2016 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

Subarus are sometimes considered quirky cars, and you could probably say this about the 2016 Subaru Outback. Here’s a midsize wagon based on a family sedan (the Legacy) that has a raised ground clearance, all-wheel drive and plastic body cladding. In today’s cookie-cutter automotive marketplace, this is the equivalent of wearing paisley bell bottoms to an IBM boardroom meeting. But consider us fans of quirky because there’s plenty to like with the latest Outback.

In actuality, Subaru redesigned the Outback last year with an eye toward making it feel more like a mainstream car, and we appreciate the automaker’s efforts: The hard plastics and oddball ergonomics of the old car were replaced with higher-quality materials and a more sensible control layout, the technology interface became more advanced and fuel economy has improved. The Outback’s safety resumĂ© has grown as well, and this year’s model has new emergency assistance connectivity through Subaru’s Starlink system.

Based on the Legacy sedan, the Subaru Outback is one of the few midsize wagons available.

But for all its newfound class, the 2016 Subaru Outback still likes to play in the mud. You might be surprised given its wagon-like profile, but with all the mechanical bits tucked up under its sheet-metal skirts, the Outback boasts 8.7 inches of ground clearance, more than many truck-based SUVs. Combine that with the Outback’s roomy seating, generous cargo bay and relatively low load-height roof and you’ve got an ideal family outdoor recreational vehicle.

Few cars compete with the Outback head-on. Volvo’s XC70 comes the closest. It’s more luxurious but also more expensive. The Audi Allroad and Volvo V60 Cross Country are also similar in concept, but they can’t match the Outback’s interior space. If you’re not keen on the Outback’s wagon body style or performance, your next best bet would be a small or midsize crossover SUV such as the Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee or Subaru’s own Forester. These are all good vehicles, but if foul-weather traction and outdoor-going individuality are the top attributes you’re seeking, the 2016 Subaru Outback should definitely be on your short list.

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Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2016 Subaru Outback is a five-passenger crossover wagon offered in four trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited and 3.6R Limited. The numbers refer to engine displacement.

The base 2.5i comes with 17-inch steel wheels, roof rack rails with integral crossbars, automatic headlights, air-conditioning, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, full power accessories, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 6.2-inch touchscreen (Subaru’s Starlink interface) and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, a USB interface and smartphone integration with Pandora and Aha audio streaming. There are no factory-installed options offered on the 2.5i model.

The 2.5i Premium model has all of the base car’s equipment plus 17-inch alloy wheels, heated seats and exterior mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-way power driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded gauges, expanded Starlink Connected services, voice controls, a 7-inch touchscreen display and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio.

Options for the 2.5i Premium include a sunroof (which comes bundled with an auto-dimming rearview mirror), power folding side mirrors, a power rear liftgate, a navigation system, additional Starlink Safety Plus and Security Plus services and Subaru’s EyeSight system (adaptive cruise control plus extra safety features; see Safety section).

Going with an Outback Premium or Limited will get you a larger touchscreen interface that’s easy to use.

Stepping up to the 2.5i Limited adds leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, a comfort-tuned suspension, rear air vents, power-folding side mirrors, a power rear liftgate, a four-way power passenger seat, driver memory settings, heated rear seats, an upgraded Harman Kardon 12-speaker sound system, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Available options mimic those of the 2.5i Premium, with the addition of keyless ignition and entry.

The 3.6R Limited offers the same equipment as the 2.5i Limited, with the addition of a six-cylinder engine and xenon headlights.

Powertrains and Performance

The standard engine for the 2016 Subaru Outback is a 2.5 liter horizontally opposed (“boxer”) four-cylinder, which generates 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. It drives all four wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which has steering-wheel-mounted buttons to emulate a six-speed manually shifted transmission when the driver desires.

In Edmunds performance testing, an Outback 2.5i Limited reached 60 mph from rest in an lackluster 9.6 seconds. Most compact crossovers are a bit quicker. The EPA rates the Outback 2.5i at 28 mpg combined (25 city/33 highway), and on Edmunds’ mixed-driving 120-mile evaluation loop, the Outback 2.5i Limited returned 28.9 mpg.

