2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited Review
By Kevin Miller
I’ve just spent a week with the range-topping version of Subaru’s new-for-2010 fourth-generation Outback, the 3.6R Limited. Having recently had a week with a rather austere version of Subaru’s Legacy sedan, I rather enjoyed the week I spent with its elevated sibling.
The all-new 2010 Outback marks the fourth-generation of Subaru’s Sport Utility Wagon. The new Outback is available with two all-wheel drive powertrains; a: revised 170-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Boxer engine in the 2.5i, and a 256-hp 3.6-liter, Boxer engine in the 3.6R.The 2.5i is available with Outback’s first-ever 6-speed manual transmission or a Lineartronic CVT automatic which achieves a commendable 22/29 MPG EPA rating. The 3.6R has a five-speed automatic transmission.
Regardless of which powertrain you choose for your Outback, it is available in base, Premium, and Limited trim levels. The base level has plenty of standard safety and comfort features including air conditioning, electric parking brake, and front seat side/ side curtain/ front airbags; the Premium trim level adds a ten-way power driver’s seat, All-Weather Package (heated front seats and exterior mirrors), fog lights, leather wrapped steering wheel, and privacy glass. To those, the Limited trim adds leather upholstery, a four-way power passenger seat, and automatic dual-zone climate control.
I am no stranger to the Subaru Outback, as my mother and my mother-in-law each own second-generation Outback wagons; one with the standard boxer four, and the other an LL Bean Edition H6 3.0. While the cars have been flawless mechanically and utterly reliable, neither the front seat nor the back seat in those second-gen Outbacks are spacious enough for my 6’4” frame; being a driver or a passenger in either of those cars is not something I look forward to.
In that regard, the new Outback is a remarkable improvement over the old one. Front legroom and chair comfort have been improved, and the ten-way power driver’s seat found in most Outback trim levels combined with a tilt/telescope adjustable steering wheel make it easy to get comfortable up front. The Outback’s all -new platform with longer wheelbase and greater width also greatly increase passenger and cargo room. Subaru claims a nearly four-inch improvement in rear legroom; I would believe it. With the driver’s seat adjusted for me to drive the Outback, I was able to sit in the back seat behind the driver’s chair, with my knees just barely touching the back of the front seat. Too, I was able to position my daughter’s rear-facing child seat behind the passenger seat without compromising the front passenger’s legroom; this is the first car (other than the 2010 Legacy sedan) I’ve reviewed where this is the case. I cannot emphasize enough how big of an improvement this is over previous-generation Outback models. Note that the rear seatbacks are 60/40 split to recline or fold forward for accepting large cargo.
The expanded space in the Outback has allowed the creation of plenty of interior cubbies as well. There are good sized bins in the front and rear doors (each of which accepts a water bottle), dual cupholders front and rear. There is also an armrest-covered bin between the front seats, and a shallow divided tray under the cargo floor. While the upholstery of the door trim is nice, other parts of the doors (including the door bins), dash, and console are molded out of hard plastic. Thanks to big windows, outward visibility is superb.
Subaru has referred to the Outback as a Sport Utility Wagon almost since the vehicle’s first generation, and this fourth-generation Outback is closer than ever to being a Sport Utility Vehicle. The suspension and body have been made taller than before, so that the Outback I tested was nearly as tall as some SUVs I parked next to, including a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Stylistically, the new Outback has a more upscale look than its predecessor, and Subaru has worked hard to make the new car look more like an SUV or crossover than a raised wagon. My wife and some of our friends said it looked like a real SUV, mentioning Acura’s MDX by name as a visual comparison.
