You might think that wagons had their hay day back in the 1970s, and it’s true that the popularity of SUVs has put wagons on the decline. However, wagons like the Subaru Outback still offer many strong points, especially as family cars. The Outback has plenty of space, while maintaining the handling and high fuel economy of a car. Its standard all-wheel drive and anti-slip technology make the Outback a great choice for families in colder climates who travel wintry roads, or those who go off-roading in the summer months.
In short, family shoppers should give wagons a second look. Here’s everything you need to know about the Subaru Outback, and why it just might be the right car for your family.
Price and Value: A 2019 Subaru Outback has a starting price of $26,000 new. The most upscale Outbacks cost about $39,000 new. However, you can save significant money by purchasing a used Subaru Outback. The Outback was entirely redesigned for the 2020 model year, which means there are great deals available on the previous generation, which ran from 2015 to 2019. We’ll focus on that generation in this review.
The engine and trim options and most standard features remained the same throughout the generation, so you can save money by buying an older used Subaru Outback. In 2016, lane keep assist became available, and Subaru updated the steering system. In 2017, reverse automatic braking became available, and the Touring trim was added. The next year there were a few interior and exterior styling tweaks, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto became available. In 2019, Subaru’s EyeSight advanced safety suite, which includes driver assist features like pre-collision braking and lane-keep assist became standard on every Subaru Outback.
Overall, the Subaru’s strong points, like great safety ratings and standard all-wheel drive, remained the same throughout the generation, so you can feel confident about buying a used Subaru Outback.
Seating and Capacities: The Subaru Outback has seating for five. The rear seat has more than 38 inches of legroom, making it comfortable for adults and spacious enough for rear-facing car seats. The Outback also has plenty of space for cargo, with 35.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats in use, and an available 73.3 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded flat.
The Subaru has 8.7-inches of ground clearance, more than most cars or wagons. That’s useful for drivers who are interested in off-roading. The Subaru has a maximum towing capacity of 2,700 pounds when properly equipped, enough to move a small boat or trailer.
Features: The Subaru Outback is know for certain standard features that contribute to performance and safety. Every Outback comes with all-wheel drive, and with Subaru’s X-mode anti-slip system. X-mode is a push-button system that coordinates the engine, transmission, all-wheel drive system and brakes to give optimal performance in slick conditions. For example, it increases torque while keeping the car in low gear to reduce the risk of sliding on the road.
As of 2019, the Subaru Outback also comes standard with the EyeSight advanced safety suite. That includes pre-collision braking and throttle management, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. Blind spot monitoring and automatic rear braking are available on higher-level trims.
Engine Options and Fuel Economy: The Subaru Outback is available with two Boxer engines. It comes standard with a 175-horsepower four-cylinder engine that gets 28 mpg combined on the 2019 model. Drivers also have the option of a 256-horsepower six-cylinder engine that gets 22 mpg combined on the 2019 model. Both are paired with a continuously variable transmission (known as a shiftless transmission) and all-wheel drive.
Trims: The Subaru Outback is available in four trims. Here’s what you can expect from each (using specs from the 2019 model)
- Base trim: 175-horsepower engine; cloth seats; 6.5-inch display screen and infotainment system including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; 12-volt power outlets; rear-view camera; EyeSight driver assist package; roof rails.
- Premium: 8-inch display screen with voice-activated controls; heated front seats and exterior mirrors; windshield wiper deicer; dual-zone climate control; leather-wrapped steering wheel.
- Limited: Available with either engine; leather seats; blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert; Harman Kardon® premium audio system; heated rear seats; power lift gate.
- Touring: Available with either engine; moonroof; low-profile roof rails; navigations; steering-responsive headlights; reverse automatic braking.
Safety: The Subaru Outback is an extremely safe vehicle, especially for navigating icy or snowy, wintry roads. In fact, all models year in this generation (2015-2019) were named a Top Safety Pick+ by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and have a five out of five safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The standard all-wheel drive and anti-slip system will help set your mind at ease. The 2019 model comes with standard driver-assist features in the EyeSight suite. However, if you feel strongly about having those features, they were available options on previous model years. In reality, any used Subaru Outback that you buy will be a very safe family vehicle.
Reliability: The Subaru Outback is a fairly reliable vehicle. Model years 2015, 2018, and 2019 have a reliability rating of 3 out of 5 from J.D. Power and Associates, which is average. Model years 2016 and 2017 had a above-average reliability rating of 3.5 out of 5.
There is currently one recall for the 2019 Subaru Outback, which has to do with improper welds, which could fail in the event of an accident. The 2018 model had two recalls, related to the camera image display and incorrect fuel range estimates. If you are purchasing a used Subaru Outback be sure to check the VIN to see whether your vehicle was subject to these recalls, and whether the necessary repairs have been performed.
Ratings: The Subaru Outback is a highly rated wagon. This generation has been rating #1 or #2 in wagons each year by U.S. News and World Reports (only the Volkswagen Golf sometimes ranks higher). The Outback is also a standout for safety and winter performance.
The Takeaway: The Subaru Outback is an excellent family car, especially for people who are concerned about driving on slick roads. The Outback has plenty of space, especially when you consider that it comes standard with roof racks and can tow up to 2,700 pounds. The Outback is extremely safe, with top safety ratings and standard high-tech features meant to get your to your destination. Anyone looking for a safe and efficient family car should consider the Subaru Outback.