system improves off-road capability by providing better traction to the wheels when one or more of them is rendered useless by say – being off the ground, or being stuck on a bit of mud. I’ll quote our esteemed Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony for a more detailed explanation:


“Throttle response is reduced for greater control, AWD clutch pressure is increased to better control speed differential between front and rear axles, lower transmission ratios are maintained and the torque converter will not lock up. Subaru’s VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control, Subaru-speak for stability control) plays its part as well, braking a spinning wheel in order to keep torque flowing to the wheel on the opposite side, and controlling all braking functions to ensure a steady crawl with its hill descent control function. X-Mode will operate at speeds up to 40 km/h, then it will automatically shut off and revert to Subaru’s standard AWD.”


We were taken to an off-roading course near St John’s in Newfoundland for an explanation, and while it wasn’t as extreme as the one chosen by Jeep for their 2014 Jeep Cherokee launch event, I came away equally impressed.


The Outback has the same 220 mm of ground clearance as the Forester, but due to longer overhangs has slightly lower departure and approach angles. If you take a look at the photos you’ll get a good sense, and Subaru said they would describe departure and approach angles as “sufficient”.


(Update: The approach angle on the 2015 Outback is 18.4 degrees. The break-over angle is 20 degrees and the departure angle is 22.7 degrees.)


The ride across rough roads is incredibly comfortable too; but that does impact performance on the bitumen.


Because the suspension is so soft, and because there is a lack of rebound damping – presumably to help cope with those rough roads – the Outback has a large amount of body roll. Less than the previous model according to the engineering data we were shown, but still more than I was comfortable with on the road. More rebound damping would make the Outback more composed in corners and over large bumps on the highway too. It turns in fine, and the electric steering is well-weighted with good communication, but the sponginess of the suspension and the propensity for bump steer mean you won’t be carving corners on mountain roads.


We had a brief stint on a mild gravel road to just to see how the Outback performed – it was great in a straight line but I couldn’t get comfortable enough to push at speed. Then again, that’s what the WRX is for…


Visibility is excellent thanks to the normal Subaru greenhouse, but thin A-pillars and an additional quarter window improve matters even further. Door-mounted side mirrors further aid visibility by taking the mirror lower and further away from the A-pillar.


How good is the visibility? Well, on a winding road alongside yet another stunning Newfoundland cliff face my co-driver looked out across the ocean and saw a whale – then I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and realised it was a pod of dolphins. Excited, we hit the anchors (good feel, decent power) and pulled into a little pull out. I jumped out (it was easy despite the height thanks to low door sills) and ran to the fence to look at the dolphins.


From a noise and vibration perspective this edition of the Outback is refined, with just about zero road noise while cruising on the highway and no interior clunks or rattles to speak of. There is an issue with wind noise though, as soon as we get past 90 km/h it goes from “very little” to “quite a lot” pretty much instantly. That might be a function of the side mirrors as it definitely seemed like something was causing a disturbance in the airstream at around those speeds.


The rest of the interior is a leap forward from the previous. The much-improved infotainment system I spoke of earlier comes in two iterations, base and navigation spec. The first comes with a 6.2-inch touchscreen with hard buttons for four main menus, and proper knobs for volume and tuning. It also includes a 3.5-inch TFT screen nestled in the instrument cluster. You get basic Bluetooth telephony, audio, USB and aux input and access to Starlink. And, for the first time in my career, I was actually able to stream music from my phone in a Subaru. Colour me impressed.


The upgrade comes with a seven-inch touchscreen with pseudo-buttons (think those used by Ford or Cadillac), which are actually touch surfaces. It also gets a knob for tuning and for volume – like it should. The upgraded interface is equipped with navigation, and it also gets a very good text-to-voice system, with a set of generic messages so you can respond rapidly to texts while you’re on the road. The options include, “I’m driving”, “You’re the best” and “LOL”, but not “I’m sorry” or “I love you”. As a married man, I desperately need at least one of those; can you guess which one?


You can even put a micro SD card in the top-tier system.


The up-spec 12-speaker, 576-watt sound system is co-produced by Harman/Kardon and sounds excellent – so excellent I saw at least six staid and senior automotive journalists bopping their heads to Backspin.


It’s not just the infotainment system where Subaru has leapt forward in the Outback. The interior materials are far better and the interior design far more interesting, particularly in models with the tan interior. The black interior still looks good though.


The centre stack is clean and elegant and makes the old version look like a dog’s breakfast. The aforementioned screen is positioned above the automatic climate control panel with large, obvious knobs and an easy-to-read display. If you don’t like the automatic climate control knobs don’t worry – you can program it with your voice.


The seat-heater buttons are here too. Below that is a deep, covered storage bin with a 12V power outlet, USB and aux connector and a blue LED for absolutely no reason at all. In the console there are two large cupholders and a square tray for phones, keys etc. There is also a deep console bin with a padded armrest – it has a USB, a 12v power outlet and a coin tray.


Sunglasses can be stored in the sunglasses bin next to the overhead lights. That sunglasses case is usually deleted in Eyesight models, but for the 2015 Outback Eyesight gets improved cameras that are smaller, so the sunglasses bin stays.


