If I were to give a most-improved award to one new vehicle for 2015, the Subaru Outback would take the honours.

At first blush, this jacked-up wagon doesn’t immediately distinguish itself as being significantly better than or even much different from its predecessor. But dismissing this as nothing more than a mid-cycle freshening would be a mistake. And it seems Canadian car buyers are appreciating the Outback’s newfound competencies, because for the last three consecutive months Outback sales have been at record levels. Critical acclaim is there as well: the Outback took top honours in its class for the AJAC Best New SUV/CUV in the Under $35,000 category.

So what is it about the new Outback that has people flocking to Subaru dealerships?

Gone is the awkward front-end styling that consistently reminded me of the Chrysler Sebring. It’s now more angular, filled with character and generally easier on the eyes. There’s a hint of the trendy clamshell hood (at the sides, at least) along with a windshield that has been pulled forward at its base for a sleeker appearance. The rear glass has taken on more of a slope as well. The car’s plastic lower body cladding has shrunk, which is just fine by me. So while it’s immediately recognizable as an Outback, all of the details have been revisited to great effect.

Small increases in major exterior dimensions for the Outback mean big gains in interior room: cargo capacity is bumped from 857 L to 1,005 L with the seats up, while a folded rear seat yields an increase of 56 L to 2,075 compared to last year. A 70 kg increase in curb weight seems palatable in this case.

If the Outback’s exterior enhancements are subtle yet effective, once inside it’s clear this is a very different ride. We’ve jumped at least one class upward with the new car’s interior furnishings. The dash is no longer dominated by a busy centre stack with too many buttons and too much silver-finished plastic. That would have been okay ten years ago, but interiors of today need to have a different vibe, and this Subie’s got it.

The new look is clean. A frameless, glossy touch screen display takes over more of the Outback’s functions and buttons are minimized and treated with high-end finishes that provide a richer overall look. The use of wood-grain trim is restrained and not objectionable – that’s about as high a compliment I can volley at wood-grain trim. The seats now have more shape and stitching and console storage is improved.

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