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Subaru has been building cars with the Outback name on them for over 20 years now, and it’s finally grown out of that awkward stage.
The all-new 2015 model is familiar in style. But with swept-back eyes and sleek lines that look like someone left one of the old ones in a stream for a couple of years to polish it up, it’s easily the most stylish one yet.
Still a high-rider, it has a Jeep-like 8.7 inches of ground clearance and overall size about the same as the outgoing model, but with more interior room for passengers, cargo and assorted furry friends. The long hood may give it a wagon look, but don’t be fooled. The Outback is about the same size as a Toyota Rav4 or Honda CR-V, and it starts at $25,745.
The upgraded cabin finally gets soft touch plastics on a redesigned and very handsome dash, higher quality trim and an app-filled infotainment system with possibly the most responsive touchscreen I've encountered. Compared to the old one, it’s like switching from punchcards to an iPad.
Power still comes from a 2.5-liter flat-four cylinder engine that gets a two horsepower bump to 175 hp. That isn't much, but it feels like more, thanks to an excellent CVT transmission that’s good for 33 mpg on the highway at a starting price of $26,000. A 256 hp V6 is also available for $33,845, but the vast majority of Outbacks will head for the mountains with the four-banger.
The standard all-wheel-drive system now has a new X-Mode for more extreme off-roading, at least by Outback standards. It manages wheel slip better, and it has hill descent control that lets you crawl down slippery slopes more easily. So no amount of mud will keep you from that outdoor music festival now.
Oddly enough, it's on the street where the new Outback really impresses. The outgoing model made a little bit of a racket, but you sucked it up because it was otherwise so great. Not so this one. There's barely any road noise, and the engine is a lot smoother. It no longer reminds you of a farm implement.
Plus, for $1,695, you can get rear sensors that monitor blind spots and approaching traffic when you’re backing up, and a stereoscopic camera system called EyeSight that's like having a pair of electronic peepers looking for danger ahead.
Unlike often unsightly grille-mounted radars, it's located behind the rearview mirror, where the windshield wipers can keep a clear view, important in the slushy latitudes where Subarus often roam. It enables a lane departure warning system and adaptive cruise control, and it can spot pedestrians and automatically brake for them.
If you totally space out and slam on the gas pedal, intentionally or not, when there’s a car sitting in front of you, it’ll set off an alarm, reduce power and then just take over and stop itself if you don’t get the hint. It will also remind you if that car pulls away and you haven’t, because it doesn’t want to be embarrassed by getting honked at by the car behind you, silly human. I can see these all of these safety features paying big dividends in the Subaru strongholds of Colorado and Washington State.
Subaru went to a lot of trouble with the new Outback, even if it didn’t need to, seeing as how it literally couldn’t make enough of the old one to meet demand. It’s planning to increase output by a third at its Indiana plant over the next year or so, and based on how good the new car is, it’s going to need it.
2015 Subaru Outback
Base price: $25,745
Type: 5-passenger, 5-door crossover
Engine: 2.5-liter flat-4-cylinder
Power: 175 hp, 174 lb-ft torque
Transmission: CVT automatic
MPG: 25 city/33 hwy