2015 Subaru Outback

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Key Specs
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Road Test
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Key Specs

of the 2015 Subaru Outback. Base trim shown.

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • More attractive styling
  • Easy entry and exit
  • Better estimated gas mileage
  • Backseat roominess
  • Visibility

The Bad

  • Manual transmission no longer available

Notable Features of the 2015 Subaru Outback

  • Redesigned for 2015
  • Five-seat all-wheel-drive wagon
  • Four-cylinder or six-cylinder engine
  • 8.7 inches of ground clearance
  • Camera-based EyeSight safety system available

2015 Subaru Outback Road Test

Bill Jackson

The 2015 Subaru Outback is a capable hauler, and where previous versions lagged with droning highway manners, a utilitarian interior and cramped interior space, this version improves on — if not solves — those shortcomings.

The Subaru Outback holds a unique position in the market. It's body type is arguably a high-riding station wagon, but it handles off-road driving better than some SUVs. It's one of the more expensive vehicles Subaru makes, but some of its charm lies in its function-over-form, non-luxury styling. It also has a loyal buying base, so any changes have to walk a fine line, lest Subaru upsets the faithful.

The highlights of the 2015 redesign include updated exterior styling, interior refinements, a new drivetrain and improved fuel economy. Compare specs of the 2014 and 2015 models here.

The Outback competes with crossovers such as the Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. See relevant specs compared side by side here.

The Outback is available in 2.5i Standard, 2.5i Premium and 2.5i Limited trims with a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, and in 3.6R Limited trim with a 256-hp, 3.6-liter six-cylinder. All versions now use a continuously variable automatic transmission.

For 2015, flat 4-cylinder models get an estimated 25/33/28 mpg city/highway/combined, compared with the previous four-cylinder CVT's 24/30/26 mpg estimate. Six-cylinder models are now rated 20/27/22 mpg, up from 17/25/20 mpg when the car was equipped wit...

The 2015 Subaru Outback is a capable hauler, and where previous versions lagged with droning highway manners, a utilitarian interior and cramped interior space, this version improves on — if not solves — those shortcomings.

The Subaru Outback holds a unique position in the market. It's body type is arguably a high-riding station wagon, but it handles off-road driving better than some SUVs. It's one of the more expensive vehicles Subaru makes, but some of its charm lies in its function-over-form, non-luxury styling. It also has a loyal buying base, so any changes have to walk a fine line, lest Subaru upsets the faithful.

The highlights of the 2015 redesign include updated exterior styling, interior refinements, a new drivetrain and improved fuel economy. Compare specs of the 2014 and 2015 models here.

The Outback competes with crossovers such as the Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. See relevant specs compared side by side here.

The Outback is available in 2.5i Standard, 2.5i Premium and 2.5i Limited trims with a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, and in 3.6R Limited trim with a 256-hp, 3.6-liter six-cylinder. All versions now use a continuously variable automatic transmission.

For 2015, flat 4-cylinder models get an estimated 25/33/28 mpg city/highway/combined, compared with the previous four-cylinder CVT's 24/30/26 mpg estimate. Six-cylinder models are now rated 20/27/22 mpg, up from 17/25/20 mpg when the car was equipped with a five-speed automatic.

Subaru sells more 2.5i Premium versions of the Outback than any other. I tested that version, as well as a 3.6R Limited, over a mix of rural highways, gravel roads and off-road terrain.

Exterior & Styling
The Outback's exterior changes are subtle but pay off in a big way. First — and to my eye, best — Subaru toned down the previous Outback's chunky, rugged body cladding.

Where the previous generation always looked like a mish-mash to me — as if the car were made of LEGOs with cladding clicked on after the fact — this version looks more sleek and integrated. The change is most evident on Outbacks painted in lighter colors. The new look is a good look.

The 2015 Outback also gets the larger, trapezoidal grille that other new Subarus wear, along with restyled headlights. The base of the windshield has been moved forward 2 inches, and the side mirrors were moved down to the door from the windshield pillar.

Overall, the car looks smoother, leaner and not as thrown-together as the previous version. With its roof rails, tall ride height and wagon body style, it still looks like a Subaru, but one where the automaker took some extra time to tie all the styling elements together.

How It Drives
The flat-four cylinder offers modest power, but the CVT provides a quicker response than some of the eight- and nine-speed transmissions that are popping up all over the market. The responsiveness is nice, but it won't blow anybody away. It's adequate for passing at highway speeds as long as you have time to make the pass.

However, you will hear a lot of noise from the engine, along with a pronounced whine from the transmission, especially when pushed. While cruising, however, the engine and transmission are unobtrusive; there's no steady drone or whine that's sometimes common with four-cylinder/CVT combinations.

