- All-weather agility
- Good head and leg room all around
- Standard all-wheel drive
- Styling's an acquired taste
- Flat six's gas mileage is much lower
- Kludgy radio controls
The 2013 Subaru Outback is practical above all: it's capable in all kinds of conditions, and has great interior space and standard all-wheel drive.
The Subaru Outback may not be brand new for 2013, but it has gained a few subtle improvements–an updated four-cylinder engine, available high-tech safety features, and a better-designed interior–that give it a little more traction against competitors like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Venza, Volvo XC60, and Ford Edge.
We see the Outback as the midpoint of the mid-size utility vehicle segment, exactly halfway between a true SUV and a car-based crossover. You Outback owners? You probably see it in a class by itself, as one of the few wagons of its kind to come standard with all-wheel drive.Only those diehard Subaru fans will notice its mildly updated look at first pass. Three years ago, the Outback gained a chunkier look with more overt SUV references. A new grille and headlamps play up those reference points this year, but the profile's unchanged, and so is the interior, save for a layer of woodgrain on the dash, and some new interior fabrics.
The big news this year is underhood, where a new flat four-cylinder boosts fuel efficiency. The new 2.5-liter engine has marginally better performance and higher fuel economy. It puts out 173 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, with more torque at the low end of the range for better responsiveness. Subaru continues to offer a six-speed manual gearbox with that engine in all but the 2.5i Limited, though most buyers opt for the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which comes with paddle shifters behind the wheel to simulate manual mode when needed. Subaru's CVT is one of the better examples of the breed, unobtrusive under full-throttle acceleration but responsive enough to move the car smartly away from rest. Gas mileage is as high as 30 mpg highway, or 26 mpg combined.
At the high end of the range, the Outback 3.6R model continues with an unchanged 256-hp, 3.6-liter flat six paired to a five-speed automatic transmission. This is a smooth and quiet combination, with better acceleration through its range. It may be more fun to drive, but the cost is significantly lower gas mileage--just 20 mpg combined.
The Outback's relatively low curb weight and low center of gravity gives it more car-like handling than some crossovers, and a stiffer body structure translates into a firmer but better ride this year. Road manners are fine--the steering's not exceptional, and the tires are tuned for weather, not grip--if not to the level of the latest Ford Escape.
The Outback really comes into its own off road. With 8.7 inches of ride height, it's uniquely suited to a variety of road surfaces, paved and unpaved. And it's easy enough to make great use of that capability with standard all-wheel drive--and with a roof-rack system with folding cross-bars, in which the rear bar can be moved back to carry longer items like ski and snowboard boxes, kayaks, and other outdoor gear.
The Outback has good interior space for five adults, particularly in back, where the rear seats recline. There's no third-row option, though. The rear seats split and fold, turning the 34 cubic feet of storage space into more than 71 cubic feet when needed.For 2013, a new Brake Override system is added that will cut power to the transmission if brake and accelerator are depressed at the same time. And if you're concerned about such things, all Subaru Outbacks sold in the U.S. are built in Indiana.
A new suite of safety features is available in the EyeSight driver-assistance system offered for the first time in the 2013 Outback and other Subarus. It includes adaptive cruise control, vehicle lane-departure warning, and pre-collision braking. These features use data from a front-facing stereo camera system, which it claims offers a wider detection angle than do radar-based systems. A similar system bows this year on the Lexus LS.
The 2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i four-cylinder model comes in three trim levels--base, Premium, and Limited--while the six-cylinder 3.6R comes in base and Limited only. Standard features on all models include steering-wheel switches for audio and cruise control, a reclining rear seat with a 60/40 split seat back, automatic headlights, and the Hill Holder feature that sets the brakes when the car stops on steep slopes until the driver accelerates. The base car comes with an AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers and an auxiliary input jack. This year, that base stereo adds a USB charging port, Bluetooth pairing for hands-free control, iPod control, and audio streaming.
Premium 2.5i models add a 10-way power driver's seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, body-colored side mirrors, leather wrappings on the steering wheel and shifter, and a few other upgrades.An All-Weather Package and a Harman/Kardon stereo are optional.
At the top of the line, the Outback Limited models add perforated leather upholstery, a four-way power adjustable passenger seat, dual-zone climate control (with new rear air-conditioning outlets this year), and an All-Weather Package with seat and mirror heaters, along with a de-icer for the windshield wipers. The Harman/Kardon stereo premium audio package includes nine speakers, a color 4.3-inch display, a 440-Watt amplifier, and standard satellite radio (with four months free). New for 2013 in Limited models is an Appearance Package that bundles keyless start with a two-position memory function for the power driver's seat.
Limited models also get a new electroluminescent instrument cluster integrated with the 3.5-inch multi-information display screen that shows EyeSight functions if that driver-assistance feature is fitted.
A voice-activated navigation system with a 7-inch LCD display is optional, as are a rear-vision camera for reversing, and real-time satellite traffic, among other features. A Power Moonroof Package integrates the rear-vision camera, and includes an auto-dimming rear-view mirror as well.