Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2019 Subaru Outback

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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Is it a sin to lose one’s individuality if you make more friends as a result? Once the proud purveyor of a showroom stuffed with personality, Subaru has ridden a wave of sales success that has broadened its market at the same time as it has homogenized its offerings almost across the board.

The modern Outback has ballooned considerably, bringing with it a whopping 2,075 litres of total cargo space with the rear seats folded flat. 

As the company follows the necessary value equation that is platform-sharing, combined with following the market’s inexorable crossover bulge-in-the-pants, it’s only natural that some of Subaru’s quirks get ironed out in the process. The 2019 Subaru Outback is the perfect example of this gradual maturation of the automaker’s lineup, and while this hauler may not be the “fun uncle” it once was, it’s definitely on the right track to satisfy space-seeking families on a budget.

I Wanna Be Big

The most obvious aspect of the 2019 Subaru Outback’s return to the mean is its size. While it may have once shared its bones with the now-departed wagon version of the Legacy, the modern Outback has ballooned considerably, bringing with it a whopping 2,075 litres of total cargo space with the rear seats folded flat. Fill that back bench with passengers instead and they’ll enjoy substantial legroom and enough air gap over their heads to tolerate longer road trips – all while preserving just over 1,000 litres of carry between them and the hatch.

The vehicle’s size also informs the way that it drives. Suffice it to say that the Outback, while weighing in at a reasonable 1,600 kg, isn’t as nimble as past iterations, which may be an issue for those trading up their older models who have become used to a car-like driving experience. This on-road blandness lumps the Outback in with nearly every other crossover in its class, which isn’t a knock against the Subaru – merely an acknowledgement that dynamics are likely the last thing on the minds of function-focussed SUV shoppers seeking a daily driver.

Surprisingly Sumptuous

In addition to housing a capacious passenger cabin, the Subaru Outback is also notable for delivering the now-necessary pampering required to put plush butts in equally plush seats. The trim level I drove – Limited with EyeSight – is one rung down from the top, but you certainly wouldn’t guess its penultimate status after spending any length of time inside. Soft leather, wood trim accents, a large eight-inch infotainment display, and plenty of piano black splashed onto the centre stack and steering wheel control surfaces gave the Outback a high class feel that contributed to its softly sprung, “oasis on the road” demeanour.

It would be overstating things to claim that the Outback Limited is a luxury vehicle – there are too many pedestrian plastics that would upset the landed gentry should their dainty hands accidentally brush against them while entering or exiting – but it’s certainly accurate to state that the crossover delivers a luxury “experience” from behind the wheel – or even any of its four additional passenger seats. It’s a blurred line between “premium” and the upper reaches of the SUV market these days, but the Outback happily occupies a spot within this pleasing margin. Yes, you’ll pay about $10K over the cost of a base model for the Limited’s charms ($38,395), but you do get the benefit of the EyeSight active safety equipment to go with it – something that’s not available until you’re $35,000 or so deep into the crossover’s build sheet.

Familiar Faces

Mechanically, much of the rest of the Outback is what you’d expect from a Subaru, which is both good and, well, less good, depending on your perspective. Surefooted all-wheel drive is standard with the crossover, and it’s a welcome helping hand once the snow starts to fall. Of course, it also impacts fuel economy in real-world driving, which means you may not be able to depend on the 8.5 L/100 km combined rating affixed to the window sticker of the four-cylinder model (a thirstier six-cylinder edition is also available).

That 2.5L entry-level engine is also not up for shenanigans if you need to get anywhere quickly. While perfectly adequate for daily driving, the unit’s 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque aren’t exactly champing at the bit when you dip into the throttle, and if you stay in it off the line you’ll notice the Outback’s continuously variable automatic transmission holding the rev line until you let up. It’s not something that bothered me all that much, but if you’re not used to this type of gearbox it may take a while before you’re completely comfortable with the sensation and sound that come with it.

Comfortable in Its Role

Quite honestly, when combined with its exceptional interior room and copious comfort features, the smooth and assured comportment of the Subaru Outback is a worthwhile return on the sacrifice of its once-engaging drive. Buyers who are still seeking a more involved vehicle can easily find the older Outback’s analogue in the same brand’s Crosstrek, a smaller crossover that’s a near-match to the Legacy-based model’s size.

With the presence of the Crosstrek below and the new Ascent above, the Outback Limited with Eyesight is now free to focus on presenting comfort-conscious families with a premium option outside of the traditional luxury space – and that’s a pretty big peer group to get lost in.

Engine Displacement 2.5L
Engine Cylinders H4
Peak Horsepower 175 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Peak Torque 174 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy 9.5/7.3/8.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 1,005 / 2,075 L seats down
Model Tested 2019 Subaru Outback Limited with EyeSight
Base Price $38,395
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,800
Price as Tested $40,295
Optional Equipment