2016 Subaru Outback Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 29, 2016

Tough, go-anywhere capability can go together with a streamlined wagon design, class-leading safety, and a comfortable ride: The 2016 Subaru Outback is a conceptual mashup that's better than the sum of its parts.

Last year Subaru gave the Outback a full redesign, making it even less of a compromise, in just about every way; and the 2016 Outback brings a few more features to this model's already top-notch EyeSight active-safety suite, plus a few more upgrades and refinements. All that makes the 2016 Outback pretty close to the ideal family-adventure vehicle, as it's nestled in an ideal spot between brawny wagon and lean crossover utility vehicle. 

It's arguably the way that Americans like their wagons—more rugged and butch than a sport wagon, yet not nearly as imposing and tall as the imposing SUVs that also work for active households. When Subaru sized up the Outback six years ago, it marked a sea change for that model, as it graduated from more of a specialty/niche model to one that families actually cross-shop against the likes of the Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot.

That said, it's not tremendously surprising that Subaru didn't mess much with its design basis in the fully redesigned version of the Outback that made its debut this past year. The Outback is again based on the Legacy sedan, although it's more family-oriented than ever. And its 190-inch length makes it easy to park. While there's no third row, there's plenty of configurable space for outdoor types, assisted by the nifty roof rack. Frankly, the Outback does what most SUVs are supposed to do—albeit with better fuel efficiency, a better ride, and more nimble handling.

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Last year's comprehensive changes made the design both a little more assertive and a little more space-and-functionality focused. The Outback carries a look that's more rakish and swept back, yet simultaneously more blunt and SUV-like, although with mirrors moved back from the front pillars. Inside, just as outside, the new design changed in evolutionary ways. It wasn't a radical rethink, but we see it as better in nearly every respect, and universally easier to use. Inside, the 2016 Outback can feel more upscale inside than you might have expected from the rugged exterior, and the upgrades to the seats and the trim materials themselves helps top Limited models be a lot more convincing.

Across the lineup, you can choose between 2.5i and 3.6R models. The Outback 2.5i models come with a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine, while the 3.6R models get a 3.6-liter flat-6, making 256 hp and 247 pound-feet of torque. In real-life driving it feels as if the 3.6R doesn’t quite serve up the wall of torque offered by the Subaru Forester XT's turbo-4. Both engines now have a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) that, for this generation of the Outback, might have you fooled as being a conventional 6-speed automatic. And the Outback can tow up to 3,000 pounds with the 3.6R or 2,700 with the 2.5i, provided you keep the tongue weight down to 200 pounds.

Like a good trail-running shoe, the Subaru Outback has always managed to handle it all—from dusty, rocky trails and stream beds to freeways, suburban boulevards, and mountain roads. What sets the 2016 Outback apart, however, is that it has two different performance modes—including a new mode that makes the Outback more trail-savvy when needed, while offering more on-the-road responsiveness the rest of the time. And for that sort of thing—or even just deep snow in the driveway—the Outback maintains 8.7 inches of ground clearance—more than some taller crossovers with more rugged profiles.

The Outback still rides and handles like a mid-size car, jacked up a few more inches. For most people that's going to be a good thing; the driving position remains more relaxed and carlike, and even though there is more ground clearance versus many serious-looking SUVs—it's not as upright or high up (it's an ideal height for getting in and out, really). We've found the front seats of the Outback to be a little more comfortable than before (thanks to just a little more thigh length in the cushions, we were told); meanwhile, the upholstery has been upgraded across the model line (Limited models get some impressive perforated leather), and models with heated seats now have warmers for the length of the back area as well as the lower cushion. In back, expect plenty of space for adults; leg room isn't abundant, but there should be enough for most passengers. Thanks to additional width, the Outback is a vehicle where three adults can sit in back without feeling too crammed-in.

With five-star federal ratings plus top "Good" crash-test results from the IIHS and its Top Safety Pick+ nod, the 2016 Subaru Outback is one of the best-rated family vehicles for safety. A rearview camera system is now included, and Subaru's EyeSight suite of active-safety systems—already highly rated by the IIHS—has been upgraded to include lane-keep assist. That feature will detect when the vehicle is drifting from its lane and steer it back into the lane at speeds over 40 mph. The system can also effectively warn of hazards and, in some situations, brake to help avoid an accident.

