I used to have a lot of love for the Subaru Outback. I owned one for a while, and it was one of the best cars I have ever possessed. All Subaru’s have a very special feel about them, like they are built for a purpose. They are a bit rough, a little uncouth, but that is what makes them special. There is this feeling that they will really take you over any terrain, and that they will never cease to function. Nothing quite drives or feels like a Subaru. But then my Outback died, and I have since moved on.

Now, despite this great drive, Subaru has long been lambasted for creating cars that are too poorly built, too uncomfortable and too unrefined. Now with the introduction of the all-new 2015 Outback, Subaru is promising that all those woes have been corrected and it is promising more power and fuel economy to boot. Is this new machine good enough to make me get rid of my Volkswagen go back to Subaru? Has Subaru managed to fix all its issues while maintaining that special feel and attitude that has defined the brand for decades? My Outback was a 2000 model; what has Subaru managed in 15 years over three more generations?

I spent seven days and more than 500 miles beating the new Outback on-road and off to see if it still had that special magic.

Read on to find out more about the all-new 2015 Subaru Outback

  • 2015 Subaru Outback - Driven
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  • Displacement:
    2.5 L
  • 0-60 time:
    8.0 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    135 mph (Est.)
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2015 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
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2015 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
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2015 Subaru Outback - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Subaru claims that this new Outback is all-new, but I wouldn’t hold it against you if you didn’t notice that by the way it looks. At first glance, the two cars look basically identical save for a new nose and some different wheels. Even the glass of the greenhouse looks to be essentially identical. There are lots of subtle changes though if you look hard enough (or happen to have each one side-by-side). That new nose is more than a new grille and some fancy LED trimmed headlamps. The front of the car is now flatter and curved a little more softly. All the sharp angles of the plastic bumpers have been smoothed and the fog lamps look larger.

2015 Subaru Outback - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Moving to the profile, you will notice that the new Outback has bolder body lines and deeper sculpting on the sides. The plastic guards that run across the bottoms of the doors have gotten thinner and the roof rack has gotten a littler larger and a new design. The slope from the roof to the back hatch has also been made steeper and the rear spoiler has gotten bigger. Overall size of the Outback from 2014 to 2015 consists of about a half-inch gain in length, width and height. Wheelbase is nearly identical, but Subaru has widened the rear track by more than an inch to improve handling and rear cargo space.

There are some small changes to the rear end thanks to some revised taillamps and reflective markers, but overall the machine is very similar to the last generation from the back.


2015 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
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2015 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
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2015 Subaru Outback - Driven High Resolution Interior
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Much like the exterior, anyone who has spent time inside of the last-generation Outback will feel right at home. There are lots of small changes that make the cabin more user friendly, and the overall design feels much cleaner than the previous car.

Starting with the center console, the cup holders have been rotated 90-degress, placing them next to the shifter rather than behind it. This has allowed the shifter, and the entire center console, to move outward toward the driver slightly and placed on a more natural slope. This puts all of the controls into a more accessible position. The controls themselves have been simplified greatly. There are two large knobs for temperature control of the dual-zone climate control and two knobs for audio control; volume and radio channel select. All other controls are spaced evenly and naturally, so it was never hard to find exactly what I was looking for.

2015 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
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The steering wheel and gauge cluster have also been changed. The old four-pod cluster has been replaced with just a dual gauge unit for speedometer and tachometer with the fuel gauge and temperature gauge integrated within them. A central LCD between the two main gauges supplies information, such as fuel economy, gear selection and more.

Seating is comfortable in both rows, but the cloth seems to very readily grasp on to any stray animal hair if you happen to own a dog or cat. Considering the number of Subaru owners that also own dogs, this seems like a serious oversight. When you don’t need room for people, the Outback’s rear seats tumble quickly to make a flat load floor, one of the model’s signature features.


2015 Subaru Outback - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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In my opinion, this is probably the most unimpressive piece of the 2015 Outback. In the year 2000, my Outback was fitted with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, boxer engine with 165 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. Now, a full 15 years later, Subaru has fitted the 2015 Outback with a new FB-generation DOHC cam engine; it is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer that makes a whopping 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of twist.

I have to question what the point of creating a whole new engine when that engine is essentially identical to the old one. Fuel economy has been increased fairly dramatically on paper; the new engine is good for 33 mpg on the highway whereas my old car was only rated for 28 mpg. That said, I routinely hit 28 mpg in my 2000 Outback, but I only managed to get 30 mpg from the new 2015 model. In three generations, Subaru has only managed to add 10 horsepower and 2 mpg. I think that is pretty unacceptable.

2015 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
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Transmission options have also been changed and starting with this new 2015 model, every Outback comes standard with a CVT. The six-speed manual transmission option that long made the Outback stand out from the massive slab of boring that is the crossover market has been removed. The CVT does make the Outback feel more lively than the old four-speed auto ever did, but it still is far from a perfect transmission.

