Shoppers torn between a conventional passenger car and a crossover SUV have an alternative choice in the 2019 Subaru Outback. The Outback provides a sensible, thoughtful compromise for those who want crossover-style packaging and more than a taste of SUV capability.
Safety is the top Outback news for the 2019 model year. Optional previously for most versions, Subaru’s EyeSight group of modern safety features is now standard on all Outbacks.
Several interior enhancements have been added for 2019, too. An overhead console “shower” light and twin USB ports are now standard in the 2.5i base model. Every Outback now includes a 5.0-inch LCD screen in its gauge cluster. Premium and Limited models gain an auto-dimming compass mirror.
Outbacks come in four trim levels: base, Premium, Limited, and Touring. The latter two are available with a 6-cylinder engine, rather than the standard 4-cylinder. Both engines are “flat” configuration, with horizontally-opposed cylinders â€“ a Subaru hallmark for many years.
In 2.5i models, the 2.5-liter flat-4 develops 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. Limited and Touring editions can be equipped instead with a 3.6-liter flat-6 that whips up 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet. Every Outback uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that lacks gears, but includes a manual mode. When accelerating, paddle shifters can send the CVT through a series of six simulated gear ratios, emulating a conventional automatic transmission.
Even more than before, the Outback stands out for safety technology, making it a wise family choice. The newly-standard EyeSight package includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. Blind-spot monitors are optional for Premium trim level, but standard on Limited and Touring.
Outbacks have performed well in crash-testing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rated the 2019 Outback at five stars overall, as well as for both frontal and side impacts. Only rollover resistance (a calculated figure) dips to four stars â€“ as do nearly all vehicles.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has named Outback a Top Safety Pick+, earning “Good” scores in all tests. Frontal crash prevention was deemed “Superior,” when properly equipped. Standard headlights were rated “Marginal,” while those with automatic high-beams were “Acceptable.” LED headlights, standard on Touring and optional for Premium trim, earned a “Good” rating.
Exceptional outward vision results from a low beltline, complemented by relatively slim roof pillars.
Prices do not include $975 destination charge.
Base 2.5i ($26,345) comes with the 2.5-liter engine, all-wheel drive, CVT, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, roof rails, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The standard EyeSight system includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control.
2.5i Premium ($28,445) adds such features as a power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. A moonroof and power liftgate are optional.
2.5i Limited ($32,845) comes with perforated leather-trimmed upholstery, a power front passenger seat, Harman Kardon audio, 18-inch wheels, heated rear seats, a power liftgate, and keyless access/start.
2.5i Touring ($36,795) adds lower body cladding, a heated steering wheel, steering-responsive LED headlights, and navigation.
3.6R Limited ($34,995) is similar to 2.5i Limited, but substitutes a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine for the 4-cylinder.
3.6R Touring ($38,995) is similar to 2.5i Touring, but with the 6-cylinder engine.
Simply styled and sitting upon a raised suspension, the Outback wagon looks handsome. Unpainted lower bumpers and rocker-panel trim heighten its rugged, down-to-basics appearance.
Most trim levels are fitted with a tall roof rack, which boosts utility even if it fails to do much for highway aerodynamics. Hidden cross bars are ready to carry bikes and skis. The Touring edition gets a lower-profile roof rack, without cross bars.
Except for wheels, the four trim levels don’t differ much. Base models lack the tinted windows that are standard in upper trim levels.
Spacious and refined, adeptly styled and nicely organized, the Outback can seat five occupants. The driver faces a logical control layout, above an infotainment touchscreen that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Premium and higher trim levels feature an 8.0-inch screen, with navigation available. Base models get a 6.5-inch display. Base and Premium Outbacks feature fabric upholstery, while Limited and Touring editions upgrade to leather that doesn’t feel top-notch.
Front passengers can anticipate all-day comfort, on seats with long bases and good support. Upper trim levels get a 10-way power driver’s seat.
Back-seat riders enjoy exceptional stretch-out space. Three can fit with a bit of squeezing.
For carrying tall items, a crossover â€“ including Subaru’s Forester â€“ might be more prudent. Otherwise, the Outback’s wide cargo hold has all the capacity most families need. With rear seatbacks upright, cargo volume is 36 cubic feet, expanding to 73 cubic feet with those seatbacks folded flat.
More capable off-road than many all-out SUVs, Subaru’s Outback rides comfortably and handles well. Part of its impressive off-road prowess can be attributed to suspension travel, greater than that of a regular car. The Outback also has a lower center of gravity than a crossover SUV, which is typically taller.
Whether breezing through twisty roads or cruising down the highway, an Outback feels confident. Light, yet direct steering is augmented by good directional stability.
Standard 17-inch wheels on lower trim levels yield a soft ride. Optional 18-inch rubber produces slightly greater feedback from the road.
Neither powertrain overwhelms. Base-engine performance is adequate but no better, offset by admirable fuel economy. The base 4-cylinder can feel sluggish. Though far less frugal, the 6-cylinder version is practically essential for anyone who frequently climbs long upgrades.
Subaru’s CVT keeps either engine well-behaved, with revs low. Adeptly tuned, it helps the Outback feel quite lively in urban driving, stimulated by surprisingly snappy throttle response. Highway passing is considerably less spirited, especially if the Outback is filled with passengers.
Standard all-wheel drive produces prodigious traction regardless of terrain. When off-road or facing snow, X-Mode can alter traction control and activate hill-descent control. Helped by 8.7 inches of ground clearance, an Outback scampers merrily along unpaved roads. Kinship to Subaru’s Legacy sedan translates to road manners that suggest a tall car.
The 4-cylinder Outback is EPA-rated at 25/32 mpg City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined. Picking the more powerful flat-6, estimates sink sharply, to 20/27/22 mpg. Outbacks use regular gasoline.
The compact, highly competent 2019 Subaru Outback wagon continues to deliver a classy overall feel and rewarding ride and handling, along with admirable off-road capabilities. Making the EyeSight group standard adds to its appeal and value. Base models are adequately equipped, but a Premium or Limited version might be the wiser choice.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.