The 2016 Subaru Outback is offered in 2.5i, Premium, and Limited models. Each of these trim levels adds progressively more standard equipment, with a requisite step up in price. And at the top of the lineup, you can opt for the 3.6R and its 6-cylinder engine, but only in top Limited form. Premium models are the value centers of the lineup, as you step up to dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-way power driver's seat (including power lumbar), a leather-trimmed steering wheel, fog lamps, privacy glass, air filtration, heated front seats, a windshield-wiper de-icer, and heated mirrors. Outback Limited models, in addition to a list of additional comfort and trim upgrades, get a new 576-watt premium audio system that includes HD Radio, 12 speakers, a front center speaker, and a rear subwoofer. Infotainment systems are far better than they were a couple of years ago; last year's redesign brought a 6.2-inch touchscreen system to the base model.

Additionally this year, Subaru has introduced telematic features to the Outback lineup. With a subscription, owners get an emergency SOS services and roadside assistance, plus automatic collision notification and maintenance notifications. Upgrading the subscription brings stolen vehicle recovery, remote locking/unlocking, a vehicle locator, and other services.

The Outback has better fuel efficiency than other off-road-capable crossovers, most of which are much heavier and taller to achieve the same sort of capability (and ground clearance). Outback models with the flat-4 now manage 25 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined. That's a significant improvement over the 2014 model, thanks mostly to a completely reworked engine, but also to a tuned transmission. Outbacks with the larger flat-6 now return an EPA-estimated 20/27/22 mpg—a big improvement over the 17/25/20 mpg of the 2014 model.

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2016 Subaru Outback

Styling

The look of the 2016 Subaru Outback has evolved nicely inside, although some might find its rugged, simple look somewhat ubiquitous from the outside.

Subaru created a new style and segment of its own with the original Outback, which was introduced more than 20 years ago. Then it almost pigeonholed itself into too tight of a niche, as many of its key rivals grew a half-size larger. But Subaru stoked the popularity of the Outback by upsizing it both in terms of measurements and in the boldness of its outdoor-themed cues.

The 2016 Subaru Outback actually shares no sheet metal with the Legacy sedan on which it continues to be based. That said, while the Outback rides a few inches higher than the Legacy, you can see the resemblance.

Last year's comprehensive changes made the design both a little more assertive and a little more space-and-functionality focused. The Outback carries a look that's more rakish and swept back, yet simultaneously more blunt and SUV-like. To go with that, the grille is more upright and the hood curvature is different. Within the grille there are active shutters that help improve fuel efficiency, while the front windshield pillars were made a bit steeper, with a little more arch given to the roof. With the mirrors drawn back from the A-pillars, and some lower-body cladding, the look becomes more rakish yet more forceful.

Inside, just as outside, the new design changed in evolutionary ways. It wasn't a radical rethink, but we see it as better in nearly every respect, and universally easier to use. The 2016 Outback can feel more upscale inside than you might have expected from the rugged exterior.

Gone is the upright, winged look that the dash had before; instead it's more squared off, with the middle control stack more obviously influenced by high-end audio. Corners have been pushed out, while the trim has soft, organic contours. Upgrades to the seats and the trim materials themselves helps top-trim models a lot more convincing.

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7

2016 Subaru Outback

Performance

There's more depth of character in the way the 2016 Subaru Outback performs, compared to nearly every other entry you'd cross-shop.

For anyone who's considered an Outback in recent years, what's offered under the hood or by the numbers is going to be quite familiar. Across the lineup, you can choose between 2.5i and 3.6R models. The Outback 2.5i models come with a new 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter flat-4 engine, while the 3.6R models offer a 3.6-liter flat-6, making 256 hp and 247 pound-feet of torque.

As to whether you should upgrade to the 3.6R, Subaru says that it makes at least 225 lb-ft of torque from 2,000 to 6,000 rpm. Yet in real-life driving it feels as if the 3.6R doesn’t quite serve up the wall of torque offered by the Subaru turbocharged four found in the Forester.

