She Says / He Says: Subaru Outback

She ? Fifteen years ago when the automobile market was tipped dramatically toward SUVs, Subaru was in a proverbial pickle with slumping sales and no SUV. ?Sure, at the time, 60 percent of the Subarus sold in the U.S. were all-wheel drives, but they didn?t fit the SUV image of taller, more masculine vehicles.

In a cleaver move, Subaru took their Legacy wagon, added a lift kit to raise the ride height, body cladding to make it look more rugged and created a special rugged-sounding model called the Outback.? They hired Australian actor Paul Hogan, to be the North American spokesman in some clever ads and bingo, sales started to improve.? Within five years, overall Subaru sales increased by more than 70 percent, with the Outback being the best selling model.

He ? I?ve never been a big fan of the mass market SUVs.? I reasoned, if I wanted to go off-road, I should have something like a Land Rover or Jeep, but for everyday use, a wagon with all- wheel drive made much more sense.? For that reason, I was an early on fan of the Subaru Outback concept, which has evolved into the category we now call crossovers.? The Outback was a comfortable size, easy to drive, very dependable and it handled better than the SUVs, which in turn, made it safer to drive.

Because the Outback came from a different starting point than the typical truck-based SUVs, it was a bit quirky especially with its horizontally opposed four-cylinder boxer engine, full time all-wheel drive and more wagon-like styling.

Over 15 years the Outback has matured into a more mainstream wagon, and in some ways lost some of the characteristics that made it unique.

She ? The Outback was totally redesigned in 2010, but I thought the previous generation was better looking, however after seeing it on the road for a year, the new look is starting to grow on me.?? The new model looks more bulky and athletic.? It has a 2.8-inch longer wheelbase and two-inch wider body, but it is actually one-inch shorter than the previous generation.? The changes did add eight more cubic feet of interior volume, however.

The new interior is a major improvement from previous versions with more space, sophisticated lines and attractive sculpted dash.? I especially like the comfortable seats and nicely designed door panels with wide storage spaces and separate drink holders.

Standard folding exterior mirrors are new for 2011, along with a rear vision camera in the rear view mirror, which is part of the moonroof option package.

He ? Available in two engine-defined models, the 2.5i and 3.6R, Outback is powered by either a 170-hp, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed SOHC four-cylinder engine or a 256-hp, 3.6-liter horizontally opposed DOHC six-cylinder engine.?? The four-cylinder engine has a standard six-speed manual transmission, with a Lineartronic? CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) as a $1,000 option.? The CVT has a manual mode and paddle shifters to shift through six pre-selected ratios. The six-cylinder engine has a standard five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

Like all Subaru models sold in the United States, the Outback has standard all-wheel drive.? Each transmission has its own Symmetrical AWD system configuration. The manual transmission version uses a continuous AWD with viscous-coupling and locking center differential.? The CVT unit has an active system with an electronically managed continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch.? The five-speed automatic system is a Variable Torque Distribution system that divides engine power 45/55 front/rear, and adjusts the torque distribution in response to driving conditions.

All models are equipped with a Vehicle dynamics Control stability system, traction control and a new electronic parking brake with Hill Holder System.?? When stopping on a hill the driver simply pushes the parking brake button to the left of the steering wheel and it will hold the car from rolling until the accelerator pedal is pressed.

She ? The Outback comes in six trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 3.6R, 3.6R Premium and 3.6R Limited.? Prices range from $23,920, including destination charge, for the 2.5i up to $32,220 for the top-of the-line 3.6R Limited.? Loaded, with all the extras like navigation, premium audio, moonroof and several option packages, the 3.6R Limited price can go as high as $38,000.

He ? With the increased wheelbase, suspension upgrades including a new double-wishbone rear suspension and low center of gravity, the Outback handles and rides better than the previous models.? ?I especially liked the tight 36.8-foot turning radius, extra ground clearance and the digital transmission gear readout that indicates the current gear.

The 2.5i provides adequate performance for the average driver, accelerating from 0 to 60 in 9.4 seconds, but drivers who like more oomph will want to step up to the 3.6-liter engine, which makes the same run in just 7.1 seconds.? If fuel economy is paramount, the 2.5i with the CVT is the way to go getting EPA estimates of 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.? We actually averaged 27.5 mpg in that model.

The 3.6R gets an 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway EPA rating and we averaged 22.9 mpg after a week of mixed driving conditions.

We did have an opportunity to drive the 3.6R on a special off-road course set up for our Northwest Automotive Press Association ?Mudfest? SUV competition .? With its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the 3.6R easily handled all sections of the course never bottoming out.?? The only places the Outback may have problems is on long steep hills where a low range transfer case might be needed, for crawling over rocks or the other adverse conditions that call for a real off-road vehicle.

She ? When it comes to SUV-style vehicles, not only would I recommend the Subaru Outback, it would be near the top of my personal shopping list. ?The size, comfort, good safety ratings, ease of access and value makes it an easy choice.

He ? Subaru takes a different approach than its competitors, but it also works better than most.? By combining a low center of gravity, advanced AWD system with outstanding engines that have a bulletproof reputation, the Subaru Outback is a natural for active lifestyles.

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