Mountain Wheels: Improved Subaru Outback grows on the inside | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Improved Subaru Outback grows on the inside

Andy Stonehouse
Special to the Daily

Does the ongoing growth spurt and overall de-weirding of the Outback symbolize a disconnect between Subaru's once very niche-market core values and what is now a quickly expanding, almost mainstream audience?

Possibly. But the days of the low, flat, non-minivan-sized Outbacks you remember from a decade and a half ago are long gone, and so is much of the standoffish charm that once delineated the King of Mountain Town Vehicles from every other carmakers' wares.

But families — especially those growing in size — who are looking for a comfortably spacious vehicle will still find the all-new 2015 Outback a considerably different option than the other CUVs out there. Subaru still proudly calls the Outback a midsize sport utility wagon; in its new variant, the car's interior volume is now up to a total of more than 108 cubic feet, with cargo space in the back of some 73.3 cubic feet. The back seat alone is gigantic and perches your passengers in almost theater-styled seating.

That's all been accomplished without expanding the 2014's exterior dimensions, which is good because, my goodness, this has turned into a much larger automobile with every generation. It's awfully close in overall proportions to the once-gigantic-seeming Tribeca, for instance.

To Subaru's credit, it continues to endow the Outback with technology and tools that are more at home in the sportier models lower down the food chain, so you'll find active torque vectoring to somewhat more aggressively corner, a revised suspension and even a bit of extra mojo in the four-cylinder 2.5-liter engine, which provides 175 horsepower and is good for as much as 33 mpg on the highway. They've even thrown in a fancy grille-shutter control to cut down on fuel consumption while you're hauling away on the road. You can also opt for the 256-HP 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine, good for about 27 highway mpg.

What is no longer an option is the automatic transmission, of the continuously variable variety. Fearsome as that may sound to drivers who experienced them in the old days, Subaru's Lineartronic variety is about as imperceptible as they come, and does contribute greatly to the car's improving mileage figures. Six gears are replicated, and you can zap to a lower ratio using wheel-mounted paddles, should you want to do so.

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I spent my time in the four-cylinder Outback and it's going to do most of what you want, though you may not be effortlessly flying up to the Eisenhower Tunnel like you've got a 510-HP V8 under the hood. Standard acceleration is solid, however, and the smaller engine is more than capable of moving the Outback around.

As for the sport utility aspect, the standard all-wheel drive, the 8.7 inches of clearance and the X-Mode system, which first appeared on last year's Forester, all give the Outback legitimate mid-grade off-road credentials. Hit the X-Mode switch and it heightens the AWD's sensitivity, as well as kicking in hill descent control. In a nod to one of those ancient Subaru niceties, the incline start assist and now-electronic hill-holder system both make it easier for you to get going when stopped (or parked) on an uphill incline.

What you might notice during your drive are the impacts of the Outback's growing size. I got seriously rattled in strong side winds, the car's profile now even further raised with tall luggage rack rails — though the crossbars hide out of the way when you don't use them, so your forward wind tunnel-effect is somewhat lessened.

Outback has advanced the most on its interior comforts, with lots of upscale treatments, including very nearly real-looking wood trim, high-grade perforated leather and a vastly improved touchscreen navigation system. The Limited model also gets a 576-watt harmon/kardon audio system with 12 speakers, heated front and rear seats and Subaru's safety suite including the blind-spot monitors and a rear cross-traffic alert. Get the improved EyeSight option and you'll find the car can brake for you if you're cut off or will allow adaptive cruise control; new are color stereo cameras and steering-responsive fog lamps.

2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

MSRP: $29,995; as tested, $34,135

Powertrain: 175-HP 2.5-liter four-cylinder; CVT automatic transmission

EPA figures: 28 MPG combined: 25 city and 33 highway