Originally published September 10, 2014

In New Delhi, it’s the rickshaw. In Bangkok, the tuk-tuk. In Taipei, it’s the scooter. In Eastern Africa it’s the Land Rover, and in the Middle East, it’s the Land Cruiser. Every place around the globe has one vehicle that is so much a part of the backdrop, it might as well qualify as official landscape. And, for the imaginary country of Cascadia, located West of the Pacific Northwest’s coastal mountains, that car is the Subaru Outback.

The theoretical flag of Cascadia is a trio of blue, white and green bars, with a proud Douglas fir emblazoned in the centre. What nonsense – the thing should be two-tone beige and green with the Latin inscription Planus Mundo Est: the world is flat. Or however you conjugate that.

The national animal would be the labradoodle. The national flower would be the daisy chain. The national anthem would feature a bluegrass banjo solo, and local militias would be equipped with cargo shorts and Birkenstocks. Basically, there are two types of Subaru owners: those of the turbocharged “hold my Red Bull and watch this,” persuasion, and those who enjoy birdwatching. The Outback is built for the latter.

2015 Subaru Outback2015 Subaru Outback
2015 Subaru Outback. Click image to enlarge

Those are the stereotypes anyway, but the growing popularity of Subaru across all market segments means that Outback owners are increasingly less likely these days to drop granola crumbs between the seat cushions. There’s still a whiff of socks-n’-sandals outdoorsyness to the car, but it’s a slicker, more broadly appealing car than before. This one was the very top-end Limited Trim, which meant sumptuous leather interior, a 6.2-inch touchscreen display with swipe-and-pinch functionality, a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, and stylish matte-finish wood trim. This in comparison to my own decade-old Subaru, which features rattles, scuffed plastic, and cat hair. The first thing I did was jump out and double-check the badge to make sure I hadn’t accidentally been handed a Lexus.

So that’s a bit of a surprise, but from the outside, the Outback is still the same chunky wagon on stilts it always was. The new front end, shared with the Legacy, is a handsomer snout than before, and tide levels are at an all-time low on the black plastic cladding: no more two-tone beige.

Some might wonder why you wouldn’t just buy a Forester instead, but there are a few reasons. Firstly, the Outback is a little longer in cargo capacity than the Fozzie, but more importantly, if you’re a paddle-sport enthusiast, then the lower loading height for the integral roof rails on the Outback is a boon. Er, I should probably qualify what “paddle-sports” are – kayaking, canoeing, or SUPing.

2015 Subaru Outback2015 Subaru Outback dashboard
2015 Subaru Outback, dashboard. Click image to enlarge

Also, and this is a bit surprising, the Outback is flat-out nicer inside than the Forester. The fit and finish seem a little tighter, and around the back where the seats fold down, the Outback’s cloth is just a little better attached. I like the black floor mats for those who are going to jump in and out of the lighter interior with grubby shoes, but the Outback seems nicely put together for less rugged exploits.

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