The Subaru Outback is the Seiko 5 of crossover SUVs ― an honest, car-based utility that’s considerably more competent than its wagon-derived appearances let on. It was created long before the term “crossover” was coined and provides all the capability of most modern-day SUVs, yet doesn’t try to emulate a truck-based 4x4. It generally keeps on ticking accurately well past its prime, just like that wristwatch I noted.
That being said, the 2016 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited with Technology Package is more like a Grand Seiko, which probably offers the best value among high-quality luxury timepieces available today. It is priced at $37,195 and could still be optioned out with Subaru’s wonderfully smooth and powerful 3.6L 6-cylinder engine. At the end of the day, you’ll own an extremely useful, go-nearly-anywhere, 5-passenger transporter, not merely a fashionable item to wear on your wrist (with all due respect to Seiko).
Some things change, other stay the same
Now in the second year of its sixth generation, the 2016 Subaru Outback gets some updates to keep it current. New standard items include Starlink infotainment, wiper-linked auto on/off headlamps, and rear-view camera parking guide customization. Select models can now be had with Lane Keep Assist, a Subaru first that combines with the aforementioned Technology Package’s EyeSight system (pre-collision braking, brake assist and throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lead vehicle start alert) and adaptive cruise control to qualify the Outback for the coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ status.
Also new for 2016, the standard 7” infotainment touchscreen in Limited models now includes Siri Eyes Free compatibility, SiriusXM advanced audio features, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link capability, and access to the Subaru map update program.
The rest of the car was mostly carried over, which will be just fine for the legions of fans who have become so faithful they wouldn’t want to drive anything else. Call it mutual respect or a standalone subculture, but there’s a unique fraternity of Outback drivers who nod to one another when passing with a level of a camaraderie that comes close to EV owners coalescing at charging stations (God forbid if Subaru ever makes a plug-in Outback!).
What they know that you don’t (unless you’re already in the Outback clique) is just how good this beefed-up wagon is. First of all, they’re aware you don’t need to pay silly money for a premium brand to get the latest luxury, convenience, emissions and safety features, nor top-tier quality. Additionally, unlike many luxury brands that merely dress up variants of mainstream models with high-end equipment, the 2016 Subaru Outback includes an entirely original, wholly capable, and highly reliable engine and drivetrain combination.
Champion boxer delivers a solid punch
As you may already know, Subaru marches to the offbeat rim shot of a very different albeit perfectly syncopated drummer when it comes to powertrains, both its 4- and 6-cylinder engines being horizontally opposed rather than the usual inline-4 and V6 configurations. One of the benefits is a shorter than average height and therefore the ability to be positioned lower in the chassis, resulting in a reduced centre of gravity and better handling.
I don’t know if the 2.5L boxer’s compact dimensions help the Subaru Outback iron out corners as much as it enhances the BRZ sports car’s capabilities, but this midsize CUV sure inspires confidence through sharp, quick curves. While taller than the average car and therefore delivering great visibility all around, the Outback is one of those rare vehicles that feel smaller and lighter than they actually are, an attribute that helps on the open road as much as amid inner-city congestion or when negotiating confined alleyways.
Along with its agility comes a level of comfort that’s hard to beat. The 2016 Subaru Outback’s fully independent suspension and multi-way adjustable seats combine for a relaxing experience overall. Now, don’t mistake relaxed for slow: The 2.5i Limited model I tested provided 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque for quick takeoff and brisk highway passing performance, although it’s probably best described as smooth and linear rather than outright fast. If you require or want more gusto, the available 3.6L flat-6 engine produces a formidable 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual gearbox (2.5i and 2.5i Touring models only) and a Lineartronic CVT with sequential manual mode and paddle shifters for normal feeling, extremely efficient operation. My CVT-equipped 2.5i Limited tester was rated at 9.3L/100km city and 7.1L/100km highway.
All Subaru Outbacks come standard with the brand’s acclaimed symmetrical full-time AWD system featuring active torque vectoring as well as an X-Mode function that lowers the gear ratios, deactivates the transmission's lock-up clutch, speeds up the traction control system’s response time, and engages hill decent control when necessary, all in the name of providing increased surefootedness on steep, slippery terrain. These features, when combined with the Outback’s 220mm ground clearance, result in better off-road capability than most of its more SUV-looking competitors.