The six-cylinder engine is the star of the show, but it's not all about using that extra horsepower to go faster. True, the six-cylinder Outback easily passes on the highway and accelerates away from stop signs with more purpose than the four, but the biggest benefit is heard rather than felt: Because the engine doesn't have to strain to move the weight of the Outback, it's noticeably quieter. That helps the otherwise rugged Outback better compete with European luxury wagons in terms of interior noise and general refinement. The transmission whine that pops up in four-cylinder versions is also much more muted in the six-cylinder model.

There's nothing wrong with the four-cylinder — it's adequate — but if I wanted a more comfortable vehicle, I'd opt for the six-cylinder.

All Outbacks benefit from a quicker steering ratio for 2015. This pays off not only at higher speeds or when you want to make fast steering changes, but also when moving through parking lots. It just takes less movement of the wheel to turn the car.

Subaru said it made this generation of the Outback stiffer, and the car feels predictable, tending toward understeer when pushed hard into turns. The net result of both the steering and chassis changes is a car that inspires confidence — if not necessarily sporty driving — both on twisty roads and off-road.

Despite the stiffness, the Outback offers a fairly comfortable ride. It tends toward the stiffer side of the scale, but it deals easily with pavement expansion joints, and the rolling/pitching/undulating sections of my off-road driving didn't create the bucking or fore-and-aft rolling that some vehicles can. The best praise I can give is that after a solid day of driving in mixed conditions, I was less tired and beat up than in most other cars I've driven — even when those other drives were confined to pavement.

Interior
The preceding Outback's cabin had a very utilitarian feel, but Subaru dressed it up for this generation; it's more than competitive for the non-luxury class. There's new leather; two new, larger multimedia screens (6.2 inches on 2.5i models and 7 inches on uplevel versions); and the center storage bin has been redesigned to hold tablets as large as an iPad.

The door armrests and center armrest have thicker cushioning and offer a nice, soft feel that makes longer drives easier on your elbows. The steering wheel also has a good, solid feel to it, and the dashboard is padded to the touch.

The standard cloth seats feel supportive and have a nice texture, so I wouldn't find it necessary to get the leather seats for either appearance's or comfort's sake.

The new look and materials still err on the side of function over form, but all-in-all, the changes have made the Outback's cabin more comfortable and prettier.

Subaru also bumped up the Outback's interior to create more shoulder room, more front and rear hip room, and more rear legroom, resulting in slightly more passenger room overall and a bit more cargo space.

I'm about 6 feet 2 inches tall, and I can say there's a good amount of legroom in the back. (I sat back there both with the seat where I had it when I drove and also run all the way back to the limit.) My knees were slightly elevated, but nowhere near as much as in many other vehicles on the market, so I think even I'd be comfortable on a longer trip.

The previous-generation Outback stood out to me for its great visibility. If anything, the 2015 improves in this area, most notably by positioning the mirrors down on the door instead of up on the A-pillar. In place of a mirror mount there's now a glass section, and while it's not huge, it's still nice to have, especially when driving off-road. Subaru has long been involved as a sponsor and participant in a variety of outdoor pursuits, from rallying to cross-country skiing and biking. The Outback continues to offer a variety of amenities to make those pursuits easier, as well as a couple of significant new touches.

An ongoing feature is Subaru's roof rails that have integrated, swing-into-place crossbars. When you need the crossbars, swing them into place. When you don't, swing them back into the rails, cutting down on mileage-sapping drag and wind noise.

What's new is that for 2015, Subaru redesigned the doorsill area to provide a larger footpad to stand on while you adjust — or attach things to — those roof rails. A nice touch, whether your feet are dainty or enormous.

Also, Subaru offers PIN access on the rear of Outback Limited trims so that runners, swimmers and others can lock their keys in the car and use the PIN to open the doors. Not having to carry keys is a nice feature, but it would be nicer if it were standard across more trim levels.

Ergonomics & Electronics
For 2015, all Outbacks have a standard backup camera. Screens vary based on trim level, with a 6.2-inch screen on the base model and a 7-inch screen with tablet-like touch, swipe and pinch controls on uplevel trims.

The infotainment screen responded quickly to my touch and didn't seem to suffer noticeable lag. The tablet-like controls weren't as quick as a tablet, so I'm not sure how much I'd use them in daily driving.

In addition, there are touch-sensitive capacitive buttons on either side of the screen that control various menu items. These also respond quickly, but because there's no sensation that you've pressed a button, you have to look at the buttons or the screen to judge whether anything happens. As we say whenever we run into these "buttons," traditional mechanical push buttons would be better.

Speaking of buttons, the steering wheel is loaded with them, but I felt it was fairly easy to differentiate between them with my fingers while driving. That carries through to the rest of the (mechanical) knobs and buttons: They generally feel solid, not like they were picked from the bin of cheapest parts. You're also not forced to do too many adjustments through the touch-screen if you don't want to. I find the Outback specifically, and Subarus in general, to be among the least complicated cars on the market, ergonomically speaking. The 2015 model continues that trend.

