2018 Subaru Outback Review

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2018 Subaru Outback Overview

Unless you've been living on the moon for the past two decades, you probably don't need an introduction to the Subaru Outback. When it debuted worldwide in the mid '90s, the Outback (initially known as the Legacy Outback) tapped into an underserved market segment and helped launch the crossover vehicle concept. Though technically just a raised wagon with some rugged exterior features and all-wheel drive (AWD), it provided what buyers were looking for and has become Subaru's most visible vehicle. It also serves as the company's unofficial flagship model, for even though it's still based on the Legacy, it now outsells its parent vehicle by nearly 4-to-1. For 2018, Subaru gives the Outback a thorough mid-generation refresh.

Given its success and the heavy competition in the crossover market, it makes sense that Subaru strives to ensure the Outback remains as shiny and new as possible. The refreshed 2018 model comes with updated exterior styling, a retuned suspension, new noise-reduction features, and a revised interior with a new center console, more premium materials, and additional tech and safety equipment. These updates come midway through the Outback's fifth generation and match many of the same upgrades made to the 2018 Legacy. The two are still linked when it comes to design, features, and updates, even though the automaker now offers the Legacy only as a sedan and the Outback only as a wagon.

Highlights of the 2018 Outback’s exterior revisions include an updated front end with a new hexagonal grille, fascia, and bumper, as well as redesigned headlights with daytime running lights. The changes are subtle, especially to the grille and headlights, but do further emphasize the Outback's bold styling. Other minor exterior updates, like the revised side mirrors and rear wheel-well aprons, help reduce noise inside the cabin. Subaru has also redesigned the cladding up front to provide better protection against mud and stones that might be thrown up against the body.

Subaru offers the 2018 Outback in base 2.5i, better-equipped 2.5i Premium, mid-level 2.5i Limited, and top-of-the-line 2.5i Touring trims, as well as the more powerful 3.6R Limited and 3.6R Touring trims. LED daytime running lights and roof rails come standard on all trims, while the Limited and Touring trims receive upgraded side mirrors with integrated turn signals. New this year, the automaker's steering-responsive LED headlights now come standard on the 3.6R Limited and Touring trims and are available on the 2.5i Limited. The base and Premium trims continue to ride on 17-inch alloy wheels, while the Limited and Touring trims get 18-inch alloy wheels. The Limited trims also receive a new high-contrast wheel design for 2018.

A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder boxer-style engine continues to provide base power for the Outback. It delivers 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, which some reviewers consider slightly underpowered for a 5-passenger wagon tipping the scales at around 3,600 pounds. Those looking for snappier performance should consider the 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine powering the 3.6R trims, which boosts output to a more substantial 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. Subaru pairs both engines with a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and a 7-speed manual shift mode. For 2018, Subaru has retuned the CVT and updated its timing chain on 2.5i trims to provide smoother and quieter operation when accelerating. Fuel-economy numbers for the 4-cylinder engine check in at 25 mpg city, 32 highway, and 28 combined, while the 6-cylinder manages numbers of 20, 27, and 22. Both engines run on regular unleaded fuel.

The Outback gets an updated suspension for 2018 with retuned suspension dampers, resulting in a smoother ride. Engineers also adjusted the electric power steering to provide a more precise feel and better handling, while the updated brakes deliver improved feedback. All models come standard with Subaru’s Active Torque Vectoring, which monitors the braking and steering systems to ensure sharp handling and cornering, and the driver-selectable X-Mode system, which works in conjunction with the AWD system to reduce wheel spin on slippery roads. Hill-Descent Control also comes standard, along with traction control, electronic stability control, and brake assist.

Some of the Outback's biggest attributes are its versatility, cargo capacity, and off-road capability. The 60/40-split rear seatbacks recline for passenger comfort and fold flat to create a level load surface. With the seats up, the Outback offers 35.5 cubic feet of storage space, which expands to 73.3 cubic feet when the seats are folded. The Outback has a ground clearance of 8.7 inches and a towing capacity of 2,700 pounds, adding to its versatility.

The Outback gains a new Titanium Gray interior color scheme for 2018, which joins the existing Slate Black and Warm Ivory interior colors. The steering wheel has been tweaked for a better feel, and all trims receive a redesigned center stack and console. Stitching on the dash now comes standard on all trims except the base, and the Limited and Touring trims get additional stitching on the seats and door panels, as well as black cabin trim and silver control knobs. Subaru has also updated the air-conditioning system to provide faster, more efficient cooling and improved AC controls. Other new features include a reversing camera with more accurate guidelines, a redesigned clock with a larger face, and a revised electrical system that retains power for a short period of time after the driver switches off the ignition so that passengers can adjust the controls and lighting or open and close the windows.

The base 2.5i trim comes standard with cloth upholstery, a 6-way manually adjustable driver's seat, the automaker's Starlink multimedia system with a 6.5-inch display screen, a reversing camera, and a 4-speaker audio system. The Starlink system includes support for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Pandora, and a wide range of additional apps. Stepping up a notch, the 2.5i Premium adds a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electroluminescent gauges, dual-zone climate control, and an 8-inch screen with a 6-speaker audio system. The Limited trims get leather upholstery, a power-adjustable front-passenger seat, heated rear seats, push-button start, a powered rear gate, a power moonroof, and a Harmon Kardon audio system. The Touring tops the lineup with such additional features as Java Brown perforated leather upholstery with contrast ivory stitching, a heated steering wheel, woodgrain trim, and navigation.

Subaru updated the Outback's tire pressure monitoring system for 2018, so it now detects pressure changes in individual tires. As for other standard safety features, the Limited and Touring trims come equipped with blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. Touring trims receive the automaker's EyeSight suite of driver-assistance technologies, which includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist. Owners can also add EyeSight as an option on the Premium and Limited trims. The 2017 Legacy received Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) and a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway and Traffic Association (NHTSA), which should carry forward to 2018.

Although the Outback spearheaded the concept of the crossover SUV, it now faces a highly competitive marketplace. While direct competitors include the similarly priced Volkswagen Golf SportWagen and the more expensive Audi Allroad and Volvo V90 wagons, the Outback also faces off against cargo-friendly crossovers like the Toyota Prius and new C-HR, the Chevrolet Trax and Equinox, the Mazda CX-5, the Hyundai Tucson, and the Nissan Murano, among many others. In fact, the broader crossover SUV segment now counts more than 40 vehicles, offering buyers a wide array of choices. But the Outback's recognizable name, rugged styling, cargo versatility, and overall reputation should continue to play in its favor.

Updated

Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.

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