Time tested Subaru Outback offers 2.5XT Limited for 2007

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Crossover utility vehicles are the rage with sales expected to double by the end of the decade.

They are the station wagons of the 21st Century, the new people haulers replacing truck-based sport utilities. Although they’re built on a car platform, they retain the high ride and bad-weather capability of the traditional SUV. And they usually come with a car-like ride and gas mileage closer to a sedan than a truck.

But what if you prefer the more traditional look of a wagon and the driving dynamics of a car, but want all the advantages offered by the CUV?

Subaru has held the answer to that question for years — it’s called the Outback. In fact, the Outback may be considered among the first modern crossovers, predating such early offerings as the economy-minded Toyota RAV4 and the luxury-tinged Lexus RX300.

The Outback rides slightly higher than a traditional hatchback and all models come with all-wheel drive. The Outback is rugged enough for light-duty off-road work — who does heavy-duty stuff? — and it’s adroit at handling snow and slush. Just ask thousands of satisfied customers.

The Outback interior is impeccably crafted with good-quality materials, fit and finish is excellent, controls are intuitive and the seats are comfortable and stay that way even after hundreds of miles. All Outback models get decent gas mileage and the top two engine configurations yield solid if not breath-taking performance.

But the Outback is in the fight of its life.

That’s because the new breed of crossovers offers virtually identical qualities in handsome packages, and in some cases at a lesser price. While the Outback once stood alone, a segment has formed around it with several new vehicles coming on line every year including Subaru’s own well thought of Forester. New 2007 products that mimic the Outback include the Mazda CX-7, the Acura RDX and the Ford Edge.

It’s the Outback’s sedan-like qualities that make the Subaru attractive to us, particularly the smooth ride and the impeccable low-speed handling and maneuverability on crowded streets and parking lots.

Although it offers more ground clearance — 8.7 inches — than a standard-issue sedan or hatchback, it isn't bothered by the top-heavy characteristics of the typical crossover.

The Outback stacks up well against the RDX, CX-7 and Edge in cargo capacity with a maximum 62 cubic feet of space. Only the Edge has more at 70. And the Outback ranks mid-pack with a towing capacity of 2,700 pounds. But face it; you don’t buy any of these vehicles for their towing prowess.

The Outback’s advantage in slow-speed maneuverability is pointed out by its tight 35.4-foot turning circle. Our three competitive examples range from 36.4 feet (CX-7) to 38 feet (Edge).

On the flip side, the Outback has tight rear-seat accommodations compared to the competition. Passengers must gain compromises with those in front to find any kind of comfort.

Performance is also a key aspect of the Outback, which at 3,500 pounds has a considerable weight advantage over most of the crossover field. The relatively low curb weight matched to a couple of muscular engine offerings yields satisfying forward momentum.

Our top-of-the-line test vehicle — the 2.5 XT Limited with navigation — was outfitted with a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder generating 250 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. It can be ordered with either a five-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission.

Also available, particularly for those people who are not fans of turbocharging, is a 3.0-liter horizontally opposed 6-cylinder generating 250 horsepower. It comes only with the automatic.

Both a very athletic — 0-60 in 6.8 seconds for the turbo — with nearly equal gas mileage ratings — 20 city/26 highway for the turbo and 19/26 for the 6-cylinder.

A normally aspirated base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 175 horsepower is standard in most trim levels. In addition to coming in at a lesser price point, the standard four mated to the automatic transmission is rated at 22/28 on regular gas.

Our turbo tester featured something new in the Outback arsenal — Subaru Intelligent Drive. SI-Drive, as it's called, alters transmission response by selecting three modes, one of which is supposed to deliver a 10 percent savings in fuel usage. But we figure most people will select “Sport” or “Sport Sharp” modes for more satisfying performance.

The Outback can be purchased in a wide range of prices from $22,620 to $34,820. That’s a lot of flex for any brand. But even the least of the Outback’s comes with considerable safety equipment and a lot of standard features. Standard safety includes antilock brakes, front-seat side airbags, side-curtain airbags, anti-whiplash front head restraints and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

When it comes down to making an Outback purchase, customers may feel light headed over the myriad of options and trim line choices. There are five trim levels including an L.L. Bean 6-cylinder edition. A 2.5 turbo L. L. Bean edition will be added this year as well. And to add more flavoring to the Subaru stew, the Outback can be purchased in sedan form, an upgrade from the standard Legacy.

Our flagship 2.5 XT Limited turbocharged model carried a bottom line price of $34,820 including destination. For those seeking to get the most value for their cash, the turbocharged models start at $31,620 and the 6-cylinder begins at $32,120.

We enjoyed the energetic performance of the turbocharged engine that was mostly devoid of turbo-lag and we still think the Outback ride is equal or superior to anything in the segment. The interior is driver-friendly. The car-like handling was smile-inducing.

And we’ll take the word of those who would know who say the Outback is a great bad-weather friend.


Base price: $22,620; as driven, $34,820

Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged 4 cylinder
Horsepower: 250 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 250 foot-pounds @ 3,600 rpm

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase: 105.1 inches

Length: 188.7 inches

Curb weight: 3,500 pounds

Luggage capacity: 32.1 cubic feet

Turning circle: 35.4 feet

Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons

EPA mileage: 26 mpg highway, 20 city

0-60: 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver)

Also consider: Acura RDX, Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, Toyota Highlander, Subaru Forester

The Good:

• Powerful engine choices
• Car-like ride and handling

• Winter-weather friendly with all-wheel drive

The Bad:

• Tight backseat accommodations

The Ugly:

• Nicely outfitted Outback can run more than 35 grand