Test Drive: 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

I had not driven a Subaru Outback in a long time. When I say a long time, I mean I had not driven a Subaru Outback since 2006, for my very first automotive review – ah, the memories.

The interior of the 2017 Outback has to be one of the best Subaru interiors I have sampled in recent memory.

I have driven other Subarus recently – like the Crosstrek and the Impreza – and to be honest I was not looking forward to my time in the Outback, as all recent Subarus I have driven have been very uncomfortable for me. But after close to 600 km behind the wheel of the Outback, I have to say that this vehicle was just fine in that regard and certainly different from an Impreza.

My tester was a 2.5i Touring model equipped with a manual transmission. Certainly not the most sought-after or popular model but the second-least-expensive Outback with an as-tested price of $31,295 before taxes and fees.

The biggest surprise of the 2.5i Outback is the availability of the six-speed manual transmission (which my tester was equipped with). Although perhaps closer to a wagon than an SUV or crossover, the Outback is one of the very few vehicles in the class available with a manual transmission. Actually, a manual transmission on a vehicle equipped with all-wheel drive is probably one of the rarest breeds of new vehicles on showroom floors these days.

The 2.5L four-cylinder engine is naturally aspirated and produces 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque which travels to the ground through Subaru's symmetrical full-time all-wheel-drive system. The more powerful 3.6L engine is only available with an automatic transmission.

The Touring model seems well-equipped for its trim level, equipped with such features as heated seats, rearview camera, power sunroof, auto-dimming side and rearview mirrors, dual-zone climate control, power lift gate, Subaru rear/side vehicle detection and 17-inch aluminium alloy wheels. Also included is a 7-inch infotainment system: AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system with a high-resolution capacitive touchscreen display, StarLink smartphone integration (including Aha radio), Siri Eyes Free compatilibity, dual USB port/iPod control, auxiliary audio input and SMS text messaging capability.

The interior of the 2017 Outback has to be one of the best Subaru interiors I have sampled in recent memory. The soft-touch plastics of the dash, the incredibly soft armrest, the comfortable seats and the 7-inch high-contrast touchscreen really make the Outback a joy to be in. The seats are particularly comfortable and supportive yet soft, although the upholstery seems to come detached easily at the front of the seats.

Head to Head: 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack vs Subaru Outback, By the Numbers

The door panel armrests are the cushiest pillows I've ever had the pleasure of resting my elbows on – what a marvellous idea! The ergonomics of the interior from the driver seat work well: everything is placed in an easy-to-reach and intuitive location and the infotainment system is very responsive and intuitive as well.

The second row is equally comfortable with a good amount of leg room and folds 60/40. The very large cargo area is capable of swallowing 1,005 L, a figure that more than doubles with the seats down, for 2,075 L of total space. Included is a cargo cover and cargo mat to keep the car clean and prying eyes away from your goods, which is appreciated.

Just as important as a comfortable interior is a good driving car that is comfortable and capable. There is no denying the capability of Subaru's all-wheel-drive system, so what about the rest of the driving dynamics of the Outback?

Despite the somewhat fun-to-drive nature that the six-speed manual transmission offers, the 2.5L engine is not nearly potent enough for this vehicle, unless you keep the engine on boil and drive around in third gear at all times. Although quiet and smooth when driving at a normal pace with very little engine noise, when the revs climb past 5,000 rpm things get noisy, and not in an enjoyable way. But if you are not in that range the car is a slug – on the highway at 3,000 rpm at 120km/h in sixth gear, you can forget about accelerating at all.

The engine is a letdown, but the suspension is compliant and comfortable: whether over broken or smooth pavement, the Outback is quiet and uneventful. Road noise is very low and this surprised me when compared to many other Subarus I have driven.

And that brings me to the brakes; it is a good thing the vehicle is slow overall because the brakes are sub-par overall. Quick stops are met with a soft pedal and a sinking feeling that nothing is going to happen – the pedal is non-communicative and long. In the end, the car does come to a stop but requires more pressure than expected and does not inspire the confidence I'd like to see in my daily driving.

The flip side to the slow acceleration is a bonus to fuel economy and the Outback certainly delivered in this regard. Over the course of the week of driving I did with the Outback, I averaged an incredible 7.9 L/100 km which is the highway rating provided by Natural Resources Canada for this model and my driving was an 80/20 mix of highway/city driving.

I will admit that I do enjoy a little more spirited of a drive – what I consider tepid acceleration and timid braking may well appeal to a driver looking for a composed commute and savings at the pump.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring
Engine Displacement: 2.5L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 175 hp
Peak Torque: 174 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 7.9 L/100 km
Cargo Space: 1,005 L / 2,075 L
articles_PricingType 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring
Base Price $32,595
Optional Equipment None
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,675
Price as Tested $34,270
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
7 Styling
5 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
10 Practicality
7 Drivability
9 Usability/Ergonomics
9 Fuel Economy
7 Features
8 Value