2012 Subaru Outback
Starting MSRP $23,295–$31,695
In my idyllic village near the base of the Rocky Mountains, there are two things in abundance: extremely athletic people and Subarus. You can't go anywhere without seeing either one of these things and often they come as a duo. During my weeklong test drive of the Subaru Outback, I was able to fit in — at least in a vehicular sense.
The 2012 Subaru Outback conquers any drive with ease, looks good, is reasonably priced and is a viable family car, especially for sporty families.
The Subaru wagon isn't a rumbling, raring mucho-horsepower kind of car. It has a relatively modest engine — my test car had a 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine — but it's so competent that it feels like it has power to spare.
After a redesign in 2010, there are only a few changes to this year's lineup and most of them occurred on the 3.6 R Limited model I tested. This model now comes with a higher-quality stereo with Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. My test car's Harman Kardon entertainment system with voice control and a backup camera is also a newly available option. The roof rack has a new design, and my test car came with some sweet ski racks that gave it an extra sporty look, which helped my image among the fit crowd in my neck of the woods.
The 2012 Outback with a four-cylinder engine has a starting MSRP of $23,295. My test car, an Outback 3.6 R Limited, starts at $31,695, but the addition of a power moonroof, navigation system and a premium stereo system bumped the price up to $35,886.
The Outback would do anyone proud. It's nothing flashy, but this is a family car, an athlete's car and a car for people who just want something good to get the job done well. The Outback is not the retro-cool wood-paneled wagon you grew up with, but it's still got some personality. The roof is higher and the body shorter in length than the wagons of old. The exterior lines have an athletic bent, and it comes in a host of much groovier colors than the wood-paneled beasts.
It's also a great size for kids, meaning it's low enough to the ground for most of them to open the doors and climb in on their own. The car's liftgate was easy to open and shut, which is a good thing since it is not a power liftgate. Of course, if you're fit and strong, who needs it?
My test car, the 3.6 Limited R comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, projector beam headlights and some snappy roof rails with integrated cross bars. The more this car revealed to me, the more obvious it became why it's been in a long-term relationship with the elite fitness crowd around here. My test car also came with the available power moonroof.
The Outback has plenty of cargo space. When it comes to the competition, the Outback is smack in the middle of the rear-cargo-space race with more than 34 cubic feet with the rear seats up and over 71 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
The car I tested came with a 256-hp, 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine that's matched to a five-speed automatic transmission with manual mode. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is also available. The 3.6-liter engine gets an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg city/highway. Regular unleaded fuel is required. Subaru's all-wheel-drive system is standard on all models.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
When it comes to cabin space, the Outback is deceptively large. From the outside, I didn't think the seating would be so generous, but on the inside, things open up quite a bit in this five-seater. The driver and front passenger have an abundance of head- and shoulder room.
The cabin feels low-key and relaxed. This isn't a fancy automobile, but the center stack's silver face and some strategically placed faux-wood accents kick the interior up a notch. While it isn't replete with all the latest technologies, it certainly has anything you might need plus one or two extras. When you're driving to your next marathon, what more do you need besides a USB input to connect to your iPod's motivation playlist anyhow?
The 60/40-split rear seats are also a nice touch that allows for a variety of cargo-carrying configurations. There are eight cupholders and enough space in the tiered center console, glove box and door pockets to stash all the necessary extras.
Of course, when it came time to pack up my three children and husband in the Outback for a ski weekend, things got difficult. Three convertible car seats didn't fit, which was our first barrier, but there also wasn't quite enough room for all of our gear and groceries, and who knows where the dog would have fit. We took our minivan instead, but folks with two or fewer children would be fine.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2012 Outback has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This means it received the top rating of Good in IIHS' front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests. It also received an overall score of four stars out of five from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It earned four-star ratings in frontal, rollover and side crash tests.
The Outback has standard all-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with traction control, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. A backup camera is optional.
When it comes to a car's Latch system, many automakers want to either make the anchors' presentation too stylish or hide them altogether. Either way, it never turns out well. In the Outback, the two sets of lower Latch anchors were marked by the appearance of large, unattractive flaps that cover the anchors. Once opened, the anchors were easily found, and it was a breeze to hook in the children's child-safety seats.
Two convertible car seats fit easily in the Outback, and squeezing a booster in between them was possible. Installing a rear-facing infant seat in the second row diminished the front passenger's legroom slightly, but not so much that he was uncomfortable. Find out how the 2012 Outback performed in Cars.com's Car Seat Check here.
Get more safety information about the 2012 Subaru Outback here.
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