2010 Subaru Outback – First Drive

Outback in Big Sky Country

2010 Subaru Outback

by Joe LaMuraglia
When you think of Subaru, all-wheel-drive wagons probably come to mind. Your mental image most likely includes a kayak or canoe strapped to the top or a road-film-encrusted wagon making its way through snowy paths in the middle of winter. That imagery has been cultivated in your psyche by Subaru’s marketing department as well as Subie owners around the country. Subaru’s are popular with active people who actually take them on adventures and who most likely live in an area where inclement weather is considered a challenge or a blessing rather than a curse. It was fitting then that Subaru invited us to Montana to test drive the new 2010 Subaru Outback.

2010 Subaru Outback

In the presentation the morning of our drive the Subaru engineers and marketing team described how the 2010 Outback is shorter, taller and wider to improve comfort and usability. Interior volume is up 7% over the 2009 model. The newly designed interior is considerably more upscale than past Subarus and the steering wheel and controls feel substantial. You notice the additional room in shoulder room and rear seat passenger comfort.
They also went to great lengths to describe the new engine and transmission technologies that are featured in the 2010 Outback. The base engine is a 2.5L 4-cylinder with 170 horsepower and gets 19/27 city/hwy with a new 6-speed manual and 22/29 city/hwy with the new optional Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). The optional engine in the higher trim levels is a 3.6L 6-cylinder with 256 HP that runs on regular unleaded fuel. This engine is mated solely with a 5-speed conventional automatic and gets a respectable 18/25 MPG.

2010 Subaru Outback

The final part of the presentation included an exterior and interior “walk around” that showcased the 2010 Outback’s features. One of the most notable is the standard roof rack that include cross bars that swing out of the way when you don’t need them to reduce noise and increase efficiency. Knowing that a large percentage of Subaru buyers are repeat customers, the engineers made a point that the new roof rack system works with the majority of Subaru accessories already on the market. While you can use a site like Top Gear Advice to find out which roof racks are the best for your vehicle, it is clear that Subaru customers will greatly appreciate that this one as be designed with them in mind. Now THAT is making sure you take your target customer into consideration!
All that information is great but the truth about the car would be revealed by actually driving it. Subaru didn’t disappoint and designed a driving experience that showcased the Outback’s civility on road and outright scrappy nature off the beaten path.

2010 Subaru Outback

The first segment of the drive featured long stretches of road where the Outback impressed us with its normalcy. The CVT brought the car up to speed quickly only exhibiting the typical CVT rubber-band feeling under full acceleration. We felt immediately at home in the comfortable front seats and all the controls and switches were intuitive. The new interior design is just short of elegant and the only oddities were the covered storage under the radio and the activation of the new electronic Hill Holder system. The door on the storage cubby didn’t feel as high quality as the rest of the interior and the Hill Holder system must be manually turned on each time you start the car. The former is a minor issue for sure but the Hill Holder activation baffles me. Despite those minor complaints, Subaru, a brand once known for its proud quirkiness has entered the mainstream and broadened its appeal with the Outback.
The second and third segment of the drive is where the Outback got to show its near superhero ability to switch from mild-mannered road cruiser to muscular, scrappy off-road attacker. Our route turned from highway to local roads and then quickly to a glorified gravel hiking path. The Outback handled it with nary a squeak other than the yells of laughter and disbelief coming from both driver and passenger. I was in the passenger seat laughing nervously as my driving partner piloted the our Outback over the rocky roads as what seemed like breakneck speeds. We arrived safely at the top of the mountain with a new found respect for the Outback. Even with the base engine and CVT, it never felt unsure and simply motored on like a hungry wolf chasing its next meal.

2010 Subaru Outback

I got my revenge on the trip back down the mountain as I was behind the wheel at that point. I took great pleasure in approaching the trail with as much aplomb as my driving partner and did my best to scare him as much as he did me. All the while, the Outback took it all in stride and I swear it was enjoying itself. Once back on a paved road, the Outback seemingly took off its supersuit and settled back into a mild-mannered transportation module. The car is quiet at speed and even when the optional sunroof is open at legal speeds, the wind noise is well controlled. When entertainment is required, the optional Harman Kardon stereo is happy to step up and deliver crisp, clear sound at all volumes. If you are directionally challenged, there is an option navigation system as well. Bluetooth hands-free is available as an option on all models.
The last showcase of the Outback’s abilities was arguably the most impressive. Subaru had arranged for us to drive up a steep dirt hill in a 2010 Outback, 2009 Ford Explorer AWD and 2009 Toyota Venza with AWD. I was the first to attempt it and was able to get all three up the hill/mountain but the way each handled it was quite telling. While the Outback worked hard, the other two struggled excessively and almost didn’t make it. In fact, as the day progressed, the Outback delivered journalists to the top 100% of the time. The Ford and Toyota didn’t have nearly as much success.
Subaru pointed out at the beginning of the event that 20% of Subaru Outback owners go “off road” at least once a month and that the availability of AWD is the #1 purchase reason for Outback owners. With the new 2010 Outback they’ve clearly taken existing loyal owners into account by improving the off-road capabilities and keeping them in mind when designing things like the roof rack. Subaru also made the new Outback more attractive to a wider audience by making it bigger, less quirky and more efficient. The end result is a good-looking, efficient superhero on wheels.
2010 Subaru Outback
Outback 2.5i 6MT $22,995
Outback 2.5i CVT $23,995
Outback 2.5i Premium 6MT $24,295
Outback 2.5i Premium CVT $25,295
Outback 2.5i Limited CVT $27,995
Outback 3.6R 5AT-S $27,995
Outback 3.6R Premium 5AT-S $28,995
Outback 3.6R Limited 5AT-S $30,995

Photos Courtesy of Subaruu

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