Both engines now have a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) that, for this generation of the Outback, might have you fooled as being a conventional 6-speed automatic. It's not, but it's tuned to follow simulated ratios up the rev band, and shift in steps, in that same way—even when you mash your foot to the floor. Even during mild acceleration, it ratchets the ratio up so rapidly and subtly that we pronounce it one of the best such transmissions.

With either engine, sluggish launch performance (from a standing start) is our only complaint, really; for the flat-4, it doesn’t seem to be an issue of the rather narrow range of ratios from the CVT sets the 4-cylinder engine off on a rather tall starting ratio. That said, the Outback can tow up to 3,000 pounds with the 3.6R or 2,700 pounds with the 2.5i, provided you keep the tongue weight down to 200 pounds.

Trail prowess and all-weather ability have always been the flip side of the Outback’s performance appeal. It should get a step better in the new Outback after it inherited an enhanced all-wheel-drive system and new off-road mode from the Subaru Forester. Active torque vectoring should allow better control of individual wheels in some low-traction surfaces, and some wheelspin to help power through low-traction situations like snow or mud.

X-Mode sounds like it could be a marketing gimmick, but what it amounts to on the trail is a wonderful, single-mode set-it-and-forget-it toolkit for lower-speed driving far after the pavement ends. In short, it makes the accelerator pedal less touchy, changes the shift pattern for the transmission, and makes the all-wheel-drive system much more proactive and eager to send power to the rear wheels. Further, the electronic stability system is more aggressive in its efforts to quell individual wheelspin and send engine torque where it can be used. X-Mode includes hill-descent control and hill-start assist for less-than-ideal traction.

The Outback maintains 8.7 inches of ground clearance—more than some taller crossovers with more rugged profiles.

Brake performance is great (Subaru has upgraded the brakes for 2.5i models for 2015, and all models now come with four-wheel ventilated discs), and there’s really not much nosedive. And the ABS includes a logic for unpaved roads; we slammed them on momentarily on a washboard-like gravel road and the system didn’t show any fluster.

The Outback was given a somewhat quicker steering ratio last year. For 2016 that's been retuned, and the Outback gets some additional tweaks—especially to top Limited models, which get a more refined ride from softer dampers. Although we haven't driven the somewhat revised 2016 model yet, the previous versions track very well, and if anything the quicker ratio and suspension tune make it feel a little more tossable than before.

Compared to the 4-cylinder models, 6-cylinder models of the Outback have a noticeably heavier steering feel—simply a matter of more weight over the front wheels, as the steering gear and boost curve is the same.

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9

2016 Subaru Outback

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 Subaru Outback offers surprisingly good cabin comfort, considering how well it has the rugged part handled.

One of the common complaints of the last-generation Subaru Outback was that, while it made some tremendous gains in interior space, it was a relatively noisy car inside. Last year, with a full redesign to the Outback, engineers went to great measure to make the cabin more hushed and refined. That's achieved by thicker panels for the floor, lower firewall area, rear-wheel apron, and inner fenders, while more foam insulation and floor damping has been used. There's also a new acoustic windshield, and the engines now get liquid-filled engine mounts.

The one exception on the comfort front comes when a trail is extremely articulated and uneven (over small branches or ruts, for instance); because the Outback's car-derived suspension doesn't allow much wheel articulation, there you'll find a lot more "head toss" (a side-to-side shaking) than in some of the toughest SUVs.

Whether it's a cruising along with cross-country trip, taking the kids to soccer practice, or scrambling up a rutted trail to a remote campsite or rock-climbing spot, the 2016 Subaru Outback is set up in a way that allows enough ruggedness for the task—and enough space for people and gear—all without sacrificing comfort along the way.

As for actual seating space, there's a lot of it. With last year's redo, Subaru kept the length, height, and wheelbase of the Outback, essentially, but made it about 2 inches wider inside. Also, engineers have rejiggered rear-seat space so as to free up a couple more inches fore-and-aft. And there's a bit more cargo space.

That results in front seats that are a little more comfortable than before (thanks to just a little more thigh length in the cushions); meanwhile, the upholstery has been upgraded across the model line (Limited models get some impressive perforated leather), and models with heated seats now have warmers for the length of the back area as well as the lower cushion.

Expect plenty of back-seat space for adults; although leg room isn't abundant. Yet there should be enough for most passengers, and thanks to that additional width this is a vehicle where you can do three-across in back without feeling too crammed-in.

