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Utility, all-but-cavernous cabin room, sedan-like ride comfort, strong safety ratings, decent off-road capabilities with standard all-wheel drive and the choice of 4-cylinder efficiency or 6-cylinder power ensure the midsize 2012 Subaru Outback wagon’s popularity.The Bad
Lackluster handling, less-than-optimum passing power with the 4-cylinder powerplant, a tepid options selection and some finicky controls suggest the 2012 Outback still needs a few more tweaks.
The CarGurus View
Possibly the most value-laden family wagon out there, the 2012 Subaru Outback continues to impress. Utility and style, power and performance, and especially the all-wheel drive traction that’s standard across the lineup, combine to keep this midsize people-hauler near the top of the tire-kicking list. Further perks include competitive pricing, strong safety scores and that traditional Japanese reliability and resale value.
At a Glance
It remains safe to assume that Subaru’s 2012 Outback midsize wagon remains the quintessential family automobile. With comfortable seating for 5, the choice of either a horizontally opposed (“boxer”) 4-cylinder powerplant or a horizontally opposed 6-cylinder engine, 71.3 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seatbacks down (34.3 cubic feet to the second-row seats) and, of course, standard all-wheel-drive (AWD), this well-wrought commuter car, vacation vehicle and mall hopper keeps piling up the praises. All these perks, in combination with award-winning safety scores and adult-size rear-seat comfort, would indicate that the average family could do a lot worse than this Japanese jewel.
Once again, the Outback is available in 6 value-laden trims: the base 2.5i, the amped-up 2.5i Premium, the optimally equipped 2.5i Limited, and the 6-cylinder 3.6R, the 3.6R Premium, and the flagship 3.6R Limited. Each of the 2.5i trims is available in PZEV (Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicle) format, sporting some tweaks in engine efficiency to comply with California’s legendary emissions standards with the result being a cleaner, if somewhat more expensive, powerplant. Meantime, with a lofty 8.7 inches of ground clearance, a relatively beefy frame and standard AWD traction, this classy Subaru, though certainly not a Land Rover or a Wrangler, acquits itself quite handsomely in light and moderate off-road duties.
Only a few marginal improvements have been made to the Outback’s features list this year. Premium trims get an upgraded standard sound system with iPod interface and Bluetooth capability, while Harman Kardon’s high-end 440-watt, 9-speaker sound system is now optional for the Premium trims as well. Lastly, a redesigned roof rack with integrated crossbars is standard aboard all Outback variations this year.
VW’s Jetta Sportwagen and Volvo’s XC70 offer wagons of a comparable size to Subaru’s midsize people hauler, though the Sportwagen offers considerably less interior space, while the XC70 costs a lot more. Should a crossover be considered over the Outback, check out such domestic offerings as the Chevrolet Equinox or the Dodge Journey, or fellow Asian offerings such as Honda’s legendary CR-V or Nissan’s competent Murano.
Chances are, however, that Subaru’s right-size wagon will fulfill all your family vacation, errand-running and commuting wishes just fine.
Standard power for the 2012 Outback 2.5i editions is a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine that puts out 170 hp at 5,600 rpm. With either the standard 6-speed manual transmission or the available continuously variable transmission (CVT), look for 170 lb-ft of torque from this boxy four-banger. Towing again is maxed out at some 2,700 pounds with the proper equipment, and variable valve timing (VVT) results in mileage numbers estimated at 19 mpg city/27 highway using the stick-shift, and 22/29 with the CVT.
Those Outback trims bearing the 3.6R designation pack a 3.6-liter horizontally opposed 6-cylinder powerplant, again with VVT, that mates only with a 5-speed shiftable automatic transmission. Look for a hefty 256 hp at 6,000 rpm from this peppy six, as well as 247 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Towing tops out at 3,000 pounds, with the proper equipment, though mileage, alas, drops to an estimated 18/25.
Subaru’s full-time symmetrical AWD system, meanwhile, allows all Outback trims to offer admirable snow- and terrain-taming capability, with the symmetrical mechanism ensuring that added torque is transmitted to the wheels with the best grip in various driving conditions. Be advised, however, that this family-oriented wagon is not suited to heavy-duty off-road bushwhacking.
Tests of a 2.5i with the CVT resulted in a 0-60 time of 9.8 seconds, which is about right for this class, while the stick-shift-equipped edition shaved this time to 9.4 seconds, certainly spiffy for a family wagon. Meanwhile, the 6-cylinder versions toting the 5-speed automatic make the same journey in an impressive 7.3 seconds.
The above results have reviewers lauding the four-banger’s efficiency and around-town performance, though more than a few opine that the four-banger could use a few more ponies for optimum highway performance. The available CVT, meanwhile, has issues handling hilly terrain, according to most reviewers, while merging and passing will require a bit of foresight, as well. Virtually all reviews concede that the V6 is far stronger in all situations, with the 5-speed automatic performing almost flawlessly. Finally, reviewers agree that the 2.5i, especially with the CVT, is raucous on acceleration and still not very refined at highway speeds, while the V6 sounds throaty on hard acceleration and quiets nicely at cruising speeds.
Ride & Handling
All 2012 Outback trims tote a 4-wheel independent suspension complemented by MacPherson front struts, a double-wishbone rear end and stabilizer bars fore and aft. The base 2.5i rolls on 16-inch steel wheels mounting all-season tires, while all other trims boast 17-inch alloy wheels, again mounting all season tires.
Based on the Legacy sedan, Subaru’s midsize wagon boasts a compliant, almost car-like ride, according to most reviewers, with smaller bumps handled quite nicely. Larger imperfections, however, will result in some minor jiggle and jive. The beefy chassis, meantime, handles light off-road duties competently while seeing to it that sacrifices to ride comfort remain minimized.