Cargo & Storage
The Outback's cargo area has grown slightly, to 35.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, up from 34.3 cubic feet. Fold the standard 60/40-split backseat down to create 73.3 cubic feet, up from 71.3. There are also new release levers, so one tug folds the spring-tensioned seat flat. It's well-done and, if I had my way, would be mandatory on all cars.

There's also a power liftgate that's standard on the highest, Limited, trim and available on the Premium trim. It can be set to open to a specific height, in case you're on the shorter side or need the liftgate to open low enough that it doesn't clunk into your garage ceiling or whatever you're carrying on the roof.

Safety
As of publication, the 2015 Subaru Outback had not been crash-tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Safety features include a backup camera, side curtain airbags that deploy when a rollover is imminent, and cabin and exterior lights that automatically turn on when the driver approaches the car.

Newly available features include a blind spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert and Subaru's EyeSight system. EyeSight uses cameras to provide adaptive cruise control (cruise control that uses radar to fllow the speed of the vehicle ahead of you), automated pre-collision braking and lane departure warning. For 2015, those EyeSight camera housings are slightly smaller than before, but they're still rather conspicuous on either side of the rearview mirror.

For a list of safety features, click here.

Value in Its Class
The Subaru Outback is a wagon, but because of its off-road utility, high ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive system, it lines up better against SUVs and crossovers. Among SUVs, the Outback differentiates itself by offering AWD standard, where it can run as an extra-cost option on many other SUVs. For example, the Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport all come standard with two-wheel drive. The Outback is more than $1,000 cheaper than the least-expensive all-wheel-drive version of its competitors. (See a comparison among base AWD trims here.)

Mileage is an area where the Outback also excels, as both its four-cylinder (EPA-rated at 28 mpg combined) and its six-cylinder (22 mpg) beat the most efficient gas-powered versions of its AWD competitors: The 2014 Ford Edge and 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport both rate 21 mpg combined, while the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee gets 19 mpg.

Tellingly, substituting front-wheel drive doesn't put all the Subaru's competitors ahead of the all-wheel-drive-only Outback four-cylinder. With front-wheel drive, two of the Edge's three available engines are rated 21 and 22 mpg combined, but the third gets 24 mpg. The Santa Fe Sport gets 22 or 23 mpg, and the Grand Cherokee gets 17 or 20 mpg with gasoline (a diesel version is rated 25 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and 24 mpg with four-wheel drive).

(Note that a redesigned 2015 Ford Edge will hit showrooms early in 2015 and is expected to have higher mileage than the current, 2014 model.)

Ease of carrying cargo is the Subaru Outback's final — and I'd argue biggest — strength. Despite the car's 8.7-inch ground clearance, the cargo area is easy to load things into because the load floor isn't too high off the ground. And the larger doorsill step is always welcome when putting something on the roof.

So, yes — with a price that's competitive with other crossovers, the Outback offers better mileage and greater utility. But, as always, there is a catch.

The Subaru Outback has made strides in terms of comfort and quality of cabin materials, but it's still not as refined as it could be. It lacks that last little bit of interior quality and overall refinement that sets the best apart from the very good. With this redesign, it's now better able to complete with European wagon competitors from Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo and BMW, but I don't see it being able to pull in many of those buyers based on its interior.

Subaru owners might not care about this, though, preferring instead to focus on utility. In that way, the Outback doesn't disappoint. But if Subaru wants to continue to grow, a focus on the last little details will help it greatly.

Send Bill an email  

 


2015 Outback Video

The Subaru Outback has been redesigned and updated for the 2015 model year; But has Subaru done enough to appease the faithful while attracting new buyers?” Watch the video and decide.

Latest 2015 Outback Stories

Consumer Reviews

Exterior Styling
(4.6)
Performance
(4.4)
Interior Design
(4.5)
Comfort
(4.6)
Reliability
(4.7)
Value For The Money
(4.6)

What Drivers Are Saying

(5.0)

My wife loves this car

by 1949yankee from Elmwood, Il on October 17, 2018

It is dependable no maintenance other than required, excellent in the snow. great rear folding seats very comfortable to drive long distances. Great color combination. Read full review

(5.0)

Our favorite vehicle ever!

by Jim and Judy from Las Cruces, NM on October 5, 2018

We?ve owned everything from Cadillacs to Infinitis to Jeeps, but our Outback is our favorite vehicle ever. Our dog Zoey picked it from a line of Outbacks displayed with the hatches up. She looked them ... Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2015 Subaru Outback currently has 0 recalls

Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

The 2015 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.*

Third-row access

N/A

Infant seat

A

Booster

(second row)

B

Booster

(third row)

N/A

Latch or Latch system

B

Forward-facing convertible

(third row)

N/A

Forward-facing convertible

(second row)

A

Rear-facing convertible

B
* 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