2015 Subaru Outback

Some Subaru Outback owners believe their vehicles are happiest when they are dirty. Subaru wouldn’t argue with that, saying most Outback owners love the outdoors and have selected the perfect car to take them there. And in the outdoors, dirt and dust just happen.

The 2015 Subaru Outback is the fifth generation of the world’s first utility wagon introduced 20 years ago. Subaru likes to say the Outback is the “original CUV.” The new model is the roomiest Outback yet and by far the best on fuel economy, with expected mileage figures up to 33 highway miles and 25 city miles per gallon of gas.

Like other Subarus, the Outback is equipped with symmetrical AWD, one of the best modern safety features to ever come along for automobiles. Add in the Outback’s 8.7-inch ground clearance, and you’ve got the ability to slog your way to the hunting or fishing camp with ease. For 2015, Subaru’s X-Mode system is also standard on all models. X-Mode optimizes engine output, increases AWD engagement and helps the vehicle dynamics control system to reduce wheel spin. It also enhances AWD by activating a hill-descent control feature, as well as an incline start assist.

We had a chance to experience the benefits of AWD and X-Mode recently during a daylong test drive of the Outback in the high plains of central Oregon. Steep hills with loose lava pebbles proved to be no problem, nor did miles of loose gravel and dirt roads. Surefooted and stable, the Outback handled spirited driving in marginal conditions without any trouble.

Two BOXER engines are available in the 2015 Outback: a DOHC 4-cylinder that generates 175 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque is in the 2.5i model, and a DOHC 6-cylinder that kicks out 256 horses and 247 lb.-ft. of torque is in the 3.6R Limited model. Both are hooked to a better-than-expected CVT transmission with paddle shifters. The 2.5i models also get an active grille shutter system that helps it get 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the road, even the dusty road. The 3.6R Limited is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, which is better than the fourth generation Outback.

Meanwhile, design engineers worked a minor miracle with the interior of the 2015 Outback. While the wheelbase increases by just .02 inches and the overall length by just 0.6 inches, the Outback’s interior room increases significantly. Passenger cabin space is up to 108.1 cubic feet from 105.4, and the cargo space (behind the rear seat) is up to 35.5 cubic feet from 34.3.

Auto journalists were also able to test out Subaru’s new EyeSight driver assistance and safety system on the test drive. Available in Premium and Limited trims, EyeSight uses camera technology to integrate the cruise control and pre-collision braking systems to bring the car to a complete stop when it senses a crash is imminent. We tested the system, which works up to about 30 miles per hour, on a course set up with a stationary inflatable “car.” It’s pretty nerve wracking to drive 30 mph headlong at a stationary object and completely trust the car to bring you to a stop by itself, even if the stationary object is an inflatable. But that’s just what the Outback did time and time again. One nameless test driver, however, discovered the optional safety system had to actually be installed in the car to work. He plowed through the inflatable car, but both driver and inflatable car survived the misunderstanding.

Subaru’s been on a roll of late, with six straight record sales years including the auto industry’s disastrous year of 2008, according to Michael McHale, director of corporate communications for Subaru. Subaru says 97 percent of Outbacks sold in the past 10 years are still on the road.

2015 Subaru Outback

Engine:

4-cylinder or 6-cylinder BOXER

Horsepower/Torque:

175/174 lb.-ft. (4 cylinder)

256/247 lb.-ft. (6-cylinder)

Transmission:

Lineartronic CVT with paddle

shift switches

Price:

TBA

Mileage estimates:

25 mpg city / 33 mpg highway

(4-cylinder)

20 mpg city / 27 mpg highway

(6-cylinder)