2017 Subaru Outback Driving Impressions

Off-road prowess and all-wheel-drive traction might attract initial attention to the Outback, but its smooth ride could seal the deal. Performance and gas mileage depend on the engine choice.

With the four-cylinder engine, a 3,500-pound Outback can feel overtaxed. Even so, unless you expect to be trudging up steep mountain roads, the smaller engine should suffice. Horizontally opposed engines aren’t inherently thrifty, so even the four-cylinder isn’t so frugal if pushed hard. The four-cylinder is EPA-rated at 25/32 mpg City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined.

More capable of coping with demanding upgrades, the six-cylinder engine is EPA-rated at a less-tempting 20/27 mpg City/Highway, or 22 mpg Combined. The 3.6-liter develops 247 pound-feet of torque, from as low as 2000 rpm all the way to 6000 rpm, helping to avoid running out of energy when worked hard. Six-cylinder Outbacks have a heavier steering feel.

CVTs tend to be sluggish, but Subaru’s version deserves a prize for impressive performance. Six simulated steps provide ratios like the physical gears within a normal transmission. Paddle shifters on upper trim levels can help the 2.5-liter engine when the going gets tougher. Subarus are quite popular in mountainous regions, though with the four-cylinder, a heavier foot on the accelerator might be needed fairly often.

Four-cylinder Outbacks can tow up to 2,700 pounds, versus 3,000 pounds for the 3.6-liter six-cylinder. All Outbacks are fairly quiet, emitting little more than a mild growl.

All-weather capability and along-the-trail prowess intensify performance credibility. Active torque vectoring promises improved control of individual wheels on certain low-traction surfaces.

X-Mode comes into play at lower speeds, making the gas pedal less touchy and altering the shift pattern. Ventilated all-disc brakes perform well, with little nosedive.

Visibility is good, but window positions and a rather tall body could make backing up and parking a bit challenging.

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