The six-cylinder Outback 3.6R picks up the pace with 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, but that extra power takes its toll on fuel economy. The EPA gives estimates of 22 mpg combined (20 city/27 highway).

Safety

Every 2016 Subaru Outback comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, active front head restraints, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and seat cushion airbags (to position occupants correctly in the event of a frontal collision; these are used in place of knee airbags). Also standard across the board is a rearview camera. On the Premium and Limited trim levels, the Outback comes with Starlink Connected Services, which includes emergency assistance and automatic collision notification. This can be enhanced with the optional Safety Plus and Security Plus upgrade, which adds remote vehicle access, remote vehicle locating and stolen vehicle recovery.

The Outback Limited comes standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems. Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist system is available for the Premium and Limited and includes the blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, as well as a lane-departure warning and intervention system and a forward collision warning and mitigation system with automatic brake intervention. EyeSight can also detect pedestrians.

In government crash tests, the 2016 Subaru Outback earned a five-star overall rating, with five stars for total frontal crash protection and five stars for side impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Outback its highest possible rating of “Good” in the small-overlap frontal-offset, moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. Its seat/head restraint design was also rated “Good” for whiplash protection in rear impacts. The IIHS also tested the Subaru Outback’s optional frontal collision warning and mitigation system and awarded it a top rating of “Superior.”

During Edmunds brake testing, a Subaru Outback 2.5 Limited came to a stop from 60 mph in 123 feet, which is an average distance for the segment.

Interior Design and Special Features

The Outback’s interior (along with the rest of the car) was completely redesigned for 2015. This year sees a few interior tweaks and more functionality for the infotainment system. If the car is equipped with navigation, that screen allows you to use the now-intuitive pinch-and-expand finger movements to zoom in or out. The rest of the center stack controls are easy to use, and there’s a handy cell phone slot on the center console. Overall quality is high as well, with plenty of soft-touch materials around the cabin and convincing faux metallic and wood-tone accents.

You can carry a lot of stuff in the back of a 2016 Subaru Outback thanks to its 73.3 cubic feet of cargo room.

The front seats are generously padded and provide excellent all-day comfort. Still, some long-legged folks might wish for a bit more thigh support. You needn’t spring for the leather-lined Limited model, as we are quite enamored of the soft, grippy cloth seats in the 2.5i Premium. There’s plenty of room for the driver and front passenger to spread out. In back, headroom is only adequate for adults, but there is abundant legroom and hiproom.

Although the Outback is more of a station wagon than it is a tall and airy SUV, slim roof pillars give it superb outward visibility. Cargo capacity is also a strong point, as there are 35.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, which grows to 73.3 with the seatbacks dropped (easy to do thanks to rear-seat fold-down levers in the cargo area). The Outback’s stance, which isn’t as tall as an SUV’s, also makes it a good choice if you frequently load gear on the roof.

Driving Impressions

For 2.5i versions of the 2016 Subaru Outback, there’s enough power for safe highway merging, but load it up with people and gear and it feels overwhelmed, especially if you’re driving at high elevation. Around town, the jumpy responsiveness of the gas pedal and the spongy brake pedal make the Outback harder to drive smoothly than it should be. The six-cylinder provides more punch, and if you frequently load up the car or live in a mountainous area, you’re going to want this larger engine. With either engine, the CVT is pretty likable, as it reacts promptly to your gas pedal inputs and isn’t affected as much by the annoying engine rpm quirks of other CVTs.

The 2016 Subaru Outback isn’t very exciting to drive. Getting the six-cylinder engine might be a good idea.

Precise steering and revised suspension tuning make the 2016 Subaru Outback a competent handling wagon. The generous suspension travel endows the Outback with a plush ride, and road noise is quelled even over coarse pavement. The Outback is also more capable on light-duty trails than the typical small crossover. Getting to trailheads on dirt roads will be a snap.

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