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2015 Subaru Outback: First Drive Page 4

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Subaru has given its swing-out roof rack (which lets you put it in a more aerodynamically-friendly position when you're not using it) a sturdier design, and there's no a flatter step area, for loading, at the back-seat doorsills. Back inside, with rear climate-control vents and available rear heated seats, the Outback feels like it takes care of back-seat passengers more than some other mainstream models; rear seatbacks remain 60/40-split and now flip forward easily from the hatch side to extend the (still flat, and now somewhat larger) cargo area. Despite the high ground clearance of the Outback, lift height for loading, and the cargo floor itself, feel quite low, and while most will have no trouble reaching the hatch or closing it with one arm, there's a power liftgate on the Limited model for which you can set a lower max height.

But the experience in the Outback's cabin isn't perfect. Wind noise was still an issue; on a drive day that was admittedly bit breezy, we found more than expected around the front side mirrors. One other minor disappointment is that there isn't a single model that offers a fully-adjustable power seat for the front passenger; the passenger-side power seat in the top-of-the-line Limited only slides fore-and-aft and reclines, but the lower cushion is locked in a position that some might find scooped-forward.

Not quite a luxury contender, but a knockout deal in modest trims

The 2015 Outback has come a long way, and it's far more refined. But the lack of full adjustment there, and some of those other small details, are in our mind what still separates the top-of-the-line Outback models from the likes of the Volvo XC70 and Audi Allroad. Where the 2015 Subaru Outback makes the most sense—and frankly, where it wows—is in base 2.5i form, where it offers an astonishing level of capability, trail prowess, features, and everyday refinement, all for $25,745.

Our pick of the lineup, though is the 2.5i Premium, where you get heated seats, upgraded infotainment, dual-zone climate control, and more, for $27,845—or $29,540 with EyeSight, as part of a $1,695 option package. Unfortunately, the power rear tailgate—an unnecessary piece of kit as we see it—is mandatory if you want EyeSight, which we do highly recommend.

What you get at the 2.5i Premium level is a superb family wagon that feels at once down-to-earth, but not quite as uncultured as some of the Outback models of the recent past. So to you people who actually get out and do things, outside: Yes, gear up.

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