The first Subaru Legacy Outback wagon arrived on the scene in 1995 after making its debut at the 1994 New York Auto Show. Designed with a purposeful rugged and outdoorsy appearance to appeal to those with active lifestyles, the Outback was simply a Subaru Legacy station wagon reconfigured with permanent all-wheel drive (AWD), unique bumpers, special interior upholstery, raised ride height, oversized fog lights, and taller tires with more aggressive tread. Compared to many SUVs, the 4-cylinder Legacy Outback offered much of the same utility and all-weather prowess but without the fuel-thirsty V-6 engine or harsh truck-like ride.
The second-generation model arrived in 2000. By now, Subaru had dropped the Legacy moniker and the model was simply known as the Outback. Still based on the Legacy wagon platform, but also available as a sedan, the new Outback continued the success found with its rugged-yet-civilized formula while introducing a 6-cylinder option. Subaru positioned the Outback as the flagship of its North American lineup, offering it in many configurations including the heavily-optioned Limited trim levels.
Subaru selected the 2009 New York Auto Show as the venue to debut its all-new 2010 Outback model. According to the manufacturer, it is the roomiest, most comfortable, and most refined Outback model ever. All models continue to feature standard AWD, but Subaru has also introduced a new powerplant and unique transmission choices for the new model year.
While it is still clearly related to its predecessors, the all-new 2010 Subaru Outback has a new bolder exterior appearance. The headlamps are more dramatically styled, while the grille retains the trademark Subaru circular badge and wing design. On the sides, functional molded lower valances add a rugged appearance, and hint at the vehicle's off-road capabilities. The D-pillars give the Outback an SUV-like appearance, while the wraparound tail lamps highlight the well-defined new beltline.
The interior features a 4-dial instrument panel with a multi-information display in the center of the dashboard. The materials and upholstery have moved upscale, and the driver faces a new 3-spoke multi-function steering wheel. The seats have been redesigned to offer more comfort for passengers (the rear seats now recline), and the front seat cushion bottoms have been revised to allow more rear-seat foot room.
All variants of the 2010 Subaru Outback are 5-passenger crossover utility wagons. Upon introduction, there are four announced models: Outback 2.5i, Outback 2.5i Limited, Outback 2.5i Premium, and the Outback 3.6R. All feature Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive as standard equipment. The 2.5i models are fitted with a 170-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, while the 3.6R model receives the new 6-cylinder powerplant.
Standard equipment content has been improved for 2010. Base models now receive steering wheel audio and cruise controls, a new electronic parking brake, automatic headlamps, an on-board computer, and an auxiliary audio input jack. A newly-designed roof rack may easily be configured with the crossbar parallel to the roof rails to lower wind noise. Premium models add a Harmon-Kardon audio system, power moonroof, heated seats, heated mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer. Limited models feature leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and a power front passenger seat. In addition, the Limited models are offered with GPS-based navigation and hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity.
Subaru is fitting two different engines to the all-new 2010 Outback. The standard engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder rated at 170 horsepower. The range-topping 3.6R models feature a new 3.6-liter 6-cylinder flat-six powerplant. It is rated at 256 horsepower while burning regular-grade fuel. Both of the engines are "boxer" configurations, meaning the cylinders sit low in the engine compartment and oppose each other. This unique design (only shared with Porsche) lowers the vehicle's center of gravity and improves handling.
The 2.5i models are available with a 6-speed manual transmission or Subaru's new Lineartronic CVT. Both transmissions are designed for improved efficiency, better response, and quicker acceleration, Subaru says. All 3.6R models are fitted with a 5-speed automatic transmission. The size of the fuel tank has been increased from 16.9 gallons to 18.5 gallons on all models to improve range.
All 2010 Outbacks have independent suspension, with a new rear double-wishbone architecture designed to improve driving dynamics and increase rear cargo space. Disc brakes are standard on all four corners. Standard wheels are 16-inch aluminum alloy, while optional wheels are 17 inches in diameter. In a unique change to improve the ride quality, Subaru has specified a new taller-profile tire for the 17-inch wheel for the 2010 model year.
Compared to the outgoing Outback, already a proven top-performer in government crash tests, the 2010 Subaru Outback models feature greater use of high-strength steel and a new engine cradle design to improve front-impact safety. All models are equipped with dual frontal air bags, front-seat side-impact air bags, and side curtain air bags designed to offer additional head protection for front and rear outboard occupants. New high-strength seat frames provide enhanced protection against whiplash, and the active head restraints have been redesigned for greater comfort. Additionally, all Subaru Outback models feature standard anti-lock brakes (ABS), vehicle dynamic stability control (VDC), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and a tire-pressure-monitoring system.
The standard Outback 2.5i models are available with Subaru's Lineartronic CVT (continuously-variable transmission). Without any gears, this type of transmission provides infinitely variable ratios with no discernable shifting. The new CVT is a chain-type and it is reportedly the world's first longitudinally-mounted CVT system for AWD production vehicles. Subaru's design employs smaller pulley cores making it more compact and lighter, and it provides better fuel economy than belt-type CVT units, according to the company. It is interesting to note that this is only Subaru's second model to be introduced with a CVT (the automaker was one of the first to feature a CVT on its compact Justy in the mid-1980s).