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PERFORMANCE | 9 out of 10
“CVT does a nice job of avoiding the drone typical of that kind of gearbox”
Car and Driver
“A new six-speed manual transmission or an equally new Subaru-designed CVT”
“We found the ride and refinement well sorted”
The 2010 Subaru Outback loses its high-performance engine, but the Japanese automaker’s latest wagon benefits from a new CVT that gives it class-leading fuel economy.
The Outback Subaru is available in three distinct trim levels, but only two engine options can be had. Autoblog states that “the base engine is the 2.5i, an SOHC four-cylinder powerplant with 170 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque.” The base four-cylinder is, like all Subaru engines, a horizontally opposed unit that sits low in the engine bay, allowing for a low center of gravity. Stepping up to the high-output engine, Car and Driver says drivers will be treated to “the 3.6-liter flat-six from the Tribeca that makes 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque.” Although the power differential between the two is substantial, reviews surveyed by TheCarConnection.com show that both engines are capable of moving the Outback Subaru’s lightweight frame with ease. With the 2.5-liter, Autoblog reviewers report that “the car doesn’t hesitate to find the power band necessary to do what your right foot is instructing, even uphill.” With the 2010 Subaru Outback’s available 3.6-liter six-cylinder, Road & Track is pleasantly surprised to find that the engine “makes more than ample power to move the 3600-lb. Outback, and the delivery of said power is smooth at all times.”
The second half of the Outback Subaru’s powertrain equation, the transmission, comes in several flavors. According to Autoblog, the “2.5i can be mated to the six-speed manual and the Lineartronic CVT, while the 3.6 makes do with the five-speed auto.” Unlike most CVTs, which are panned in reviews, the 2010 Subaru Outback’s chain-driven unit scores rather well, and some reviewers even prefer it to the manual. Motor Trend reports that the 2010 Subaru Outback’s CVT gets “six ‘virtual’ gears” that can be selected with the standard paddle shifters, and “as always, each engine/trans pairing puts power to the road via its own unique iteration of Subaru’s full-time Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system.” Kelley Blue Book loves that the CVT offers the wonderful combination of “providing the best acceleration and fuel economy mix” on the 2.5i, while Road & Track feels that the 3.6-liter’s “automatic operates serenely, too.”
As several reviewers mention, the 2010 Subaru Outback returns exceptional fuel economy for its class. According to the official EPA estimates, the 2.5-liter/manual combination returns 19 mpg city and 27 mpg on the highway, while the CVT gets an exemplary 22/29 rating. The 3.6-liter engine is hit with an understandable drop in efficiency and clocks in with an EPA rating of 18 mpg city and 25 mpg on the highway.
Despite its growth in height and width, the 2010 Subaru Outback still handles remarkably well, particularly off-road. Many reviewers appreciate the suspension, which strikes a nice balance between comfort and handling. Autoblog reviewers “found the ride and refinement well sorted,” while Car and Driver deems the ride “supple” and “more refined” than before. On-road steering feel isn’t spectacular, however, as Automobile Magazine notes “a bit too much gain as one moves off center, resulting in the need for small steering corrections.”
If you really want to experience the Outback Subaru in its element, take it off road; that's where Car and Driver says the “Outback came alive,” and the wagon handles with “little to no head toss, great wheel control…and a very stiff structure that betrayed no creaking or groaning.” Road & Track reviewers have a similar experience, raving the Outback Subaru’s electronic control systems work so well that the “Outback is able to climb up loose, slippery off-road hills like a mountain goat—even better than some body-on-frame SUVs.”
The 2010 Subaru Outback gets a bump in both capability and fuel economy, though many will miss last year's perky turbocharged model.