- Good steering and handling
- Tough suspension is ready for light off-roading
- Impressive occupant safety
- Four-cylinder engines can be coarse
- Interior is quite basic for the price
- Road noise
With good performance and enviable safety, the 2008 Subaru Outback remains the top choice for families who value practicality but want a little more toughness.
The 2008 Subaru Legacy Outback lineup for 2008 has been streamlined, with all wagon body styles of the Legacy sedan now given the rugged treatment, picking up a raised heavy-duty suspension and body-side cladding that hints at greater brawn. (The 2008 Subaru Legacy sedan is covered under a separate review.)
For 2008, the Outback also gets a revamped exterior and interior, with new front sheetmetal, a larger grille, new front and rear bumpers, and new headlamps and taillamps.
The 2008 Subaru Outback is offered in a wide range of models now ranging from the basic 2.5i up to the sporty XT Limited and luxurious L.L. Bean Edition and VDC Limited. The 2.5i and 2.5i Limited models get a 168-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed ("flat") four, while the 2.5 XT and XT Limited upgrade to a high-performance turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four making 243 horsepower. And at the top there's a 245-horsepower, 3.0-liter flat-six powering the 3.0R, 3.0R L.L. Bean Edition, and 3.0R VDC Limited. All said, the price ranges from about $22,000 for a base 2.5i to well over $35,000 for a loaded L.L. Bean.
Subaru models with the base engine have either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, while XT models have either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic, which includes Sportshift paddle shifters. At the top, the six-cylinder engine comes just with the five-speed automatic. Across the line, the Outback models get all-wheel drive and have up to 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which may prove very useful in deep snow or mud.
With the base engine, the 2008 Subaru Outback has adequate power with a light load, but if you plan on hauling a lot of stuff or driving in the mountains, the engine can feel taxed. It's made worse by the four-speed automatic, which can shift abruptly and has rather widely spaced gears. The turbocharged engine in the XT is the most responsive, with none of the turbo lag that sometimes plagues turbos, but the six is the smoothest and most refined.
Models with the turbocharged four or the six-cylinder engine get SI-DRIVE, a system that has three different modes that allow throttle response, transmission shift, and other characteristics to change from smooth to sharp as desired in the 2008 Subaru Outback.
Despite having the heavy-duty suspension, Outback models handle very well on the road, with crisp, rather communicative steering and not much body lean; ride comfort is quite good as well, but road noise can be an issue inside. Seating in the 2008 Subaru Outback is comfortable for five normal-sized adults, though front-seat occupants might find headroom tight with the available moonroof. A telescopic steering wheel is newly standard for 2008. Overall, the interior is rather basic but attractive with matte-metallic materials and mid-grade plastics. There are no overt luxury pretenses here, except in the top models, which pile on the convenience features and upgrades.
Top 2008 Subaru Outback L.L. Bean models get a navigation system, upgraded heated seats, dual-zone climate control, leather trim, and a six-speaker sound system. Some of the latest expected tech features, such as a Bluetooth interface, an iPod interface, and live traffic updates, aren't available.
The Subaru Outback has received top five-star results from the federal government in both frontal and side impact tests. Anti-lock brakes, front-seat side airbags, and active front head restraints are all included, and the availability of the electronic stability control system has been expanded for '08; it's offered on all but the base 2.5i.