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2018 Outback Keeps Faith For Scoobie Fans

December 23, 2017 GMT

Year after model year, Japanese carmaker Subaru keeps bringing ’em back for more. Along with brands like Toyota, Honda, Chevy and Ford, Subaru’s customer base is one of the more devoted in the automotive business. The brand’s reputation for go-anywhere all-wheel drive systems, reliability, fuel economy and comfortable ride quality make it a favorite for families — especially those living in snowier climates. So perhaps there’s more than a grain of truth to the company’s “love” advertising theme. We recently sampled the latest iteration of Subaru-ness in the form of a 2018 Outback, which comes off as essentially a wagon/crossover/sport-utility version of the popular Legacy sedan, albeit with a notable 8.7 inches of ground clearance that allows for off-roading. There are six trim levels offered, which are differentiated largely by that choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (or “boxer”) four-cylinder (175 horsepower and 174 foot-pounds of torque) or a 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder (256 horsepower and 247 foot-pounds of torque). The models are designated 2.5i or 3.6R, accordingly, and are equipped with a standard continuously variable transmission. Four-cylinder-powered models are offered in four trim levels — base, Premium, Limited and Touring — while the six-cylinder model is offered in either Limited or Touring form. Our test car, a 2.5i Limited, sported a $32,695 base price and rose to $36,695 with the addition of the company’s safety-minded EyeSight detection package, LED directional headlights, satellite navigation, automatic high beam control and delivery. Considering that the base version of the Outback can be had for nearly $7,000 less, our Limited’s asking price might seem a bit dear for a nonpremium badge, but the extensive list of standard features (all-wheel drive, CVT with six-speed manual function, power moonroof, all-weather package with heated front seats/sideview mirrors/windshield washer nozzles, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, four-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat, keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, woodgrain dashboard accents, 18-inch alloy wheels, Harman-Kardon premium audio, and more) makes a good case for the bottom line. Subaru’s known for issuing some pretty entertaining rides, the most notable being the high-performance, turbocharged WRX version of the popular compact Impreza model. We took a 2017 model for a test spin earlier this year and can state for the record that the Outback 2.5i is most definitely not cut from the same cloth as the WRX. Acceleration is leisurely, with 60 mph arriving in a few ticks above nine seconds — quick enough for the daily errand run or commute, but not much more. The V-6-powered 3.6R knocks about two seconds off the 0-to-60 time, but adds roughly another three grand to the bottom line. That said, the Outback handles nimbly, with excellent steering response and strong brakes. And while a turbocharged option would be nice, I suspect the 2.5i’s combination of safety gear, creature comforts and admirable fuel economy (an EPA-estimated 28 mpg combined) are far more important to Scoobie’s target audience than stoplight drag racing. The cabin is well-thought-out and crafted of high-quality materials. Indeed, the whole affair feels solidly stitched together and built to last. Instrumentation and controls are intelligently arranged and easy to read and operate. The infotainment system’s touch-screen interface is one of the better we’ve sampled, and the premium audio system — which along with SXM satellite radio and Bluetooth also supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Aha and Pandora — sounded great. Front-seat occupants will find plenty of room for all extremities; the 60/40 split-folding back seat will happily accommodate adults so long as the seat in front isn’t slid all the way back. The 35.5-cubic-foot cargo area expands to 73.3 cubic feet with the second row folded. 2.5i Outbacks can tow a maximum 2,700 pounds, which is very good for a four-banger. The V-6 engine adds another 300 pounds to the towing total. 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger compact crossover/SUV. Base/as-tested prices: $32,695/$35,695. Engine and transmission: 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (boxer) four-cylinder, 175 horsepower, 174 foot-pounds torque; continuously variable transmission. EPA estimates: 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, 28 mpg combined. The good: Comfortable and quiet ride quality and cabin; roomy and nicely appointed passenger accommodations; excellent fuel economy with four-cylinder engine; solid-feeling and nimble-handling chassis; standard all-wheel-drive system; easy-to-use infotainment interface; promise of Subaru reliability. The bad: Pokey acceleration; can get pricey in higher trim form and with optional V-6 engine. Bottom line: While the 2018 Outback rolls into the showroom largely unchanged, its combination of sensibleness, go-anywhere AWD, frugal fuel consumption and comfortable ride quality explains why Scoobie buyers remain ever faithful.