Of course, AWD and the many standard active safety technologies make for better on-road stability, too. So do the 18” all-season tires in Limited trim (versus 17” rubber on lesser models). Meanwhile, towing capacity is a bit better than average at 1,224 kg (2,698 lbs).
Outback is generously equipped
On top of all the amenities and specifications I already mentioned, my 2.5i Limited tester included HID headlights, a garage door opener, text messaging capability, navigation, a fabulous-sounding, 576W, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon GreenEdge stereo, 2-position driver’s seat memory, a 4-way power adjustable front passenger’s seat, leather upholstery, heated rear seats, and much more.
Content pulled up from lower trim levels included auto on/off headlights, fog lights, a windshield wiper deicer, an electromechanical parking brake, one-touch turn signals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming rear-view and side mirrors, dual-zone automatic HVAC, a reverse camera, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and audio streaming, satellite radio, a power moonroof, heated front seats, a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, reclining rear seats with one-touch flat-folding functionality, a power tailgate, side and rear vehicle detection, hill start assist, plus all the usual safety features.
Look for near-premium levels of quality, fit and finish inside the 2016 Subaru Outback, especially in Limited trim with fabric-wrapped A-pillars, as well as a soft-touch dash top that wraps down to the lower part of the instrument panel, around the centre stack, and even to the left side of the primary gauges. Subaru also covers the door uppers in the same high-quality pliable synthetic. The door inserts are padded and covered in a perforated leatherette, while the armrests just below are even more plush and covered with a solid leatherette that’s also French-stitched, this continuing over to the centre armrest. The seats are made of real leather, with perforated inserts and excellent support, particularly in the lower back where power lumbar adjustment enhances their inherently good design.
Other niceties include electroluminescent gauges with cool purple blue glowing around their edges, plus a large colour multi-information display at centre. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped, its spokes filled with high-quality switchgear for adjusting the audio system, scrolling through infotainment system on the centre stack, answering the phone, and setting the adaptive cruise control, while just below and behind the left-side spoke is a set of three pull toggles for accessing the multi-information display I just noted.
The infotainment system in the 2016 Subaru Outback is a real thing of beauty, completely integrated into the centre stack with a glossy black panel boasting touch-sensitive buttons to each side and a fully-featured Starlink interface within that incorporates navigation and mapping, audio, media, phone controls, apps, an info section with sports, weather, stocks, a vehicle monitor, Eco monitor, maintenance, and another one displaying your own music.
Practical and reliable, too
There’s ample room for large bodies up front, but the rear seating area might be even more accommodating. I had about 8” ahead of my knees when the front seat was positioned for my 5’8” medium-build frame, along with plenty of room for my hips and shoulders, and another 4”-5” above my head, so tall passengers should fit well. A flip-down armrest provides a comfortable place for both rear passengers’ arms, while outboard occupants also benefit from dual-temperature seat heaters.
The one-touch flat-folding functionality mentioned earlier consists in inner door handle-style releases on each side of the cargo bay that lower the rear seatbacks without forcing a trip around to the side doors. This expands the Outback’s already handy cargo capacity from 1,005 litres to a sizeable 2,075 litres. My tester was fitted with an accessory cargo mat and even rubberized plastic backings to protect the seatbacks. Gaining access comes from a power rear liftgate, while extra gear can be stowed atop two of the most over-engineered, ultra-robust roof rails in the industry when equipped with the available crossmembers ― all good reasons why Subaru Outback buyers continue to be so incredibly loyal.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the car delivers legendary dependability, Subaru placing second overall and first among mainstream brands in Consumer Reports’ highly regarded 2016 report card on reliability.
Really, the only thing I would add is a Seiko Sportura Kinetic GMT fixed to the centre stack, or better yet, a classic Nooka. With or without the horological update, the 2016 Subaru Outback continues to be one of the smartest buys in the midsize crossover class.
Editor’s note: The 2017 Subaru Outback is now on sale in Canada and offers many more upgrades, so make sure to check it out!