Taking the 2015 Subaru Outback to task in Oregon's high desert

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(July 6, 2014) I'm not the kind of guy who gets jaded after years and years of being entertained and informed by car companies. In many respects, I still approach most media car launches wide eyed and full of anticipation. After more than 25 years, I still love what I do and appreciate when carmakers include me in their events.

It's a simple fact, though, some carmakers do it better than others. It may be a function of budget, but more of
ten than not, it has to do with attitude. Some carmakers view their media outreach as a chore to be avoided at all costs, virtually ignoring media whenever possible.

Subaru is on the other end of the spectrum as one of a handful of car manufacturers still approaching media with a degree of enthusiasm and creativity.

 I recently spent four days in Oregon with Subaru being immersed in all things Outback.

Outrageously important to Subaru, Outback is its second-best selling vehicle behind the larger Forester. Arguably the first crossover and certainly the original “sport utility wagon,” it really put Subaru on the map. The redesigned 2015 Outback is the fifth generation of this popular git'r-done wagon.

Subaru chose the Bend, Oregon area to show off its next Outback. Bend itself looks like the giant display floor in an interactive Outback museum. Every intersection, parking lot and trail head is brimming with examples of Outback's four previous generations. They are like rolling kudzu overwhelming the Oregon vehicle landscape.

Those of us flying into Oregon arrived by way of Redmond, Oregon's airport. Subaru then whisked us the 14 miles to Brasada Ranch about 20 miles outside of Bend. “Ranch” isn't quite an accurate descriptor of this 1,800-acre property. It would be like calling a Four Seasons a motel. I've stayed at a number of guest ranches: some rather rustic and others remarkably upscale. Brasada definitely falls into the upscale bracket. It offers a golf course, spa, fitness center, as well as horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking and so forth.

Once upon a time it was a sheep farm called the Shumway Ranch. Apparently when new owners decided to transform it into a resort, some sharp marketing type decided people capable of ponying up more than $800 per night would be more likely to do that at a joint called Brasada Ranch rather than Shumway Ranch. I'm no marketing genius, but I concur.

No matter the name, the view of the snow-covered Cascade Mountain peaks is breathtaking. Most of us spent our nights in the Sage Canyon Cabins. Again, “cabin” is a bit misleading. These were anything but cabin-esque. Subaru bunked us two to a unit. We each had a large bedroom and bath, but shared a great room including a full kitchen, dining room and lounge area.

 Because the property is so sprawling, each cabin was assigned its own golf cart. I usually left the cart to my roomie and walked to most functions, but did avail myself of the electrified transport more than once.

On the second day, Subaru mapped out a drive route intentionally designed to show off the 2015 Outback's all-wheel-drive prowess. Much of the road surface was dirt or gravel. Although its generous 8.7-inch ground clearance rarely came into play, Outback's capability off the asphalt was nothing short of impressive. But here's the thing, thanks to sharing some of its AWD engineering with the WRX STI, on paved roads it grips in the corners like a go cart. What? Who'da thunk?

My driving buddy and I piloted both the four- and six-cylinder versions. Yes, I really like the power and acceleration of the six, but would buy the four-cylinder if given the choice. It delivers a robust 175 horsepower, but still managed to earn an EPA-estimated combined-mpg rating of 28 mpg. And remember, that's with AWD!

The six-cylinder generates 256 horsepower and delivers 22 mpg in combined driving.

A tad bigger on the outside results in nearly every interior dimension being larger. Scads of new technology and safety features are either standard or optional: rearview camera, blind-spot detection, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Front-seat-cushion airbags deploy in frontal crashes to help keep passengers from submarining under the dashboard. EyeSight utilizes stereo-camera technology, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane-departure warning technology to warn the driver of an impending frontal crash and even bringing the car to a full stop if the driver fails to respond.

 Our midday driving break for lunch was at Lake Billy Chinook. There we chowed down on sandwiches, enjoying the view.

Dinner that evening was a few miles away from our cabins on one of the ranch's mountain peaks. More than 20 of us chose to take a trail ride (on the Outback Trail, no less) to dinner. Our guides separated us into groups of five and spread out our departures to minimize the dust. This part of Oregon is high desert and “dry” doesn't begin to describe it.

I hadn't been on a horse in about a year. I did bring my riding boots and riding gloves with me. My horse Sunny was compact, but spirited. I was able to mount him without standing on something – rare for little old me. When I first mounted him, one of the wranglers told me that he was very responsive and would go when prodded. A couple of times on the trail I nudged his flanks with my heels and go he did. I'd love to put him in a trailer and haul him with me to Eatons' Ranch in Wyoming this September. I liked this horse!

After dinner we adjourned to an outdoor lounge area where we witnessed a spectacular sunset. Good sense had our band of intrepid cowboys going back to the lodging area by car.

I accepted Subaru's invitation to stay an additional day to go white-water rafting on the Deschutes River. I characterize that experience as bracing.

Although long — Redmond and Greenville/Spartanburg airports are both a bit off the beaten path — my flights home were uneventful.

A fitting end to a glorious week!