Drive around most towns in the Northeast and you'll see so many Subaru Outbacks you might think the company is giving them away.
The Outback has been "New England's car" for years; anyone looking to re-up will find Subaru has redesigned this cherished model for 2010, making roomier for passengers and cargo. This fourth generation Outback has been revamped to spread Subaru's appeal to the SUV-loving general public.
Subaru still calls it a wagon, but the lines are blurring. The car sure looks more like an SUV, maybe even more than the Toyota Venza, which figures to be among its main competitors.
This Outback 3.6R Limited Sport Utility Wagon is powered by a 3.6-liter horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. The engine runs on regular gas and is rated at 18 miles per gallon city and 25 highway. It produces a quite-usable minimum of 225 lb.-ft. of torque from 2,000 to 6,000 rpm, with a maximum of 247 lb.-ft. at 4,500. The engine was easily up to all everyday driving tasks.
We'd have liked to try the four-cylinder version with the CVT, especially since the 2010 models, despite their expanded dimensions, add less than 100 pounds of weight.
We found the Outback comfortable on all creature-comfort fronts. The heated leather seats were plenty big and supportive. Interior materials, including wood trim, were of good quality.
Subaru, however, has included a "what's-this-for?" miles-per-gallon gauge in lieu of an engine temperature gauge. Frankly, it's pretty useless. Push on the accelerator and it drops way down, take your foot off the gas and it goes way up. It's also redundant given there's an on-board computer that shows instant and overall mpg (it kept saying we were averaging 24.2 mpg) and miles-to-empty.
However, you had to look carefully to find the toggle control. It's a black-on-black stalk coming out of the speedometer. The ride, especially on the highway, was comfortable and predictable. Steering was steady. My test is driving Rte. 95 north of Topsfield late a night-a dark stretch with faded lane markers. The Subaru was easy to keep on track.
Even at 40 mph over ready-to-be-repaved grooved roadway, it was comfortable to carry on a conversation. Subaru's tried-and-true symmetrical all-wheel- drive system is standard as is stability control.
Also standard is an electronic parking brake, a feature that takes some getting used to if you're among the dwindling number of drivers who use their parking brake. The brake also has a built-in hill-holding feature, which seems unnecessary with an automatic transmission. We kept meaning to try it but kept forgetting.
Outback pricing starts at $22,295 for a base model with a four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. Opting for the automatic-a constant variable (CVT) transmission-adds $1,000. Prices continue to escalate as you step up to the Premium and Limited versions and/or to the six-cylinder, which also is available in all three trim levels.
All versions come with automatic headlights, cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and an innovative set of roof rails that incorporate crossbars that can tuck into the rails to cut wind resistance when not in use. The premium adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, rear privacy glass, eight-way power driver's seat with an great-for-New Englanders option for an all-weather package that includes heated side mirrors, seats, and windshield wiper de-icer.
That all-weather package is standard on the Limited, as is a Harman Kardon stereo, dual-zone climate control and leather upholstery. Mrs. G gave it her seal of "plush" approval.
While the Outback looks bigger in all respects, it's partly an illusion. The 2010 actually is an inch shorter than its predecessor but 2.3 inches higher and 2 inches wider. Because the overhang is less at each end, the wheelbase is 2.8 inches longer and there's 4 inches of added rear-seat legroom.
Bottom line: This is a nice package at a fair price.