The ubiquitous Subaru Outback moves upward and onward |

The ubiquitous Subaru Outback moves upward and onward

Andy Stonehouse
summit daily auto writer

2011 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited

If there’s one car that says Summit County (or, conversely, the womyn of New Hampshire), it’s the Subaru Outback. An oddity in coastal climates, unknown in the Midwest (despite being assembled in Indiana), but as steady a staple in snowy climes as dudes in gaily colored Burton jackets.

Outback got a complete makeover in 2010, and the results appear to be popular with car-buyers given the number of new Outbacks I’ve seen on the road this year – though I wondered a bit when I first drove the vehicle last winter.

As I mentioned then, Subaru has opted to go against what one might think to be its traditional non-traditional ways and has made a vehicle considerably larger than the Outback it replaced. It’s now 2 inches wider, 4 inches taller and has a 3-inch-longer wheelbase, but is also shorter than the outgoing models.

That’s produced a taller and boxier looking vehicle that now seems almost like a more pleasant version of that butt-ugly Tribeca minivan/crossover type deal, though Outback remains a five-seater with wagon and wagon utility written all over it.

Interior passenger space is up by almost 10 percent; larger brakes, a built-in roof rack with storable cross rails and 8.7 inches of snow-beating clearance make it an even more vital machine when it comes to hitting the icy highway or heading out for some medium-duty camping trails in the summer.

My drives in the 2011 earlier this week were all on dry pavement, but when I hit some really bad stuff on Vail Pass last year, the Outback’s standard, full-time symmetrical AWD system kept me remarkably glued to the earth, even with all-season tires.

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At 3,658 pounds, there’s not much lightweight factor to the automobile, but it’s still not like driving a Tahoe – you just have to mentally recompute that you really are still in a Subaru. The growth has also resulted in easier exits and entries to the vehicle and a more commanding view of the road.

In the 3.6R Premium model sporting a (you guessed it) 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine, a larger mill borrowed from the Tribeca, I was suitably impressed by both the 256 horsepower and the 23.5 mpg I got in mixed highway and city use.

It’s not a tire-smoker but will get rolling up to speed in impressive enough time and the only flaw you’ll find during high-altitude use is a little flatness in acceleration at the very top of the passes (it’s no longer a turbo, just a big, oxygen-sucking engine). The five-speed automatic transmission can be custom shifted to your heart’s delight.

With the exception of slightly ungainly but rugged body moldings – Subaru apparently did not see the lack of aesthetic success GM had with them on its old Avalanche truck – the larger, taller-yet-shorter, much-more-angular look is very nice. The extended moldings will, sadly, deposit mag chloride on your pant legs each time you stretch to get out of the car, so step lively.

A fresh dash and instruments, plus a streamlined center stack, also brighten things; the futuristic-looking shift knob, slightly bioluminescent gauges and the requisite mix of perforated leather and wood paneling makes it all rather pleasant. The apparently nuclear-powered heated seats are even hotter than ever.

There’s also a new, fully electronic and an occasionally loud-to-engage parking brake (also found on the Legacy).

This year’s models also include a painfully bright rear vision camera display located inside the rear view mirror. If you opt for the optional navigation package, the camera displays on the navi screen.

For your entertainment pleasure, you can get the 440-watt, nine-speaker harmon/kardon audio system, featuring XM satellite radio, with Bluetooth connectivity included in the package.