Auto Review: The wagon thrives in the Outback

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Jan. 24, 2013
- Contributed Photo

For a number of years, a lot of automotive enthusiasts basically implied the station wagon was dead and would forever be just a memory as minivans and SUVs took over the duties formerly assigned to these stalwart family cars. But as is true with so many concepts that were great to begin with, the station wagon is still with us, although it has certainly evolved from the supertanker Vista Cruisers of yesteryear.

Nowhere is the modern wagon thriving more than at your Subaru dealer, where the Outback wagon has enjoyed great sales success, especially in parts of the country (like ours) that can really use its standard all-wheel drive to help counter winter’s slick influence. The Outback is also a very versatile, solid wagon with room for a fair amount of passengers and cargo and a very atypical engine design (along with standard all-wheel drive on every model they sell) that helps give Subarus a personality all their own.

The Outback is built on a chassis with a slightly raised suspension for better ground clearance, yet the Flat Four Boxer engine has a low profile to help maintain a reasonably low center of gravity. The engine is tweaked for 2013 to deliver more power and efficiency, with its 2.5 liters putting out 173 horsepower (a Flat Six is also available in the 3.6R model with 256 ponies).  Our Limited version came with a new Lineartronic Continuously Variable Automatic transmission that is lighter, more responsive and quieter than previous Subaru CVTs (a six-speed manual gearbox is also available). As mentioned, Symmetrical Active All-Wheel Drive is standard and keeps wheelspin to a minimum, and no matter what the road conditions, this wagon is always sure-footed.

Acceleration is fairly quick, with 60 mph arriving in around 9.5 seconds. A slightly different all-wheel drive system comes with the manual transmission, but is likewise quite sophisticated. The CVT transmission is indeed quieter than before, and while the ride is firmer than many small SUVs, it’s never unduly harsh and handling is responsive. Braking performance is solid, and an optional EyeSight safety system with Pre-Collision Braking, Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure and Sway Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control is also available.

One of the key reasons station wagons are still with us is their interior versatility, and a key Outback feature is the useful space offered in what is still a fairly compact package. The front seats are roomy and supportive (although not at the  level of sport seats), and with the exception of the radio controls which are initially counter-intuitive, the switch layout for the driver is fairly logical. The rear seats are roomy and cargo room is plentiful: 34.3 cubic feet with the seatbacks in position, expanding to 71.3 with the seats folded. Sound interior workmanship has been a real strength with Subarus of late and the trend certainly continues with this latest Outback model.

The 2013 Subaru Outback Limited 2.5i is EPA rated 24 city/30 highway and has a base price of $29,395. With options, our sticker came to $33,907.

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