A fine feel to the steering wheel has most reviewers commending the Outback’s handling capabilities, with on-road agility compromised only by some middling body lean in sharp curves, even when taken at normal speeds. Virtually all reviewers conclude that the Legacy-based suspension leads to spiffier moves not often seen in the ordinary wagon.
Brakes, finally, are noted by most reviewers to be potent and true, with good pedal feel. Tests of the base 2.5i, however, had it stopping from 60 mph in a rather lengthy 130 feet, while the 3.6R version, with its larger brakes, came to a halt in 126 feet; that's better, reviewers concede, but still not impressive.
Cabin & Comfort
Though adequately equipped for the desires of the average family, Subaru’s 2012 Outback is not a luxury wagon by any means. The base 2.5i and 3.6R versions nonetheless sport the standard reworked roof rack and power-adjustable mirrors outside, while cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, reclining rear seats and simulated alloy trim grace the inside. Remote power door locks and power windows remain standard, as do cruise control and telescoping tilt-wheel steering. Air conditioning is, of course, standard, as are front and rear floor mats, while entertainment is provided by an MP3-capable single-CD player boasting 4 speakers and auxiliary MP3 input.
The midlevel 2.5i and 3.6R Premium trims add, besides an additional pair of audio speakers and a USB port, a rear spoiler, privacy glass, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, and Bluetooth hands-free communications technology. Additionally, the 3.6R Premium trim is delivered with heated front seats.
Outback 2.5i and 3.6R Limited trims pile on, besides heated front seats in the 2.5i, a 4-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, leather-trimmed upholstery, heated outside mirrors, leather, simulated alloy and simulated wood grain cabin trim accents, and dual-zone climate control. As a bonus, Limited trims also flaunt a standard 440-watt Harman Kardon premium audio system that includes 9 speakers, satellite radio and an auxiliary iPod interface. Finally, all 3.6R trims are delivered with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Besides lower trims remaining eligible for many items that come standard aboard upper-level trims, all Outback trims can be delivered with the Popular Equipment Group 1B boasting auto-dimming rear-view mirrors, a compass and a universal remote garage door opener. Further options for all trims include a Class II towing hitch, rear-seat DVD entertainment and remote engine start, with manual-transmission versions offered with an available short-throw shifter. An Illumination Package is also available to all Outback trims, with Premium and Limited versions eligible for an available upgraded 440-watt, 9-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, a navigation suite and/or a power sunroof in a combination of packages.
Most reviewers find Subaru’s midsize wagon appropriately equipped for its price, though many agree that a few more options choices would be nice. A few reviewers are unimpressed with the tough-to-distinguish push-button climate controls, while the available navigation system is thought to complicate audio functions. Both front and rear seats are declared comfortable and properly fitted, with virtually all reviewers noting that the rear-seat area is among the most spacious on the midsize-wagon market. Meanwhile, a number of reviews give the Outback kudos for its tasteful accent textures and padded surfaces, though a couple of reviews note that the simulated wood grain door and dash accents found in the Limited are less than convincing.
Finally, with its 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard height-adjustable driver’s seat, Subaru’s practical wagon displays, in the opinion of virtually all reviewers, superb visibility all around.
Maintaining its reputation as a safety-oriented family vehicle, the 2012 Outback lineup totes 4-wheel antilock brakes, bolstered by electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency braking assist. Traction and stability control, front and rear head airbags, and dual front side-mounted airbags again come standard in each of Subaru’s midsize wagons, while daytime running lights, dusk-sensing headlights and a remote antitheft alarm are also delivered across the Outback spectrum.
Available safety equipment for the Premium and Limited versions of both the 2.5i and 3.6R editions include front fog/driving lights and, with the Popular Equipment Group 1B, an upgraded antitheft alarm.
As a Top Safety Pick of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Outback scores a perfect Good in all testing criteria except small overlap side impact tests, where it garners a second-best Adequate rating.
Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2012 Outback its second-highest rating of 4 stars in overall safety, with 4 stars awarded for front and side crash test results, as well as for rollover protection.
What Owners Think
Owners, though generally impressed with Subaru’s 2012 Outback wagons, do have a few complaints. Mileage with the 6-cylinder powerplant is often noted to be below advertised numbers, and the four-banger endowing the 2.5i trims is considered to be lacking the necessary oomph for confident merging and passing. Frustrations with the available navigation system, among other techno-gizmos, disappoint more than a few owners, while a few others find that a breakdown of bolstering and fabric besets the cloth-upholstered front seats over what seems to be a disturbingly short time. Finally, several owners grouse that the electrically operated parking brake takes a lot of getting used to and that the standard tires remain noisy and prone to early wear.
On the positive side, owners offer hearty praise for this midsize wagon’s cabin and cargo space, its practicality, its 4-cylinder mileage numbers, its 6-cylinder pep and, of course, its standard AWD configuration. High safety scores and traditional Subaru value also rate high in owner satisfaction with this latest Outback offering.
Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
What's your take on the 2012 Subaru Outback?
2012 Subaru Outback Top Comparisons
Users ranked 2012 Subaru Outback against other cars which they drove/owned. Each ranking was based on 9 categories. Here is the summary of top rankings.
Cars compared to 2012 Subaru Outback
Looking for a Used Outback in your area?
CarGurus has 33,805 nationwide Outback listings starting at $1,856.
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- Avg. Price: $11,155
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- Avg. Price: $10,582
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- Avg. Price: $12,415
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