The Outback's cargo floor is relatively low and easy to get to; very few people will have trouble lifting the hatch with one arm either, although in Limited models you get a power liftgate with memory height settings. Rear seat release levers for all models are now back in the cargo area, and flipping the rear seats forward is an easy, one-arm task.

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2016 Subaru Outback

Safety

The Subaru Outback stepped it up in safety this year, and new EyeSight active-safety features make it even better this year.

The Outback's reputation for safety is unparalleled in this kind of vehicle, especially considering availability of active-safety features without opting for expensive, top-trim versions.

Crash-test results are excellent, including top "Good" ratings from the IIHS, which has given the Outback its Top Safety Pick+ nod. And with federal five-star results in every category except rollover, the Outback is one of the top achievers on the market, and one of the few models to earn our perfect safety score.

In addition, Subaru has made some structural improvements help it achieve those top-tier safety ratings. All models in the lineup include a rearview camera system, and in addition to the usual array of airbags there are new front seat-cushion bags aimed at holding occupants in place during a frontal crash; a rollover sensor also affects side airbag deployment.

What's even more important, perhaps, is that Subaru has stepped up its active-safety features, including its suite of technologies that might help avoid an accident. In the 2016 Subaru Outback and Legacy, the available EyeSight system adds lane-keep assist, a feature that will detect when the vehicle is drifting from its lane and steer it back at speeds more than 40 mph. That’s accompanied by audible and visual alerts.

Subaru's safety system remains an entirely camera-based system, but it’s been expanded in recent years. Adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning are now all included in a package that’s optional on Premium trims, while Limited trims get standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, two features that are also included in the optional package.

All of these versions have the third-generation version of the system, which can see 40 feet farther than before; the system's forward detection and auto-brake capability (top-rated by the IIHS) will now brake for a distance in vehicle speed (versus the vehicle ahead) of up to 30 mph. There's also new brake light recognition, and the camera size is about 15 percent smaller.

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9

2016 Subaru Outback

Features

The 2.5i and 2.5i Premium trims are the value "heart" of the Outback lineup; yet Limited models offer even more.

The 2016 Subaru Outback is offered in 2.5i, Premium, and Limited models. Each of these trim levels adds progressively more standard equipment, with a requisite step up in price. And at the top of the lineup, you can opt for the 3.6R and its flat-6 engine, but only in top Limited form.

Base Outback 2.5i models include air conditioning, cruise control, an overhead console, and power windows, locks, and mirrors.

Moving up to the Premium level, you get dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-way power driver's seat (including power lumbar), a leather-trimmed steering wheel, fog lamps, privacy glass, air filtration, heated front seats, a windshield-wiper de-icer, and heated mirrors.

Step up to the Limited models and you get perforated leather seating, two-position memory settings for the driver's seat, dual-mode heated rear seats, and a power tailgate with memory height. Limited models also get power front passenger seat, but it's only four-way adjustable and there's no fully adjustable option (it's locked in a lower-cushion position that we're not sure everyone will be happy with).

All models have LED taillights; 2.5i models have halogen headlamps while 3.6R models get HID headlights. Limited models and all 3.6R models also upgrade to 18-inch alloy wheels, while other models get 17-inchers. And for utility, the roof rack moves to an enhanced, more supported version of the swing-out design that was previously offered.

Outback Limited models also get a new 576-watt premium audio system that includes HD Radio, 12 speakers, a front center speaker, and a rear subwoofer.

Last year the entertainment systems in the Outback were fully rehabilitated. They're a vast improvement over what Subaru used to offer, and even the system on the base model includes a 6.2-inch touchscreen with HD radio, a single CD player, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, plus iPod connectivity, and a USB port and auxiliary input. These systems have streaming-audio functionality through Pandora, Aha, and iHeartRadio apps. And the optional navigation system in the Outback now has enhanced voice commands, allowing natural-language phrases that can control the phone, entertainment, navigation, and even climate functions.

Additionally this year, Subaru has introduced telematic features to the Outback lineup. With a subscription, the Outback adds emergency SOS services and roadside assistance, plus automatic collision notification and maintenance notifications. Upgraded subscriptions offer stolen vehicle recovery, remote locking/unlocking, a vehicle locator, and other services.

