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2011 Subaru Outback ReviewThe Good
The 2011 Subaru Outback offers spacious comfort and refined performance with the 3.6-liter engine.The Bad
A frustrating navigation system and terrible 2.5-liter engine and continuously variable transmission combo absolutely ruin a good portion of the available trims of the 2011 Outback.
The CarGurus View
There’s no good option with the 2.5-liter engine, as the continuously variable transmission can’t maintain proper gearing, and the six-speed offers a vague clutch and a sloppy shift pattern. Better to go for the 3.6-liter engine, as it doesn’t suffer from the underpowered nature of the 2.5 and comes with a five-speed shiftable automatic, a better transmission than either of the 2.5-liter's options. Stay away from the navigation system, as it’s part of an expensive package that forces deletion of the Harman Kardon 6-CD changer, a great option that's included in the sunroof package along with satellite radio and Bluetooth.
At a Glance
The Outback is Subaru’s wagon version of the Legacy sedan, here offered in naturally aspirated four- and six-cylinder versions. When it debuted, "Crocodile Dundee" actor Paul Hogan introduced it as the Legacy Outback, and it was truly a modified version of that vehicle with a new body and suspension. Since then, it has evolved into its own vehicle, but it maintains the Subaru standards of boxer engines and AWD on a four-wheel independent suspension.
For 2011, the Outback is offered in six trims, spread out evenly between the two available engines. A rear-view camera is a new option in Premium trims for this year, although not much else is changed, coming so soon after last year’s redesign.
The 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, and 2.5i Limited trims get a 170-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces a matching 170 lb-ft of torque. Horsepower peaks at 5,600 rpm, while torque shows up a bit earlier at 4,000. You can choose between a six-speed manual rated at 19/27 mpg or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that manages 22/29. Both transmissions have seen criticism, as the CVT can hunt a bit while climbing, and the six-speed suffers from vague clutch feel and an imprecise shifter.
A 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder engine powers the rest of the trims, offering 256 hp at 6,000 rpm with 247 lb-ft of torque 1,600 rpm earlier. A five-speed shiftable automatic is a disappointment conceptually, but welcome functionally, as it’s the best transmission offered in the lineup. If only it had one more cog.
Ride & Handling
The Outback offers one of the most balanced rides of any crossover, feeling much more like a car than a truck or SUV. AWD confidence allows off-road jaunts, while still maintaining a level of comfort on the road that allows for all-day travel. It’s not a performance machine and will lean a bit in turns, but it doesn’t provide the wallow and float of larger vehicles.
Steering is weighted and progressive for a strong feel that never gets too light or too heavy, and the brakes are firm and responsive. The 2.5 Premium and all 3.6 trims come with 17-inch wheels that do little to increase handling or bump resonance over the 16-inch base units.
Cabin & Comfort
Confusion abounds with cabin options, as Limited trims with the navigation system are forced to swap out the 6-CD stereo for a single-CD setup. Even more frustrating is the fact that the navigation data comes on a DVD that must be in the unit, meaning you can't play a CD while using it. This aside, the controls are intuitive and easy to reach.
Materials are of an appropriate quality, with the exception of a faux-wood trim that fools no one. The major issue here is from the 2.5-liter engine, especially when teamed with the CVT. The distinctive growl of the boxer-four is far from refined, and the hunting tendencies of the CVT only increase the annoyance as it permeates into the cabin.
What deserves special mention are the room and comfort of the Outback, both represented in abundance here. Occupants well over 6 feet tall will have no problem front or back and will even find comfort for trips long or short.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction and vehicle dynamics control, stability control, daytime running lights, and six standard airbags are joined by the Subaru staples of symmetrical AWD and a four-wheel independent suspension.
2011 NHTSA ratings for the Outback have not yet been released due to the new testing specifications and procedures they’ve implemented this year, but as the Outback has changed only slightly from 2010, the five-star 2010 ratings earned in all tests except rollover resistance can apply to the 2011 model. For 2010, the Outback earned four stars for rollover resistance. It should be noted, however, that the NHTSA’s new procedures have been described by the company as involving more stringent benchmarks, and therefore five-star ratings should not be assumed to cross over.
What Owners Think
Owners are quite disappointed in the 2011 Outback's 2.5-liter engine, especially when paired with the CVT. It’s noisy, underpowered, and unrefined, and the frustration only mounts when coupled with the hunting nature of the CVT. While the overall finish of the Outback is a strong point, the lack of available options does frustrate, with some wanting to upgrade their Outback more than possible. A major source of complaints is the confusing matter of the navigation system and the unnecessary deletion of the 6-CD changer.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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