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Review of: 2017 Subaru Outback 5dr Wgn Man 2.5i Touring


2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring: Improvement is automatic

By Chris Chase

Oct. 26, 2016

Subaru’s marketers make much of the way its horizontally-opposed engines lower the centre of gravity in its cars, and of the mechanical prowess behind a “symmetrical” full-time AWD system that it says provides better traction than its competitors’ slip-and-grip setups.

But one thing Subaru doesn’t talk about is that its Outback is the only mid-size crossover you can buy with a manual transmission. It’s also one of very few crossovers of any size that combine a stickshift with AWD; most automakers make you choose, limiting the manual shift option to FWD models.

One thing the Outback has in common with other stickshift crossovers is that it can only be had with a manual in two trims near the bottom of the ladder. So you’re out of luck if you’re after a loaded-up car you can shift yourself, but at least one automaker recognizes there are a few family car drivers left who want a little more involvement in their daily driver.

Pros & Cons

  • + Understated styling
  • + Comfortable, spacious interior
  • + Interior materials
  • - Manual transmission not a good fit
  • - Acceleration
  • - No cutting-edge technology
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  • Walkaround

    Outback is a handsome vehicle, if a bit unremarkable. It looks like what it is: a wagon version of the Legacy sedan riding on a taller suspension.

    Changes for 2017 are minor. Touring trim levels (ours is the lesser 2.5i version; there’s a six-cylinder 3.6R Touring, too) get a new touchscreen audio system. Up-level Limited models gain a heated steering wheel, and there’s a new Premier model that gets unique finishes inside and out. Cars with the Technology package add reverse automatic braking that stops the car if it senses an obstacle — like a pedestrian you failed to notice — behind it.

    Outback pricing starts at $27,995 in 2.5i guise. That and our $31,295 2.5i Touring tester are the only two you can get with that six-speed stickshift; all others, four- and six-cylinder, default to the automatic.

  • Interior

    Subaru’s Touring trim level gets you a pretty simple car. One of the few nods to upscale convenience is a dual-zone automatic climate control system that’s not included in the base model. Our only complaint here is that the tapered temperature knobs are not the easiest to grip.

    The new infotainment display looks sleeker, but the touchscreen interface is essentially unchanged, and remains easy to use.

    A standard sunroof means the Touring model boasts less headroom than a base model we reviewed a couple of years ago, (LINK) but we don’t mind: the Outback’s tall roofline means it has that room to spare. Space-wise, only front seat passengers suffer for a bit of legroom owing to the way the drivetrain intrudes into the footwells.

    Rear seat passengers get nice space, and the seatbacks recline, as well as performing the usual fold-flat maneuver for cargo-carrying purposes.

  • Tech

    All Outback models get Bluetooth and satellite radio, but Touring adds a larger infotainment screen (seven inches versus 6.2 in the basic 2.5i trim), backup camera, and a six-speaker stereo (versus four).

    But if you want more than just the basics in terms of safety features, you have to add a technology package to this Touring model, which brings Subaru’s excellent EyeSight suite of adaptive cruise, pre-collision braking, high beam assist, reverse automatic braking and lane sway and departure warning, for $34,095.

    Unfortunately for safety-obsessed stickshift drivers, you can’t add the tech package and keep the six-speed manual; it comes bundled with the automatic.

  • Driving

    Outback may be special among mid-size crossovers for its manual transmission, but not so much for its straight-line performance, at least with the four-cylinder engine. This 2.5-litre makes the same 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque here as it does in the Forester, but the larger Outback is nearly 100 kg heavier, and you feel how hard the engine works to move the car with anything resembling quickness.

    Oddly enough, the continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission makes the car feel quicker, something that could be attributed to (or blamed on) the manual’s gear ratios. The gap between first and second is quite wide, so the shift into second puts the engine’s speed below where it does its best work. And then the spacing between fifth and sixth is so narrow there’s hardly a point to the sixth speed.

    The manual’s most redeeming qualities are its pleasantly mechanical shift action and a clutch that’s easy to modulate, which combine to make this wagon a snap to drive smoothly.

    Against Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption estimates of 11.0/8.3 L/100 km (city/highway), our tester averaged 10.3 L/100 km in mostly city driving.

  • Value

    Outback’s starting price is a thousand bucks more than the smaller Forester, and while the latter boasts more headroom, its shorter wheelbase gives away the fact it’s based on the compact Impreza.

    We like the Outback’s interior better overall, and the Touring’s enhancements are just about worth the $3,300 price bump over the base model.

    What the Outback can’t do is compete with three-row crossovers, and with vehicles like the Nissan Pathfinder and Honda Pilot coming in at $32,498 and $35,590 respectively, the Outback loses ground, value-wise, if three-row seating is anywhere near your wish list.

    The Ford Edge, with its $31,099 starting tag, gets a stronger turbocharged engine, and Dodge will sell you a nicely-equipped Journey with a big V6 and three-row seating for less than $30,500.

    We’d argue the best value in an Outback comes in that $34,095 Touring Technology model, which gets you useful active safety kit without forcing you to add other pricey features.

  • Conclusion

    We gearheads applaud Subaru for keeping a candle lit for the manual transmission, as it continues to fall out of favour across the auto industry. But while this stickshift is decent to use, it isn’t a good match with the engine and comes across as nothing more than a way for Subaru to offer a lower starting price.

    Transmission choice aside, the Outback is a comfortable crossover that we find compelling, if for no reason other than how its station wagon styling stands out in a marketplace where wagons are nearly as hard to find as transmissions with a clutch pedal.

    In some ways, Subaru is no longer the quirky automaker it once was, but cars like the Outback prove this company still likes to do things a bit differently.

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