Mountain Wheels: Subaru Outback still reigns as Colorado’s official automobile (column)
2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Touring
MSRP as tested: $39,605
Powertrain: 256-HP 3.6-liter six-cylinder Boxer engine with CVT transmission
EPA figures: 28 combined (25 city/32 highway)
With the recently announced Ascent, a full-sized, three-row SUV, just around the corner, Coloradans will have a second choice of go-to automobile.
But their main choice has long been the Outback, with two decades of utility, snow domination and a much-evolved wagon experience that’s shaken the quirk factor and become quite a substantial machine in the process.
For 2018, Outback is refreshed with new styling in the front and back, updated mirrors and a variety of small tweaks to the safety and convenience systems. Biggest news is the revised nose and tail and a couple of C-shaped headlamps with built-in LED daytime running lamps, as has become the standard across car-land.
Your opinion of this most recent iteration of the Outback will depend on when you had your first Outback — as nearly everybody in the state seems to have done at some point — and whether you fully support the vehicle’s considerable upsizing, or you have a bit of a nostalgic feel for the lower and smaller models of yesteryear.
I have a friend who recently traded up from an older Forester to the newish model and while it did in fact protect her in a devastating crash, her replacement Forester came with the smaller 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine shared with Outback and the complaints never stopped, especially as she does a lot of driving on the interstate.
That leads me to suggest the 3.6-liter six-cylinder Boxer for your high-altitude Outback, as the abundance of power (256 horses, 247 lb.-ft. of torque) will never let you down. The extra oomph also makes the car’s Lineartronic CVT transmission, one of those one-speed models, much more appealing, as you can nail the accelerator and get almost instantaneous response, which might surprise other drivers.
Anticipation is of course high for the company’s real, full-sized SUV but the Outback is already something like a moderately car-like crossover in wagon form, with a 189.6-inch overall profile and a 108-inch wheelbase.
You’ll get 35.5 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats, and a considerable 73.3 cubic feet with those seats dropped. Cargo boxes on the roof rails are such a normal part of the experience that the car only features a front-cabin sunroof, lest your passengers be exposed to great views of the underside of a giant Thule container full of recreation gear.
Seats are positioned on tall pillars, even more so in the theater-styled second row, and the short seat bottoms may have some drivers feel like they’re kind of perched in place. It’s just one of the car’s peculiarities, though multiple generations of change have certainly harmonized and simplified much of the old-fashioned Outbacks’ oddness. (I do miss the 3.0-liter turbo they offered about a decade ago, which had so much torque and power that it threatened to put you in orbit every time you hit the gas.)
As it is, the 66-inch-tall, 72.4-inch-wide Outback is as sporty as it can be as it creeps toward 3,700 pounds; that Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system is of course bulletproof in the snow and incredibly stable on medium-weight gravel trail adventures.
It’s just a big machine and it doesn’t behave with the real sportiness of the Impreza; folks who seek out the car’s largesse and capacity take that for granted. If you do want to venture off pavement, Outback features 8.7 inches of clearance and the very real hill-descent control systems of the X-Mode system.
The updated design features are certainly sleek, with cool and contemporary and a vaguely organic interior feel, including a wood veneer dash line and door trim, perforated brown leather seats and a tastefully rendered leather-look rubber dash cap.
The new audio and navigation head unit is attractive and helpful, set in a large one-piece black glass module with soft-touch buttons on the edges — the really, really detailed maps are a nice upgrade and the system works well. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are featured for easy connections, plus a considerable array of app-based add-ons for more flexibility.
New bits for 2018 include steering-responsive headlamps, a larger interior clock and a USB power port behind the center console for your passengers.
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