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2012 Subaru Outback Styling

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Entirely redesigned two years ago, the 2012 Subaru Outback sports what the company calls "SUV details"--including thick rear roof pillars, chunkier rear side windows, and exaggerated front and rear wheel arches. That makes it look less like a station wagon and more like a crossover, which will please some buyers, and make others sigh for the more graceful previous model.

The latest Outback is much taller and 2 inches wider than the last model, but while the wheelbase has grown almost 3 inches, overall length hasn't. Its 8.7 inches of ground clearance beat every other rival, even the brawny Jeep Grand Cherokee, making it a deft and practical vehicle for everything from muddy country lanes to deep snow.

The 2012 Subaru Outback looks brawnier and SUV-like just as crossovers are starting to get sleeker; the exterior design is a little exaggerated, but the interior styling should wear well.

The front end is probably the least coherent part of the Outback's design. It has very large headlights sweeping well back into the fenders, but the number of accent lines, shapes, and elements contributes to visual cacophony. If Subaru's usual product cycle holds true, by the way, the grille and front fascia are likely to be mildly restyled for 2013. Although the Outback remains a wagon version of the Legacy sedan, the plainer Legacy wagon is no longer offered, so the sum of all those "SUV details" adds up to a vehicle that looks just slightly like a steroidal cartoon of itself.

Once inside the Outback, the driver faces a simple instrument cluster, with the center console sweeping down from the dash panel to the tunnel. Controls are simple, fairly large, and generally self-explanatory. The design is restrained, and while it's hardly avant garde, it's easy to imagine living with it for a number of years--not always the case with the latest and greatest instrument panel design flourishes.

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