Written by Jimmy Dinsmore
The evolution of the modern-day station wagon has been remarkable. One of the leaders in the station wagon renaissance has been Subaru and the Outback - a vehicle that has always marched to its own beat. And that march usually found it somewhere off the beaten path, a place the Outback is comfortable. And in that off-road ability, is where the Outback has taken the station wagon genre. Of course, we now generically call the station wagon a crossover. Even though the Outback fits comfortably in that crossover category, it still isn't a vehicle that will not be stereotyped.
And, what's even better is that the Outback continues to improve and evolve from upgrade to upgrade. The 2015 Subaru Outback is redesigned and shows a willingness to keep up with the other vehicles within this segment, despite the fact that there really are very few true station wagons for it to compete against.
What We Loved about the 2015 Subaru Outback
What We Didn't Love about the 2015 Subaru Outback
- The true station wagon look of the exterior, instead of the usual squatty/bulbous appearance of other crossovers.
- Rugged ability of the vehicle, where it really can handle itself off the road
- Improved interior materials from the previous generation
- The continuously variable transmission is the only option, and like many other CVTs takes away from the driving enjoyment
- The voice guidance on the navigation could not be disabled and came in loudly over a Bluetooth conversation
- Despite an improved infotainment system, sound system and technology was still disappointing
Exterior View (7 out of 10)
The 2015 Subaru Outback maintains its true station wagon form, despite being categorized as a crossover. The Outback is way more car than truck, and really should fall in its own subcategory as one of the few remaining station wagons on the market. But this isn't Clark Griswold's old station wagon, this is a rugged-looking handsome vehicle with good proportions. The hood, side body and back end work in excellent symmetry with each other, where the Outback looks balanced, offering a fantastic fit and finish. Roof racks indicate its ability to handle fun on the weekend. 17-inch wheels and fog lights add to its rugged appearance too. When reviewing vehicles, we appreciate a distinctive appearance, and the Outback is certainly that.
Interior Comfort, Quality and Overall Ease of Use (7 out of 10)
With previous generations, Subaru has not paid much attention to interior space. The Subie fans out here never seemed to object to the sparse amenities and lower quality materials found inside. This is similar to the Jeep Wrangler in that regard, but it doesn't stop us from wanting and expecting more from this vehicle. The 2015 Outback delivers much improvement to the overall interior. Softer materials are used throughout. Seats are comfortable for all passengers. Rear legroom and headroom are not an issue at all, even for passengers over six feet tall. In fact, three adults will fit comfortably in the back seat, making this a refreshing option for families and road trips. Cargo space is ample as the Outback offers 35.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row, but we'd expect nothing less from a station wagon. This year, Subaru makes folding the rear seat extra easy with levers that increase the overall cargo space to 73.3 cubic feet. This is great for the weekend adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts, a key demographic for the Outback. Throw a few bikes in the back and a couple of backpacks, drop a canoe on the roof rack, and let the good times roll!
Technology (6 out of 10)
Subaru gets an A for effort in the improvements to the 2015 Outback in regards to technology. Much like interior materials, technology has been an area Subaru has lagged behind in for years. We still think the 2015 Outback is three or four years behind the most technology-advanced vehicles within the segment, but at least there's vast improvement from the last generation. A 6.2-inch touchscreen is standard for the lower trims, while a 7-inch touchscreen is part of the upgraded Premium and Limited trims, including our tester - the 2.5i Premium Outback. Our tester did come with navigation, which has a familiar interface, similar to many pads and smartphones. Pinch your fingers in to zoom in on the map, and the touchscreen itself is responsive, which is nice since many others are either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. All-in-all, the touchscreen is an improvement, but nothing spectacular. The 12-speaker Harman-Kardon sound system seemed impressive on paper. It also seemed out of place for a Subaru. While we appreciated the improvement the sound quality was sub-par, especially for this brand. We've had other Harman-Kardon systems that we thoroughly enjoyed, but in this the speakers seemed to top out quickly, and could not handle much bass.
