2011 Subaru Outback Performance

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Performance
Because the 2011 Subaru Outback is 450 to 1,000 pounds lighter than most other all-wheel-drive competitors, at a base weight of just 3,386 pounds it can move just as quickly with a smaller engine. The base 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed 'flat' four-cylinder engine is paired either with an all-new continuously variable transmission (CVT) called Lineartronic, or with a reasonably good six-speed manual gearbox.

The CVT is one of the better ones to live with—both relatively quick to wind up to access the engine's powerband and somehow, not as obtrusive at full-tilt acceleration as most other four-cylinder/CVT combinations. On a full-throttle launch, the engine kicks up to about 5500 rpm and stays there until you reach the desired speed. Level highway cruising is generally placid at engine speeds below 2000 rpm, while the Lineartronic CVT includes paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel that simulate six fixed ratios, holding the engine in the chosen 'gear.'

The optional engine is a 3.6-liter flat six that makes 256 horsepower. It's mated to a conventional five-speed automatic transmission. The six—in addition to feeling considerably faster and more responsive—is smooth, quiet, and offers rather torquey, un-Subaru-like hustle off the line. It won't win you any drag races, but while the four is adequate, the six is actually fun.

The 2011 Subaru Outback will satisfy most families with adequate acceleration and capable handling—as well as surprising toughness beyond where the pavement ends.

Subaru's horizontally opposed, or 'boxer', engines keep the Outback's center of gravity low, despite its tall profile and high ground clearance. It handles better than virtually any competitor, always driving like a car rather than a truck. On-road steering feel isn't spectacular, however.

If you really want to experience the Outback Subaru in its element, take it off road—rather to a gravel road or dirt trail—and this wagon's generous ground clearance makes more sense. It has a very stiff structure, and electronic control systems work so well with the all-wheel drive system (and again the lighter weight) that that the Outback is able to take on some slippery slopes that might give traditional trucks trouble.

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