2011 Subaru Outback

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Key Specs
Our Take
Road Test
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Key Specs

of the 2011 Subaru Outback. Base trim shown.

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • Price and fuel efficiency
  • Off-road capability
  • Strong six-cylinder drivetrain
  • Ride comfort
  • Backseat and cargo room
  • Handling

The Bad

  • Some inconsistent cabin materials
  • Uninspiring four-cylinder drivetrain
  • Navigation interface
  • Braking performance when loaded
  • Front-seat thigh support for taller drivers

Notable Features of the 2011 Subaru Outback

  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • Four-cylinder or six-cylinder engine
  • Swiveling roof rails
  • Manual or automatic
  • Related to Legacy sedan
  • Side mirrors now fold

2011 Subaru Outback Road Test

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Kelsey Mays

Somewhere amid the parade of crossovers and wagon-like vehicles is the Subaru Outback. Once merely a version of the Legacy wagon, which has since been discontinued, it's now a household name among family-car shoppers. Indeed, a year after its redesign, the Outback has sold more than the body-type competitors Toyota Venza and Honda Accord Crosstour combined.

The Outback's formula for success is no secret. Where others have tried in so many ways to reinvent the crossover concept, the Outback is happy to nail all of its essentials: utility, capability and drivability.

Trim levels include the four-cylinder Subaru Outback 2.5i and six-cylinder Outback 3.6R, each of which come in three versions: base, Premium and Limited (compare them here). As with all Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard. The Outback was redesigned for 2010; you can compare that version with the 2011 Outback here. We evaluated the four-cylinder Outback last year; this time around we tested a six-cylinder Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited.

Quick With the Six

The Subaru Outback's base engine — a 170-horsepower four-cylinder — delivers leisurely acceleration, in large part because of a continuously variable automatic transmission that's in no hurry to respond to your right foot. (A six-speed manual is standard, but we haven't tested it.) Loaded with passengers, the four-cylinder drivetrain requires patience reaching highway speeds, and it strains to keep up under hard acceleration.

That's not the cas...

Somewhere amid the parade of crossovers and wagon-like vehicles is the Subaru Outback. Once merely a version of the Legacy wagon, which has since been discontinued, it's now a household name among family-car shoppers. Indeed, a year after its redesign, the Outback has sold more than the body-type competitors Toyota Venza and Honda Accord Crosstour combined.

The Outback's formula for success is no secret. Where others have tried in so many ways to reinvent the crossover concept, the Outback is happy to nail all of its essentials: utility, capability and drivability.

Trim levels include the four-cylinder Subaru Outback 2.5i and six-cylinder Outback 3.6R, each of which come in three versions: base, Premium and Limited (compare them here). As with all Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard. The Outback was redesigned for 2010; you can compare that version with the 2011 Outback here. We evaluated the four-cylinder Outback last year; this time around we tested a six-cylinder Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited.

Quick With the Six

The Subaru Outback's base engine — a 170-horsepower four-cylinder — delivers leisurely acceleration, in large part because of a continuously variable automatic transmission that's in no hurry to respond to your right foot. (A six-speed manual is standard, but we haven't tested it.) Loaded with passengers, the four-cylinder drivetrain requires patience reaching highway speeds, and it strains to keep up under hard acceleration.

That's not the case with the optional 256-hp six-cylinder. It's a muscular drivetrain, in part because it trades the CVT for a responsive five-speed automatic that's not afraid to hold lower gears or kick down on the highway. Even loaded with cargo, our test car had the sort of torque to pull strongly around town, though getting up to highway speeds didn't leave much extra power on tap.

With the six-cylinder, towing capacity tops out at 3,000 pounds. That's 500 pounds less than many competitors, but the four-cylinder Outback has a 2,700-pound rating — none too shabby for a four-banger.

The combined EPA gas mileage estimates range from 20 mpg with the six-cylinder and automatic to 24 mpg with the four-cylinder and automatic. Both figures are competitive.

Ride, Handling & Braking

Employing a car-based four-wheel-independent suspension since its mid-1990s inception, the Outback displays admirable ride quality. It soaks up bumps with little driver disturbance but maintains good control over stretches of broken pavement. Rough pavement can stunt a soft-riding car's reflexes and leave it bobbing up and down, but the Outback suffers little of that.

Steering and handling are good, if not as sharp as they were in the last Outback. Driving enthusiasts will appreciate the steering wheel's heavy weight at low speeds, while average drivers will want more power assist for easier parking-lot maneuvers. On the highway, I could use a little less assist. Holding the wheel at 12 o'clock, it feels a bit too loose.

Find a winding road, however, and the Subaru Outback handles well. The steering has good turn-in precision and little midcorner sloppiness. The nose pushes wide in hard corners, exacerbated by our tester's all-season Continental ContiProContact tires, which didn't offer much grip. Stomp hard on the gas coming out of a sweeping corner, though, and you can swing the tail out eventually. Credit the standard all-wheel drive, whose power distribution skews slightly rearward in six-cylinder Outbacks. All automatic Outbacks distribute power between the axles electronically; the manual Subaru Outback uses a simpler viscous coupling that's less proactive in doling out power when the wheels start to slip. Still, both systems distribute constant power to each axle. Many on-demand systems send power rearward only when a drive wheel begins to slip; some allow you to enforce a 50/50 split via a locking center differential. We've driven previous Subaru Outbacks on trails, and the AWD — along with an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance — make for better capability than you'd expect in a crossover.

Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard, with larger discs installed on six-cylinder Outbacks. The pedal has linear response, making it easy to smooth out your stops. Cram the car full of passengers, and you'll want to plan your stopping distances accordingly. Loaded down with some 500 pounds of cargo, our test car took significantly farther to come to a halt.

Cabin & Utility

Roomier by almost 10 percent, the Subaru Outback's cabin addresses some of its predecessor's biggest issues — namely, backseat room. There's plenty of it now, and abundant headroom, too. The front seats could use longer seat cushions for better thigh support, and drivers over 6 feet tall will want to be able to move the seat farther back. (I'm 5-foot-11, and I drove with the seat all the way back.)

Our test car came outfitted in a nice grade of leather — it wouldn't be out of place in an entry-level luxury car — but the grainier upholstery along the center console and door armrests doesn't live up to the same quality, and both areas are short on padding. Chrome door handles and nicely textured faux-metal trim add an upscale touch, but our test car's shiny faux-wood trim is among the worst of its kind.

So is the optional navigation system. The graphics look dated, particularly once you get into the menus, and it all runs off old-school DVDs, not a hard drive. That makes for slow map and menu loading, and it requires you to put in additional map discs if you travel to new parts of the country. The map view has too few street labels, and overhead sunlight or polarized sunglasses render the whole display difficult to see. The system includes iPod/USB integration, but it locks out most functions while the car is moving. On a road trip and wanting a new iPod playlist? Better make a pit stop.

Cargo volume behind the rear seat is a competitive 34.3 cubic feet, and the Outback's wide, rectangular cargo area accommodates large cargo better than many. Fold the rear seats down, and the crossover has an impressive 71.3 cubic feet of space. 

Cargo Room Compared
  Base price w/auto Cargo room behind second row (cu. ft.) Cargo w/seats down (cu. ft.)
2011 Honda CR-V $21,545 35.7 72.9
2011 Toyota RAV4 $21,925 36.4* 73.0
2011 Chevrolet Equinox $22,745 31.4 63.7
2011 Subaru Outback $24,195 34.3 71.3
2010 Toyota Venza $26,275 34.4 70.1
2011 Ford Edge $27,220 32.2 68.9
2010 Nissan Murano $28,340 31.6 64.0
2010 Honda Accord Crosstour $29,670 25.7 51.3

*37.2 cubic feet in three-row model with third row folded.
Source: Automaker information

 

 

Reliability, Safety & Features

The prior Subaru Outback had above-average reliability, but the new one hasn't been on the market long enough to gauge. In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Outback received the highest score, Good, in front, rear, side-impact and roof-crush tests. The current generation is an IIHS Top Safety Pick — which is no easy feat these days, given IIHS' addition of roof-crush tests. Standard features include six airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Click here for a full list of safety features.

The Outback 2.5i comes with power windows and locks, remote entry, cruise control, air conditioning and a CD stereo with an auxiliary jack and steering-wheel audio controls. Move up to the 2.5i Premium or Limited, and you can have alloy wheels, power front seats, heated leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control and an upgraded Harman Kardon stereo. A conventional moonroof (not the dual moonroof available in prior Outbacks) and the navigation system are optional.

The six-cylinder Outback 3.6R comes standard with a five-speed automatic transmission; the CVT automatic runs $1,000 in the 2.5i and 2.5i Premium (it's standard on the 2.5i Limited). Load up a six-cylinder Outback, and the price tops out around $34,000.

Outback in the Market

Utility and crossovers go hand-in-hand, and the Outback comes up strong on all the basics. Like every Subaru, its success will be limited by the automaker's insistence on standard AWD, which typically raises prices and lowers gas mileage — great in Maine, not so much in Mississippi.

More than other carmakers, Subaru has managed to lessen the sting in both price and mileage, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Outback: It boasts competitive mileage and a lower starting price than much of the front-drive competition. Add to that Subaru's loyal owner base, and the Subaru Outback's future looks bright.

Send Kelsey an email  

 


2011 Outback Video

Cars.com's Kelsey Mays takes a look at the 2011 Subaru Outback. It competes with the Toyota Venza and Audi A4.

Latest 2011 Outback Stories

Consumer Reviews

Exterior Styling
(4.6)
Performance
(4.5)
Interior Design
(4.5)
Comfort
(4.8)
Reliability
(4.8)
Value For The Money
(4.7)

What Drivers Are Saying

(4.0)

Not a Bad Choice But Requires Maintenance

by Greg4Subie from Richmond, Virginia on October 15, 2018

Love these car- lots of cargo space with good fuel economy. However, the headlamps were constantly burning out- until Subaru extended the repair at no cost, but really was inconvenient, and I was ... Read full review

(5.0)

Performance , safety and luxury !

by North Country Family from Schuylerville, NY on October 9, 2018

Performance needed for North Country commutes ,fun and safety with the luxury and comfort of a sedan. The light colored, leather interior is a welcome atmosphere for short winter days. Driving with ... Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2011 Subaru Outback currently has 0 recalls

Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

The 2011 Subaru Outback has not been tested.

Manufacturer Warranties

Backed by Subaru
New Car Program Benefits
  • Bumper-to-Bumper

    36 months / 36,000 miles

  • Powertrain

    60 months / 60,000 miles

  • Roadside Assistance

    36 months / 36,000 miles

Certified Pre-Owned Program Benefits
  • Maximum Age/Mileage

    5 years/80,000 miles

  • Basic Warranty Terms

    Coverage available for purchase

  • Powertrain warranty

    7 years/100,000

  • Dealer Certification Required

    152-point inspection

  • Roadside Assistance

    Yes

  • View All Program Details

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The Outback received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker