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Review and photos by Grant Yoxon
The 2005 Subaru Outback 2.5 XT defies categorization. Simply calling it a ‘crossover’ doesn’t seem sufficient. This car crosses too many boundaries.
A crossover is defined as a vehicle that fits more than one category. The Outback – a slightly raised station wagon with all-wheel-drive and the off-highway capability of most sport-utility vehicles – fits this description. Subaru likes to say that they pioneered the crossover category with the original Outback a decade ago.
But the new Outback 2.5 XT has given new meaning to the term crossover. With a turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine that produces 100 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque per litre, the Outback 2.5 XT is a true sport wagon as well.
The 2.5 XT is the sportiest of the current crop of Outbacks available from Subaru. The 2005 models have been completely overhauled and the 2005 Outback is more refined and more expensive. The base Outback 2.5i, with a 168 horsepower naturally aspirated boxer, or horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, starts at $32,995. A more well-appointed version, the 2.5i Ltd retails for $38,995. Equipped with a 250 horsepower horizontally opposed six cylinder engine, the Outback 3.0R Wagon is also priced at $38,995 while the top-of-the-line 3.0R VDC Wagon has a price tag of $44,995.
Near the top, equipped with a high performance version of the 2.5 litre boxer four, is the Outback 2.5 XT, with a price of $42,895.
The new turbocharged boxer, or horizontally opposed 2.5 litre engine shares its architecture and technology with the engines used in the Impreza WRX STi and Forester 2.5 XT, but the cylinder block, cylinder heads, crankshaft, camshafts, intake system, turbocharger, intercooler and other elements are unique to the Outback and its sister model, the Legacy.
The turbocharger produces a maximum of 13.5 psi compared to 11.6 psi in the Subaru Forester 2.5 XT and 14.5 psi in the Impreza WRX Sti. The air-to-air intercooler, which sits on top of the engine and receives air from an opening in the hood, is smaller and more efficient than the one in the Forester 2.5 XT and WRX STi models. The engine uses Iridium-tipped spark plugs for more efficient ignition, while an engine oil cooler maintains optimal engine operating temperature and improves durability.
Throttle is electronic. Step on the gas and the power is immediate. The Outback 2.5 XT gets going right now and revs quickly up to red line. Subaru has made turbo lag a relic of the past.
Equipped with the five-speed manual transmission, the Outback is a surprisingly fun vehicle to drive. Steering is well-balanced and precise. The brakes are strong. The engine has that endearing mechanical whir that only a turbocharged flat four can deliver. It doesn’t have the same raw, sensory driving experience as the WRX STi – the level of refinement and comfort precludes that – but few vehicles as practical or multipurpose as the Outback will be so pleasing to drive.
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With roof racks and as much as 1747 litres (62 cubic feet) of cargo space with the rear seats folded flat, the Outback can carry a lot of stuff.
It has a particularly roomy interior – one of the most noticeable areas of improvement over the previous Outback. The rear seats fold flat with a single touch – no wrestling with head rests or flipped up seat bottoms. Legroom is generous. Supportive seats, front and rear, are covered in thick leather that feels quite durable.
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In the 2.5 XT, the aluminum-look interior trim matches the sporting nature of the vehicle. The gauges are electroluminescent, with large bright white lettering and glowing red needles.
In addition to the usual assortment of power assists, standard equipment includes an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat and four-way power adjustable passenger seat, an in-dash 6-CD changer, dual zone automatic climate control, variable range seat heaters and a huge two piece sun roof that extends over the back seat. The front section elevates to act as a wind deflector, while the rear section moves back into the roof.
The three spoke steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope. Nor are there any steering-wheel mounted controls. However, the large radio and climate control buttons and knobs are within easy reach and easy to use.
Safety is a Subaru highpoint and the Outback has a full-load of active and passive safety features. Active safety begins with Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system that provides a strong mechanical spine through the centre of the vehicle. In manual-equipped cars, power is routed through a viscous centre differential. Power is distributed 50/50 front and rear. Slippage at either set of wheels sends more power to the set of wheels with more grip.
Equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission, the AWD system uses a planetary centre differential that works with an electronically controlled, continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch to manage power distribution. The system normally sends more power to the rear wheels to enhance handling agility, and it continuously adjusts the power distribution in response to driving and road conditions.
The Outback is fitted with standard front seat side impact air bags for thorax-area protection and full side curtain air bags for head protection. The 2005 Outback received the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s best five star rating for both front and side impacts and for both front and rear passengers.
I’ve never been a big fan of Outback styling – its plastic body cladding appeared bulky and unplanned. But Subaru designers have done a good job to integrate the plastic panels that cover the lower part of the body.
Outback styling shares its new wedge-like shape with the Legacy, as well as new headlights and taillights, a forward slanting hood, and more rounded side glass and rear wagon glass, but the Outback has its own unique front facia, fenders, hood, grille and foglights.
Despite big improvements in the styling department for 2005, I still prefer the Legacy’s cleaner look. However, the body panels do protect the metal, and if off-road adventures figure into your plans, the extra protection could make good sense.
Ask too much of a vehicle and it will show its weaknesses. Any design that crosses this many borders is bound to have a few compromises.
With its higher ground clearance (221 mm/8.7 in. vs. 150 mm/5.9 in.) and less aggressive tires (225 55R17 vs. 215/45 ZR17), the Outback 2.5 XT gives up a bit of handling to its mechanically similar sister, the Legacy GT – however, its strong unitized body structure, rigid drive-train and fully-independent suspension give the Outback better handling than any SUV competitor in its price range.
The turbocharged 2.5-litre four is less fuel efficient than the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine and its premium fuel requirement will certainly add to driving costs, but it is no more thirsty than most V-6s and puts out a remarkable 250 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m. and 250 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,600 r.p.m.
The Outback is not as rugged as a purpose-built 4X4, but if the Rubicon Trail is one of your destinations, there are more suitable vehicles on the market. For mild off-roading, Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive – power flows straight from the longitudinal engine through the transmission and centre differential to the rear wheels – is more than up to the job. At Atlantic Motorsports Park earlier this year, the Outback proved quite capable over some awful muddy terrain.
It seems odd to talk about venturing off-road with a vehicle that is a superb road car, but the Subaru Outback 2.5 XT is not like any vehicle that neatly fits either the off-road or on-road category. It is both powerful and practical and as much fun on the pavement as it is in the weeds. A crossover it is, but so many boundaries are crossed that simply calling it a crossover really doesn’t describe the Subaru Outback 2.5 XT.
Technical Data: 2005 Subaru Outback 2.5XT
|Price as tested||$44,190|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger mid-size wagon|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.5-litre, 4 cylinder, horizontally opposed, turbocharger and intercooler, DOHC, 16 valves|
|Horsepower||250 @ 6,000 r.p.m.|
|Torque||250 lb.-ft. at 3,600 r.p.m.|
|Transmission||5-speed manual transmission (5-speed auto available)|
|Tires||225/55R17 all season radials|
|Curb weight||1,585 kg (3,494 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2,670 mm (105.1 in.)|
|Length||4795 mm (188.8 in.)|
|Width||1992 mm (78.4 in.)|
|Height||1580 mm (62.2 in.)|
|Cargo volume||seats up 909 L (32.1 cu. ft.)|
|seats folded flat 1,747 L (61.7 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.3 L/100 km (23 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.5 L/100 km (33.2 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 years/100,000 km|