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2015 Subaru Outback: First Drive

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“Gear up!”

It's what outdoorsy people often remind each other—whether experienced granola-and-carabiner types or relative newbies—before heading out to the back country. Having the right gear can make a situation that would otherwise be trying or unpleasant turn into an adventure. And as we confirmed this past week in a first drive of the 2015 Subaru Outback, if you have an active, outdoorsy household but don't want to cripple your commute, compromise comfort, or go with something too pricey or fuel-thirsty—or uppity—the Outback remains one of the best ways for families to gear up.

And from first glimpse of the new Outback, with its generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance, short overhangs, and burly roof rack, you can tell that Subaru hasn't at all lost sight of how most owners use their Outbacks. According to the automaker, citing J.D. Power data from last year, Subaru models are second only to Jeep and Ram in how often they're used on unpaved roads; they're also far more likely to do those outdoorsy things, like kayaking, snowboarding, or rock climbing.

READ: We Asked, Now NHTSA Asks: What's Taking So Long For The Jeep Grand Cherokee & Liberty Fix?

But being a purpose-built model for where the pavement ends is one thing. How does the Outback drive the vast majority of the time, which is still mostly on the pavement? To break it down to the essence, after a major step up in size with its last redesign, five years ago, the new 2015 Outback isn’t all that different than its predecessor—it feels like it’s a willing, cheerful family pack mule, willing to hold everyone, and stash away all of their gear securely, all while at the same time taking on road and terrain conditions that no passenger car could handle and few other car-like crossovers could tackle.

Tough, versatile, and...a lot more civil

There's one key difference that's apparent right away, though: It's quiet—far more so than what we'd become accustomed to in many experiences with the outgoing Outback. With a long list of improvements ranging from liquid-filled engine mounts, to a thicker floor and fender walls, to an acoustic windshield, the 2015 Outback soaks up road and tire noise like never before, and you really only hear the four-cylinder engine in the 2.5i models when you're accelerating particularly hard.

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