Sacramento, California – Maybe it has been too long and my memory is fading in my old age, but wow, the 2012 Subaru Outback I had for a week recently sure seems way more substantial than past Outbacks I’ve driven.
And I mean that on every level. Bolder stance, firmer, more powerful, plentiful interior space, improved handling.
OK, I had the top-level 3.6R Limited model – starting at nearly $32,000 and boasting the 3.6-liter boxer-6 engine with 256 horsepower – so I was definitely getting the Outback-to-the-max treatment.
But still, this founding father of the sport-wagon/crossover movement came off as the perfect substitute for a sport-utility vehicle … no small consideration in these days of dollar-counting consumers.
On the practical side, it looks stout enough, sort of station wagon on steroids. Plus you get the high ride height, enabling the frame to step over boulders and other obstacles if you opt to take it off the paved roadways.
You get the standard all-wheel-drive treatment, and hands down, nobody does that better than Subaru. You get the best that AWD has to offer. Seamless, flawless, peerless.
On the roll, my Outback was responsive and enthusiastic in all conditions, yet steering was midsize-sedan easy. The Outback took on hills with seemingly little effort, and very little noise.
A nicely laid out interior of controls added to good feelings of instant interior comfort. Passengers I drove around stretched out and didn’t want to get out of the vehicle.
Versatile? I should say so. The Outback is night-on-the-town elegant, yet rugged when it’s asked to be. Interior configurations allow for transporting of big people and bulky cargo.
Fuel mileage ratings are so-so at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
My tester had an opulent option package that included a power moonroof, a navigation system and a rear-vision camera. Nice enough, but you can still keep the price close to $30K if you can do without those extras and press for a deal.
I’ve often been mystified why Subaru doesn’t get more credit for the finely engineered products it puts out. The automaker does a good job. And this Outback is more proof of that.