Over the last few decades, sales of station wagons have totally vapourized here in North America. This can largely be blamed on the increasing popularity of crossovers. The one glaring exception to this trend though is the Subaru Outback. Although more of a lifted faux-SUV than a traditional station wagon, the Outback is still incredibly popular among consumers.
Its success may partially be due to the fact that many consumers just don’t realize that they are actually buying a wagon. With its generous ground clearance, rugged-looking body cladding, and standard all-wheel drive, the Outback is a bit of wagon in crossover disguise. All these bits come together to create an incredibly spacious and practical package that’s different from the swarms of crossovers that suffocate the roads.
It’s no secret that Subaru is more of an engineering company than a design company. They specialize in building cars that are as safe, well-built, and reliable as they are unattractive and dull (BRZ and WRX models exempted of course). The Outback is a perfect example of this. What it lacks in style and driving excitement, it more than makes up for in usability and practicality. Four adults can easily sit comfortably in this thing. And the cargo area, folded up or down, has more room than many proper SUVs. The Outback is proof that you don’t need a crossover to move a handful of people and your stuff around.
Like the exterior styling, the interior is rather utilitarian and nothing special to look at, but it’s functional and well-put together. The touchscreen is fairly easy to figure out, but it’s a tad slow and shows off fingerprints quite well.
The standard 2.5L 4-cylinder boxer engine produces 175 horsepower and 174lb-ft of torque. It’s not enough power for this heavy people mover, especially when loaded up with people and gear. Mashing the go pedal results in more noise than actual forward momentum. My tester came with a charming 6-speed manual gearbox, a unique-to-Canada option, which helps make the most of the feeble power output. It’s nice to see the option of a manual, but most will opt for the CVT automatic, which I imagine would feel slower still. Normally I’d say pass on the larger engine option, but the 256 horsepower, 3.6L V6 engine may very well be the better fit for this car. And at 12L/100km in the city and 8.7L/100km highway, the V6 uses hardly any more fuel. I averaged 11L/100km over a one week period of mixed city/highway driving.
Pricing for the Outback starts at $27,995 for a base 2.5i and can go as high as $41,595 for a 3.6R Premier model. The 2.5i is pretty good value for money considering it has a good level of standard equipment, plus the same level of utility and capability as the pricier models. For those looking for a feature-rich package, however, the 2.5i Limited model with the Technology Package might be the best compromise at $37,595. Add another $3,000 if you want the V6 engine.
For anyone looking for a safe, well-built, and practical crossover, err, wagon, there’s a lot to like about the Outback. Competitors, such as the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack and Volvo V60 Cross Country, have tried to replicate its success. None are a match though for the Outback’s blend of spaciousness, affordability, reliability, and excellent resale value, which ultimately makes it a far more compelling choice for consumers. Being a nonconformist and being popular don’t always go hand in hand, but they certainly do here.
Shari Prymak is a member of the Car Help Canada team and as an auto expert, has published countless articles for auto sites.