2018 Subaru Outback Driving Impressions


In addition to practical merits, Outbacks ride and handle well. In each version, crisp, carlike steering is complemented by a supple ride. Outbacks promise comfortable, composed motoring, even better for 2018, due to suspension tweaks. Limited and Touring models ride a little firmer, but differences are subtle.

Rolling through winding roads, an Outback is easy to enjoy. Standard torque vectoring can brake each wheel individually, to improve stability during brisk cornering.

The base four-cylinder yields adequate acceleration, feeling almost lively in urban driving. Passing power diminishes on upgrades and at higher altitudes. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder sounds rough and noisy at times, especially when slowly lugging up hills. The continuously variable transmission, or CVT, stresses smoothness. It’s an improvement over the rubber band feel of earlier CVTs, but there is still that feeling of elasticity between the power pedal and engine response. Using the shifter paddles on the steering wheel, the driver can induce the CVT to mimic a conventional automatic transmission with gears: Pull back on a paddle and the transmission will feel like it is downshifting to a lower ratio for quicker acceleration.

Subaru’s 3.6-liter six is smoother and produces greater thrust. Six-cylinder Outbacks accelerate effectively, even when filled with passengers and luggage. We prefer the responsiveness and power of the six-cylinder. The six-cylinder engine costs more, however, and it is only available on upper models. And fuel economy is lower.

Either way, the Outback is ready for gravel roads and two-tracks. Its 8.7-inch ground clearance helps it on rough roads, though it’s limited by long front and rear overhangs that might scrape on primitive trails. An X-Mode off-road setting alters throttle response and traction-control operation, while engaging hill-descent control helps the driver maintain control on steep, slimy downhills. We found the Bridgestone Dueler all-season tires on one of our test models lacked grip on packed snow at low temperatures. Real snow tires would turn one of these cars into an unstoppable winter machine. For fast travel on gravel roads, these cars are among the best.

On paved roads for everyday driving, the Outback is fairly smooth and reasonably quiet. It handles very well. The suspension is relatively soft and offers a relatively large amount of travel, great on rough roads. It’s easy and enjoyable to drive quickly on smooth, winding roads, but it doesn’t offer the crisp transient response of an Audi with a sports suspension.

Subaru’s four-cylinder engine is impressively thrifty, EPA-rated at 25/32 mpg City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined. Fuel-efficiency isn’t the forte of six-cylinder models, EPA-rated at only 20/27 mpg City/Highway, or 22 mpg Combined. Both engines use Regular-grade gasoline, while some of the competition requires more expensive, higher-octane Premium.

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