The tuning on the CVT is a sort of masquerade...but it works. With the last-generation cars, Subaru tuned its Lineartronic CVT so that it wouldn't 'motorboat' too much—keep engine revs at a near constant during acceleration, which can be especially taxing on passengers. Now engineers have taken that a step further, with a new logic that essentially will allow the CVT to fool you into thinking it's a conventional automatic transmission. It now shifts in steps during moderate acceleration or anything more, saving its smaller ratcheting steps for only the lightest acceleration; and the shifts are so quick and firm, at least in the upper gears, that it's convincing as a six-speed automatic; you can even grab the steering-wheel paddle-shifters and click between those ratios.
For the highway, rides and handles more like a sedan
On the road, the Outback rides and handles like a typical mid-size sedan, not a utility vehicle. Yes, you sit a few inches higher, but the driving position and body motions are definitely more controlled, and more in the vein of the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, and yes, Subaru Legacy, than the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, or Ford Explorer. At less than 3,600 pounds in base form, the Outback is hundreds of pounds less than those taller crossovers, and it feels it on the curvy two-lane high-desert roads that we followed in Central Oregon, near Bend.
Those roads, with long, sweeping curves, accented by occasional quick switchbacks to follow rivers or canyon walls, served to show off the Outback's on-the-road versatility. With all 2015 Outbacks getting electronic power steering, with an effective ratio of 14:1, from 16.5:1 previously, it's feels more tossable than before—all while tracking extremely well on the straightaways, even when they were undulating and uneven. Four-cylinder models tended to feel a little more nimble, while the additional 200 or so pounds of the 3.6R models seemed to bring a little more nose-heaviness and somewhat heavier feel at the steering wheel. All models, however, have impressive brakes, with four-wheel ventilated discs all around.