As noted above, the Outback 3.6R has a 256 HP horizontally-opposed six cylinder engine, which operates on regular unleaded gasoline and returns and 18/25 MPG EPA fuel economy rating (I saw 18.2 MPG during a week of mixed driving with an admittedly heavy use of the accelerator). New for 2010, this engine replaces the 3.0 liter H6 which produced 245 HP and required premium unleaded to achieve a 17/24 MPG fuel economy rating. The powerful new engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, and a Variable Torque Distribution (VTD) all-wheel drive system which uses a planetary gear-type center differential with electronically controlled continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch to divide engine power 45:55 front-rear, adjusting in response to driving conditions. That rear bias in the Outback 3.6R’s power distribution was noticeable, and made a dramatic difference in handling over the base Legacy model I had driven previously, which understeered profoundly at the limits of its handling. Note that different all-wheel drive systems which are not rear-biased are used in four-cylinder Outback models.
On the road, the Outback 3.6R accelerated quickly from a stop, always feeling like power was plentiful. The sophisticated AWD system always kept the car right on track, even on rain-slicked, leaf-covered roads. The Sport Utility Wagon’s suspension had a notable about of travel (as expected from observing its tall ride height), but was well-damped and provided a very refined, car-like ride. I didn’t have the opportunity to try the Outback on unpaved roads.
The 3.6R’s five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, though not particularly quickly. There are paddle shifters on the steering wheel and a manual shift gate on console-mounted shifter, but using either of these methods to manually shift the transmission fails to hasten shifts. At least the shifting logic will blip the throttle when the transmission finally decides to downshift.
The top-of-the-line Outback Limited trim level in the vehicle I tested comes with a number of upscale features, including an optional touchscreen navigation system with rear-view camera display, and automatic headlamps. Unfortunately, the logic circuitry of the automatic headlamps is way too sensitive- on overcast November days in the Seattle area the lamps would turn on as I passed under an overpass at freeway speeds, only to turn off again just as suddenly. That switching was noticeable in the cabin because the nav/entertainment screen would switch briefly to night mode, then back to day mode; this was incredibly irritating, as I’m sure my ‘flashing” headlamps were irritating to vehicles driving in front of me. I quickly disabled the automatic lamps, choosing instead to just operate the headlights manually with the switch when they were needed.
The Limited trim also adds a dual-zone climate control system. Although the system is electronically controlled, it isn’t particularly “smart”, as it will noisily blow the climate control fan very suddenly when the temperature seems to have stabilized. Too, the buttons to adjust temperature are very sensitive; a single touch can bump the temperature two or three degrees.
The 440 W Harman/Kardon branded stereo system that is paired with the touchscreen navigation system produced decent sound, but was nothing special. While the system offered Bluetooth handsfree telephone integration and Bluetooth audio streaming, it would not pair my iPhone to play audio since it was already paired as a telephone. The system also refused to import the list from my iPhone. I could operate my iPhone’s iPod feature through the head unit by USB connection, but the iPod’s menus can only be browsed when the car is at a stop. When in motion you are not allowed to change playlists or manually select songs other than by moving ahead one song at a time, which pretty much defeats the purpose of integrating the iPod controls with the car’s stereo. Oddly, when the iPhone was connected by USB to the system but not playing, I got a call and the iPod’s music began playing through/over the call.
Pricing for base, four-cylinder versions of the 2010 Subaru Outback starts at $22,995. The Harvest Gold Metallic (no, not the 1970s yellow appliance color by the same name) Outback 3.6R Limited I tested with Warm Ivory Leather interior has an MSRP of $31,690, with a surcharge of $2,995 for the combination of touchscreen navigation system and power moonroof (which is a standard moonroof rather than the panoramic type of the previous-generation Outback), $165 for the auto-dimming rearview mirror, and $695 destination fee, for a total of $34,850.
Subaru has really moved the fourth-generation Outback upscale compared to its predecessors, especially with the feature-rich 3.6R Limited. With improved power and fuel economy, available rear-biased all-wheel drive system, and tons of passenger room available at a reasonable price, the fourth-generation Outback is sure to continue the nameplate’s sales success, and its status as a capable, go-anywhere family wagon.
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