Between that transmission and the road is Subaru’s new electronically controlled AWD system. Rather than use the ancient, but effective, full-time 50/50 split AWD system that sapped fuel, Subaru has started to use a more sophisticated system that detects slip and transfers power as necessary.


2015 Subaru Outback - Driven Emblems and Logo Exterior
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The 2015 Subaru Outback hits the market with a base MSRP of $24,895. My car was the mid-trim 2.5i Premium model. That bumps the price to $26,995, but it brings equipment like 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated seats and more. The only real option on our tester was the moonroof and power liftgate package, which carried a price increase of $1,695. Our final additional costs included the $300 fee for PZEV certification and a $850 destination charge. Final price of our car was $29,480.

Driving Impressions

Driving the new Outback is everything I expected it to be, and everything I was hoping it wouldn’t be. Rather than the chunky and go-anywhere feel that Subarus are legendary for, this new Outback feels like any regular crossover; that Subaru magic is gone. I feel that the increased ride height, CVT transmission and removal of the classic AWD system are the biggest culprits in this scenario.

The new machine is not bad by any means that a normal human being would ever judge a car. The ride is smooth, the interior is better built than any previous Subaru I have ever driven (even with pieces of it falling off), and the level of quiet and comfort is better than ever. If you have never driven a Subaru before, and all you wanted was a competent crossover, you would be pleased as punch to drive home in a new Outback. But that is the issue. I have driven old Subarus, and I loved them for their flaws. The stiff ride with the overtly long suspension travel was designed for bombing down a rutted gravel road, the interior was second rate and full of stiff plastics because you were going to beat on that machine, and it needed to be rugged, not luxurious.

2015 Subaru Outback - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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All that is gone. Hell, until this year you could even order an Outback with a manual transmission, and doing so got you the old school AWD system. I’ve driven a 2014 Outback equipped this way and its wonderful in all those idiosyncratic ways I miss in the 2015 car.

No, the 2015 Subaru Outback is not a terrible crossover; in fact it’s quite a good one. It is just a terrible Subaru, and for that I can’t recommend it to fans of the brand.


Honda CR-V

2014 Honda CR-V High Resolution Exterior
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If all you really want from your crossover is something that is reliable, relatively well built and affordable, the Honda CR-V makes a perfect stand-in for the Outback. Thanks to some smart packaging on Honda’s part, the CR-V is dimensionally smaller than the Outback, making it easier to drive and maneuver, but it is nearly identical in interior space. With a starting price of just $24,370 for an AWD version, the CR-V holds a price lead, and even at the maximum limit of our Subaru’s price, you could a similarly equipped CR-V with the addition of a rear DVD entertainment system for the kids.

The CR-V even has the advantage on power with 185 ponies galloping form its 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. It doesn’t have the same level of fuel economy though. The CR-V is only rated for 30 mpg highway with AWD compared to the 33 mpg of the Outback.

Audi Allroad

2013 Audi allroad High Resolution Exterior
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What if what you really want is a rugged go-anywhere wagon like the Subaru Outback used to be? Well then Audi will be more than happy to set you up with its new Allroad. Essentially just an Audi A6 with a slight lift and some rugged panels, the Allroad is an exact copy of the original Outback recipe. Thanks to its wagon base, the Allroad handles much more like a car than an SUV, but the uprated components and quattro AWD system make sure that you can tackle plenty of rough terrain.

Providing power for this machine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produces 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The Allroad is easily the fastest machine here by an exponential level. The Allroad is far from a field of sunshine and daisies though. Even with an eight-speed transmission, it will only achieve an EPA-estimated 28 mpg on the highway, and the $42,400 base price is more than $10,000 higher than our optioned-up Outback.

Still, if you aren’t worried about cost, and instead just want the ultimate off-road wagon, the Audi Allroad is one of your only real choices. At least it has a really nice interior.


2015 Subaru Outback - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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I miss my Outback. Every time I see a similar machine trundling down the highway I feel a small pang of remorse and sorrow. It really was an enjoyable machine to drive, and I want to relive that pleasure. Sadly the 2015 Outback doesn’t have the magic, the feel, or the specialness that made me fall in love with the brand years ago.

With every new model it is becoming obvious that Subaru is rapidly moving away from being that quirky automotive company for adventure seekers and dog lovers. Instead, the company is rapidly becoming a main stream competitor that is stealing sales left and right from the likes of Honda and Toyota.

The new 2015 Subaru Outback is still a stellar machine that will serve any new owners well for years; it just isn’t the car I wanted it to be.

  • Leave it
    • No manual transmission option anymore
    • Engine needs more power
    • Lost that Subaru magic
Christian Moe
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