EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 28, 2012

Subaru Outback beats winter with style

Motor Mouth Jeffrey Zygmont
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Now as we approach November, winter mobility should be the most notable attribute tied to the Subaru Outback. After all, the versatile, affordable, all-wheel-drive wagon is nearly legendary around here for its abilities to track through snow and all the related winter muck we’re just now girding to greet.

But the Outback I evaluated last week screamed to be recognized for two aspects far apart from its road-gripping, snow-fighting prowess. First, both inside and outside the Outback, I felt the distinction and pride-of-possession you get when you drive a premium auto. The quality and finish of the automobile, its details and overall bearing, struck me as subtlety luxurious.

Of course, I drove a version at the top of the range for Outback, with a sticker price that tallied $34,202. At that level you naturally get richer details and more pampering features. But it takes solid fundamentals beneath the add-ons to make a model really shine. Those fundamental qualities must also inhabit more basic Outback versions. The four-door, all-wheel-drive crossover wagon starts with a list price below $25,000.

The second screaming attribute I found was the advanced level of assisting technologies installed in the car. The 2013 Outback uses a new Subaru navigation system – available with option packages starting at $2,645 on the $30,000, Limited trim level. The guidance set-up features a seven-inch LCD touchscreen. It responds to voice commands, and it receives weather and traffic updates from SirusXM NavTraffic, a monthly subscription service, with the first four months covered in the option price.

A bigger eye-opener is the warning and control system Subaru calls EyeSight Driver-Assist. It’s part of a $3,940 option package that also gets you the navigation system and a moon roof. EyeSight performs pre-collision braking, warns about lane drift, and provides adaptive cruise control that automatically keeps a set distance between cars. Subaru advertises that at lower speeds, the system detects pedestrians and other obstacles and can even stop the Outback completely. At higher speeds it waits for you to make evasive maneuvers before easing off the gas and applying the brakes.

Guess where such automated safety systems usually turn up today. On high-end luxury cars. Subaru aims to bring it down to earth. In press releases, the Japan-based auto company states that the EyeSight Driver-Assist System is “projected to be one of the most affordable such technologies available in the U.S.”

Not only that. Highfalutin luxury cars with front-sensing technology typically rely on radar to probe the road ahead. Subaru’s is a true vision system, employing two cameras at the top edge of the windshield. They send stereo images to a computer that calculates the shape and distance of obstacles, the position of the Outback on the road, and other such variables. Subaru says the method provides a wider angle of vision than radar systems.

The twin-camera approach is a daring departure from the pack. It distinguishes Subaru as an innovator in forward-looking crash avoidance and safety.

But that’s an added distinction that’s still emerging. Aaron Singer, owner of Singer Subaru in Plaistow, N.H., notes that car shoppers are still just becoming aware of the advanced technologies introduced on the 2013 Outback.

Instead, the model remains Subaru’s top seller because of its traditional strength: its ability to haul passengers, with possessions and bulky gear, through just about anything.

“It’s a popular choice for the active New England lifestyle,” he said. “Whether it’s skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, kayaking, people who do a lot of outdoor activities love the car because of its versatility.”

For 2013 Subaru refreshed the Outback, updating the model after its last major remake in 2010. The changes include some appearance makeovers, especially around the nose. But the biggest improvements are less visible, involving technology.

Yes, they include the high-end guidance and safety options I already noted. But Aaron Singer said drivers so far are most enthusiastic about more fundamental upgrades, like the ones to engine and automatic transmission.

The 2013 model comes with a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that gains a couple of additional horsepower from last year’s motor, and at the same time breaks the 30-mile-per-gallon fuel-economy milestone. That performance requires the Outback’s new continuously variable automatic transmission, priced $1,000 above the model’s standard, six-speed manual transmission. With the automatic, Outback rates 24 mpg city, 30 mpg city, for a combined rating of 26 mpg.

But I beat that, averaging 30 mpg over a week of driving that included the typical mix of freeway sprints and jaunts around town.

The continuously variable transmission was smooth and uncomplaining.

The car was quiet. It responded with authority in traffic and its cabin proved ample for a wide range of transport chores: three adults, one dog, and a big travel duffel to the airport; two coolers, four bags of charcoal, two portable tables, big box of burger rolls and bags of supplies to a large-scale cookout; plus all the usual through-the-week treks.

Hauling capacity is a large part of Outback’s appeal, Singer said. He noted the popularity of the roof rails that come mounted as standard equipment. They incorporate crossbars that swing into place when needed, but otherwise tuck out of the way to reduce wind noise and cut costly air drag.

The Outback occupies a middle ground between station wagon and crossover sport-utility vehicle, said Singer. Its all-wheel-drive ability is proven.

Its 8.7 inches of ground clearance exceeds the height of many big SUVs. It carries more cargo than many sport-utilities. Yet the Outback it car-like in character, with a streamlined body, plaint maneuverability and crisp handling.

“And it gets better gas mileage,” Singer added.

Probably the best testimony to the car’s quality is its high resale value – a characteristic of Subaru vehicles in general.

“When you look at (used car) auctions, it ridiculous how well they hold their value,” Singer said about the brand he sells. Awards to Subaru from respected used-car specialists Kelly Blue Book and Automotive Lease Guide back him up.

Built on such solid fundamentals, the Subaru Outback looks poised to travel farther as it adds refinement and leading technology to its appealing attributes.

2013 Subaru Outback Vehicle type: 4-door, 5- passenger, all-wheel-drive mid-size station wagon Price range: $24,590 to $30,190 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles rust warranty; 3 years/36,000 miles roadside assistance Engine: 2.5-liter horizontal 4 Power: 173 horsepower at 5,600 rpm; 174 lb.-ft. torque at 4,100 rpm Base transmission: 6-speed manual Fuel economy: 24 mpg city; 30 mpg highway (with automatic) Wheelbase: 108 inches Length: 189 inches Width: 72 inches Height: 64 inches Weight: 3,423 pounds Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons Turning circle: 36.8 ft.