Outback models with the optional EyeSight active-safety package include a 5.0-inch center gauge display, while other models have a simpler 3.5-inch screen. All models have enhanced fuel-economy and trip-information displays.

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7

2016 Subaru Outback

Fuel Economy

Is the Outback an exceptionally fuel-efficient SUV or a wagon that's merely average in mpg? Depends on the viewpoint.

The 2016 Subaru Outback is one of those instances for which it's all relative. If you're concerned with fuel economy—and possibly the carbon footprint of your vehicle—the Outback has better fuel efficiency than other off-road-capable crossovers, most of which are much heavier and taller to achieve the same sort of capability (and ground clearance).

Outback models with the 4-cylinder engine now manage 25 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined. That's a significant improvement over the 2014 model, thanks mostly to a completely reworked engine, but also to a tuned transmission.

New technologies have helped fuel economy: active grille shutters, which aid engine warmup, and electric power steering for all models. Aerodynamics have also been improved.

The new high-torque version of Subaru's continuously variable transmission, dubbed Lineartronic, was subbed in last year on flat-6 (3.6R) models of the Outback for the first time, and they now return an EPA-estimated 20/27/22 mpg—a big improvement over the 17/25/20 mpg of the 2014 model.

As for how you see these numbers, it depends on what you’re stacking the Outback up against. When comparing to SUVs such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer, the Outback looks very efficient; although if you take a look at premium-brand rivals—from BMW and Mercedes-Benz especially—the Outback isn’t quite the efficiency standout. Although in all fairness, the Outback is priced much lower.

Subaru has mostly kept a step ahead of those heavier, boxier SUVs, although it still doesn’t offer a hybrid powertrain or diesel engine, as you’ll find on some other utility vehicles.

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February 13, 2017
2016 Subaru Outback 4-Door Wagon 2.5i Limited PZEV

This is my first Subaru and I have been pleasantly suprised by ists atributes.

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While the performance is not the equal to my last car which was a VW Passat wagon, I have gotten used to the slower acceleration and the so so handling on the curves. What the Outback lacks in handling it more... + More »
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August 14, 2016
For 2016 Subaru Outback

A vehicle whose performance exceeds its price.

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The 2016 Outback has been completely reliable for the 9000 miles we have put on it. The adaptive cruise control and multiple other safety features are much appreciated. The car accelerates from a stop very... + More »
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May 14, 2016
2016 Subaru Outback 4-Door Wagon 2.5i Limited

Positive First Impression

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Seating in the Outback Limited is very comfortable and road/wind noise in the cabin is relatively quiet. The leather surfaces in the cabin are soft and well designed. 4 cylinder is adequate as long as you... + More »
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May 3, 2016
2016 Subaru Outback 4-Door Wagon 3.6R Limited

Very Solid Vehicle So Far

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I've had the Outback for almost 7 months, and I have 9300 miles it. I have driven the car through the mountains of NC, WV, TN and PA, and the 3.6R easily handled those peaks (MPG - 26). I also drove the... + More »
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February 28, 2016
2016 Subaru Outback 4-Door Wagon 3.6R Limited

What Took Me So Long!

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My 2016 Subaru Outback 3.6 is a fully loaded amazing piece of technology. I am surrounded by safety, style, comfort, technology, and more. The size of the vehicle inside and out is conducive to my lifestyle... + More »
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November 17, 2015
For 2016 Subaru Outback

Great Value, Rides and Handles Well, Quiet Interior

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This is my third Outback. Subaru offers outstanding reliability. In 15 years, of driving Subarus...aside from tires and brakes, I have only had 2 repairs ( a power steering pump, and electric window switch)... + More »
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August 10, 2015
2016 Subaru Outback 4-Door Wagon 2.5i Limited PZEV

One of a kind, nice veh. however No pwr up & dn for pass seat,no heard rear seats,lacks fuel mileage for 3.6 eng, very poor color selections. no true red or greens offered

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Overall a good car, but very disappointed that 10 way pwr seats not offered for pass as I need them, also no heated rear seats. Also the people in charge of color select ions drops the ball badly by not... + More »
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