Fuel Economy (7 out of 10)
Because all Outbacks come with all-wheel drive (it's what Subaru is known for), that can sometimes make fuel economy take a hit. And, Subaru has not been a brand that has generally hovered near the top in regards to fuel economy. But, they're not gas guzzlers either. With the 2015 Outback, little has changed. The Outback has a CVT, which has a purpose in life to improve fuel economy, but even with this annoying transmission, we weren't able to find significant fuel economy improvement. The 2015 Outback 2.5i Premium has an EPA rating of 25 city and 33 highway. In a week's worth of driving, we never saw anywhere close to the 30 mpg mark. Rather we averaged around 28 mpg. For a tame engine, with an alleged fuel-saving continuously variable transmission, we expected more.
Predicted Reliability and Initial Quality Ratings (9 out of 10)
Subie fans are passionate about this brand. That passion indicates reliability. The Outback consistently retains much of its value and spurs multiple generations of buyers because of its reliability and durability.
Safety (10 out of 10)
IIHS thinks highly of the redesigned Outback. It achieved their highest possible rating of good in the Institute's crashworthiness evaluations and also received a superior rating in the front crash avoidance testing. Thankfully, our tester came equipped with Subaru's Eyesight driver assist system. This system helps the driver with lane departure warning, a pre-collision alert system, cross-traffic alert system, adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring. When equipped with Eyesight, the Outback is a 2014 IIHS Top Safety Pick.
Performance (7 out of 10)
There are two engine options for the 2015 Outback. A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard on most models. This engine makes 175 horsepower. An optional 3.6-liter V6 engine makes 256 horsepower, but is only available on the higher trim levels. The aforementioned CVT is the only transmission option for the all-wheel drive Outback.
While the 2.5-liter engine is adequately powered, it does not feel very punchy and due to the quirks of the CVT, often times feels as though it is over revving and lagging behind. Off the line it's quite bland. From a pure handling standpoint, it outperforms most other crossovers on the road. With all-wheel drive, it grips through turns, and because it doesn't have a high roofline, it seems controlled making tight turns. Thanks to a fully-independent suspension (new for this model year), the Outback offers a plush, comfortable ride. Road and engine noise are noticeable but not hateful. It is quieter, all around, from the previous generation. The 2015 Outback does not have a drastically better engine, nor will it provide goosebumps or blaze off the line, but it will give a refined, comfortable and controlled driving performance, which is really all it's supposed to do. We especially liked the new X-mode with Hill Descent and Hill Assist. While this feature is irrelevant on the dry roads, during more inclement weather, and off road, it's a feature that shows Subaru hasn't forgotten about its rugged reputation.
Pricing and Value for Money (7 out of 10)
With four trims, the Outback starts at a price of $24,895. Our tester was the 2.5i Premium (second highest trim offered) and had a starting price of $27,295. When the Eyesight package was added at a cost of $1,695 it took the final MSRP up to over $30,000. We would like to see Subaru make the Eyesight standard, just as they have all-wheel drive. If they could brag about this fantastic safety feature, along with AWD, it could really challenge the rest of the segment, and would also help justify the Outback's price tag. Other vehicles in the segment start in the low $20s.
"The Final Numbers" and the Competition (60 points out of 80: 75%)
It's hard to compare the Outback to other crossovers. Those "competitors" are true crossovers where they're more truck-like with some car qualities. The Outback really is a station wagon, which puts it in rare air with few competitors. Pricier options like the Audi All-Road and the Volvo XC70 can lay claim to station wagon qualities too, but when it comes to this niche segment, Outback is the king. So, Subaru has done a phenomenal job of carving out their place in whatever segment they're competing. The Outback is one of their oldest brands and also one of their top sellers because of how it's managed to evolve through the years. With a redesigned look, an improved interior and some advancement in technology, the 2015 Outback continues to do what it does it best, while improving in other needed areas.