In my long-lost car-loving youth, Subaru didn’t hold any appeal. I clearly remember Crocodile Dundee smugly explaining why some kind of raised station wagon was a far better choice than all the red-hot-selling Explorers and 4Runners. It wasn’t until a friend introduced me to the magic of the World Rally Championship, with its dirty little Impreza competitors and Colin McRae at the wheel, when Subaru finally started making sense.
It was hard balancing the two images: rip-snorting turbocharged dirt-flinging blue-and-gold Imprezas filling my television screen and the inevitably dark green or maroon Outbacks filling my local mall parking lots. It took until the 2005 redesign – the sleek, low and European-flavoured Legacy and Outback – for those two disparate philosophies to merge. The Outback was finally available with the same 2.5L turbocharged flat-four as the Legacy, and eventually the WRX and STI.
Sadly, and at least for now, those heydays of Subaru as a quirky, engineering-led carmaker are long gone, the edges filed away in an attempt to build sales volume. As a two-time Subaru Legacy owner myself – first an early ‘90s Turbo sedan and now an ’07 wagon – I’m in a unique position to appreciate just how far the car’s come in a relatively short time. And how far it still has to go.
First, the Outback is the closest thing to a Legacy station wagon Subaru sells here today, having been this way since the enlarged fourth generation launched in 2009. That Subaru still sells turbocharged Legacy wagons in other markets – most notably its home market in Japan – is still a real sore point.
While the Legacy has been more noticeably altered for 2015 with more refined exterior, the Outback has fewer obvious changes. The headlights and optional LED driving lights are shared between the two, but the Outback’s nose sports a more traditional grille, and the lower body parts covered in dark, rougher textured plastic. The taillights are sharper and jut farther into the hatch, and the rear bumper has twin vertical reflectors embedded at either side, a nod to extractor vents shown on the Legacy Concept, but not the Legacy Reality.
The 17-inch five-spoke design on my tester isn’t especially interesting, although the 18-inch versions on Limited models are significantly better. Few surprises here, and while existing owners will express love, it doesn’t move the game along as much as its sedan sibling.
2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring, driver’s seat, media menu. Click image to enlarge
Inside, things are definitely better resolved. The dash shape is much more ‘normal’ than before, with better attention paid to ergonomics and how it all fits together. A new three-spoke steering wheel is easier to hold with larger secondary controls embedded in its face.
The 6.1-inch display screen doesn’t get the full-blown navigation program – that’s reserved for Tech packages and includes a larger 7-inch screen – but does control nearly everything else. And while Subaru’s new infotainment software is easier than ever to use, that’s still not saying much. The touch functionality doesn’t always work, meaning two or three stabs are sometimes required. It’s also slower to boot than others, and changing sources takes ages.