The Outback is plush with soft-touch, ditching the hard-plastic dungeon of old. There is generous padding on the armrests with leather covers over the padding even in base trim. The brushed aluminum-look material on the centre console is really enjoyable, and so are the faux-aluminum accents on the dash. Some models get fake wood panelling – which I loathe but which I’m sure will appeal to some. It is made to look like porous wood so it’s aesthetically better than the old fake wood at least.


The awkward second screen is gone from the top of the dashboard, instead the three buttons on the bottom spoke of the steering wheel now control the TFT nestled in the neatly designed instrument cluster. This is a far more sensible set up – the old one felt too disengaged. The entire steering wheel button set is new – and there is a lot here.


The 2.5L four-cylinder engine feels adequate at gaining speed but isn’t inspiring. With 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque at its disposal the CVT was under more duress when trying to haul the 1,665 kg Outback up the hills of Newfoundland. Despite weighing 79 kg more at 1,744 kg, the horizontally opposed six-cylinder was smoother and less noisy on ascents – 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque makes for a more pleasant drive.


The CVT has a good stepped system that reacts with compliance to commands issued via the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. That helped with the driveability of the four-cylinder as we were able to get the car prepared ahead of time. If you’re doing a lot of towing I’d go with the six. It’s rated at 1,360 kg, the 2.5i at 1,224.


Both engines have significant improvements in fuel economy with the four getting 80 percent new parts. The biggest gains in fuel economy come from new cylinder head, pistons and intake manifold. The EPA now rates the Outback 2.5i CVT at 9.4/7.1/8.4 L/100 km city/highway/combined and the six-cylinder 3.6R at 11.8/8.7/10.7. That’s an improvement of 1.1 L/100 km for combined economy in the six and 0.6 L/100 km in the four. The engine improvements are part of that, but additional aerodynamic improvements like active grille shutters for 2.5i models and more under-body panelling have dropped drag by 11 percent to 0.34.


Only Canada gets the manual (ooooohhhh Cannnaaaddaahhhh!) so there is no EPA listing for that configuration. NRCan doesn’t have 2015 figures published yet.


To aid in carrying large things, Outback gets a slightly larger cargo area, with 1,005 L available with the seats up and 2,075 with them folded. The seats also fold flatter than before to make for a more usable cargo area. There is 1,080 mm between the wheel wells and 824 mm of cargo height. With the seats up floor length is 1,062 mm, with them down that grows to 1,974. Long story short – you can fit long, square things in there.  Total passenger volume has also grown to 3,061 L.


We fit four carry-on suitcases, one backpack and a large camera case in the back of the Outback with no problem at all – all underneath the standard cargo area cover. Headroom was more than sufficient for me, and I watched a 5’8” gentleman settle comfortably into the back seat with no complaints. There are no raked rooflines here!


Subaru has upped the feature list across the range. Manual transmission is available in the base and Touring trim models but only the 2.5L four-cylinder engine. To upgrade to the Limited package in 2.5L form means moving to the CVT and both Touring and Limited are available with the Technology Package.


You can choose from Touring or Limited trims with six-cylinder power too, but only the Limited is available with the Technology package.


The Standard equipment that is new for 2015 includes: X mode with hill descent control, active torque vectoring, back-up camera, active grille shutter (2.5L only), 6.2-inch infotainment screen, XM radio, auto up-down front windows, 10-way power driver’s seat, electric parking brake, one-touch folding rear seats, roof-rack cargo hooks, anti-submarining seat-cushion airbag, heated front seats, integrated side-sill steps, automatic headlamps and welcome lighting. As always, standard trims also have steering wheel–mounted controls, Bluetooth, 17-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, and LED taillights.


Touring adds blind-spot detection, side-mirror turn signals, power rear gate, 17-inch alloy wheels with relatively plain styling, leather shift knob and steering wheel, dual auto climate control, 35-mm larger moonroof, wiper de-icer, fog lamps, six speakers, illuminated gauges, and auto-dimming mirrors with compass in the rear-view mirror.


Limited editions get 18-inch alloys that look sensational, memory settings for the driver’s seat, the seven-inch screen, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, rear vents, micro-SD slot, rear seat heater, passenger power seat, leather seats, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with Homelink, HID head lamps and navigation.


The Technology package includes Eyesight (pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane sway warning and lead vehicle start alert), all-new steering-responsive fog lights and smart key proximity access with push-button start and costs $1,200.


PZEV package includes PZEV system (a second catalytic converter) and PZEV badging and costs $700.


Sadly the Cypress Green Pearl is gone, as are Deep Indigo Pearl, Satin White Pearl and Venetian Red Pearl. In their place are Crystal White Pearl, Lapis Blue Pearl, Tungsten Metallic, Wilderness Green Metallic.


Subaru, it seems, is serious about staking a claim for future market share. They’ve not only caught up in terms of interior and infotainment they’ve come up with one of the best out there, especially in the base trim. This interior is as pleasant welcoming as any, and the car shows sensational out-of-thebox versatility. Weekend warriors? Your chariot awaits.