WASHINGTON — Want the capability of a SUV but don’t want to pay the price at the dealer and at the gas pump? That usually means you need a station wagon, and most often they are just not as cool. Luckily, Subaru has taken on the challenge of making the humble station wagon cool again; in some parts of the country, the Outback is as popular as the SUV. So how did they do it?
Take a peek at the 2017 Subaru Outback in a parking lot. The Outback sits up high like an SUV; it doesn’t have the normal wagon profile. With that added ground clearance the rest of the body isn’t as tall as the usual SUV/crossover. When it comes to getting in and loading cargo, the reach up isn’t far, nor do you need the aid of a running board, so it’s easy to use.
For 2017, the new Touring trim level adds a bit more upscale style outside. It mostly softens the utility look of the Outback by adding different wheels than the other trim levels and some darker trim pieces to the body. There is still some silver trim but it seems to be toned down from previous models. The brilliant brown pearl paint seems to look like different colors depending on the light. The effect seems to work well on the large Outback; not sure if it would work on a smaller car.
When you buy a Subaru Outback, space is probably a requirement, and it doesn’t disappoint with plenty of space for five and plenty of cargo space remaining. The Touring trim level will cost you nearly $37,000 and for that you do get a well-appointed ride. The leather seats are comfortable for long journeys and the quality is better when you choose the Touring over the other trim levels. You also get a heated steering wheel to go with the heated seats front and rear.
What stands out with the Touring is the upgraded trim pieces; most of it is soft-touch and leather-like. Even the wood trim looks real. It’s easy to see that a good deal of time and money has gone to the inside to help justify the higher price of admission. Only the digital readout for the time and outside temp appear pretty small. The seven-inch touch screen seems to work well, but some crossovers and SUVs have larger screens. On the upside, there are knobs for volume and tuning, and the buttons for other functions and the climate control are easy to see and use.
Driving the Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring is mostly a pleasant affair. With softer suspension, most bumps are dealt with easily. But there is some more body roll than a normal sedan but that’s the trade-off for the high ground clearance. The Outback is AWD so it inspires confidence in most weather conditions, and some light off roading shouldn’t be a problem, either. I noticed a bit of wind and tire noise on the highway. Visibility is very good with a lot of glass and not many blind spots.
The base engine is a 2.5l four-cylinder engine, and it’s just adequate, especially with all the seats filled and gear in the rear cargo area. Luckily, it also comes in a larger six-cylinder engine if you want more than 175hp. The only transmission is a CVT type, but it really acts like a normal automatic and is one of the better CVTs right now.
In my week and 435 miles I hit 26 mpg, a bit under the 28 mpg the sticker says for mixed driving; still it’s better than most SUVs I’ve tested. One thing that impresses is the Driver technology system that features Adaptive Cruise Control and the eyesight system that has cameras that look ahead for problems and can even apply the brakes or give warning if needed.
The 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring is the more upscale version of the utility wagon. With a refined interior with plenty of space and the added safety of AWD and better fuel economy than a heavier SUV, the Outback is a viable alternative for those who want the capability of an SUV without the added cost.