Not everyone is ready to jump into an SUV. While there is no denying the added utility and comfort these high-ridin’utes deliver, there are those that prefer to keep themselves much more grounded – literally – opting instead for the more car-like dynamic a wagon affords. Thankfully, the 2013 Subaru Outback manages to straddle both sensibilities. More than that, it does so with an astounding amount of automated tech features that one simply won’t encounter until moving well beyond the segment’s modest price point. But is it the all-purpose, well-rounded ultra-wagon Subaru fanatics make it out to be? We haven’t tasted the Kool-Aid, but it’s certainly looking that way.
Not quite all grown up, but getting there
If you’re looking for a beefier, more aggressive wagon that sheds, say, the old-school wood-paneling of the 1980’s, then you’ll certainly be pleased with new Outback. Here we have a vehicle that knowingly (and happily) blurs the line between high-riding wagon and crossover SUV. Although it’s been a few years since the Outback has received a major styling overhaul, the recent design tweaks run concurrent with Subaru’s vision for the car, which seems to suggest a desire to slowly move the vehicle away from the original wagon roots and into the realm of crossovers.
Like an adolescent yet to fully grow into their frame, the 2013 Subaru Outback occupies an awkward space between two worlds. It’s grown up from being low-riding wagon version of the Legacy sedan, but hasn’t quite matured into the small SUV segment the Forrester occupies. From a design perspective, this leaves the 2013 Subaru Outback in a rather uncooperative situation when trying to define it. It’s not quite an SUV or crossover, though it’s not a full blown wagon either. For most, the encroachment upon crossover territory and all the added utility will be welcomed, but for longtime fans of previous Outbacks this might serve as a point of contention. We happen to fall somewhere in between.
For 2013, The Subaru Ouback looks meaner and more aggressive demeanor than ever before. Up front, Subaru has widened the grill and swept back the headlamps, while running character lines atop the hood to help lend more visual nuance. Down below we’re greeted by a wider, somewhat exaggerated front bumper beneath the front ends gaping rectangular maw, while to the side the Outback’s profile highlights the tapered greenhouse, flared out wheel arches, and raked rear-end.
Keepin’ it simple
It may derive its name from the remote and arid lands of Australia, but there is nothing rugged or desolate about the 2013 Subaru Outback’s interior. From the driver’s seat, the Outback is fairly straightforward. The perforated leather-trimmed seats and subtle, yet appropriately employed wood trim found in our 3.6R Limited review model, offer a great feeling of luxury and indulgence, while the three-spoke steering wheel felt comfortable to the touch — sporting a three-tiered button cluster on the left and two-tiered cluster on the right. Behind that sits the vivid illuminated instrument gauges that sandwich the excellent EyeSight driver assist system’s dedicated 3.5-inch LCD display (much more on that in a minute).
In the middle we find the center console which houses the optional navigation system, and just below that sits the cabin’s dual climate controls. Generally, it’s not too difficult to navigate and the buttons detailing each function are fairly large and easy to get to. There are some minor gripes though, like the tiny volume dial, and much-smaller-than-they-need-to-be temperature and fan adjustment buttons, but they remain just that — minor gripes.
Overall, we really enjoyed the 2013 Subaru Outback’s interior and it happens to be much less polarizing than anything else about the car. You might not like the look on the outside, you might disagree with its more overt SUV styling, but the 2013 Outback is comfortable. Of course, a good chunk of that stems from the sheer amount of space you’re afforded. Again, Outback purists may have lamented its growth spurt, but the move to a larger, more crossover-like design translates to a much roomier interior up front and in the rear.
Without question the Outback has and will always be geared to those that lead an active lifestyle, which is exactly why potential buyers will be pleased with the sheer volume on hand. Loading up your daily baggage shouldn’t be a problem with 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold those backseats down and that number swells to 71.3 cubic feet. And if that isn’t enough, the Outback’s roof rails with folding crossbars should make hauling everything from bikes, skis, and kayaks a breeze.
Brawn and brains
Adding to the already impressive and spacious interior is the wide array of tech features the 2013 Subaru Outback is packing. Standard across the Outback lineup are both AUX and USB outputs for Smartphone or MP3 player connectivity. Up the ladder, and indeed in our 3.6R model trim, the Outback employs an upgraded nine-speaker, 440 watt Harman/Kardon audio system. Premium trims also include XM Satellite radio and a four month free subscription. Other comfort/tech features include a 10-way adjustable power driver’s seat, four-way adjustable passenger, and tilt/telescoping steering wheel with mounted audio/interface controls.
For users looking to get the most out of their digital music, the Outback offers Bluetooth audio streaming. Pairing your device is a snap, as is streaming content through various apps like Pandora and Spotify. While wirelessly streaming was a breeze, the Outback‘s interface oddly refused to recognize both apps when physically plugged in, meaning if we wanted to stream music from our phone we couldn’t have it charging at the same time, which is a fairly large oversight for tech users. The alternative is to simply use an iPod or other type of MP3, but in our opinion that severely limits the Bluetooth’s functionality.
Thankfully, making calls and uploading contacts list required no compromises at all, as was using the Outback’s hands-free voice calling system. The voice activation also integrates into the option navigation system and comes with a seven-inch LCD display and backup camera. We liked Subaru’s display a lot, actually, especially during the day when natural light never seemed to cause severe screen washout. And considering voice recognition systems can be as fun to deal with as overbearing in-laws , we were happy to find that requesting directions was fairly simple, requiring only a minimal amount of fuss before we became well-adjusted to the specific command structure.
Technically speaking (see what we did there?), the fun doesn’t stop at smartphones and nav systems. Perhaps more importantly, the 2013 Outback packs a punch in regards to its safety tech. In fact, Subaru’s recent partnership with Toyota has yielded more than just the FRS and BRZ. The new EyeSight driver assist system, which will also make its debut (albeit in fancier form) in Lexus’ upcoming flagship sedan, the 2013 Lexus LS, features heavily in the 2013 Outback 3.6R Limited.
As we mentioned before, this new safety system integrates with a number of things, like a 3.5-inch display located in the center gauge cluster, as well as windshield-mounted cameras. While driving, EyeAssist will alert you of a number of potential dangers, like oncoming obstacles (applying pre-collision breaking measures if need be), unintentional lane departure (If you haven’t activated your turn signal), and unwarranted car sway. For those that continue to text and drive, or become distracted when stopped at a light, EyeAssist will alert you if the car in front of you has begun to move and you remain stationary for too long. The best part: it’s all seamless, never becomes overbearing, and designed to simply keep you alert and engaged when human error simply gets the best of you.
More power means more petrol
Several powertrains exist for the various Outback models, like a 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder good for 173 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. Our top end Outback 3.6R version upped the ante, however, and came equipped with a 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder capable of producing 256 horsepower and 257 pound-feet of torque. Transmission options remain pretty straightforward with the 2.5-liter varieties offering either a six-speed speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT), while the 3.6R is offered in a five-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
For the Outback’s 2.5-liter boxer four, fuel economy remains vigilant with an EPA-rated 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 26 mpg combined when mated to the CVT. Models featuring the six-speed manual suffer a little and return 21/28/24 across the board, which is actually pretty decent given the Outback’s four-cylinders and all-wheel-drive composition.
Unfortunately, for fans of the 3.6R, fuel economy buckles under the pressure of the grizzlier 3.6-liter engine, which when combined with the Outback’s all-wheel-drive, returns a rather underwhelming 18 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined. For what it’s worth, we liked the 3.6R; it’s a throaty, pliant engine that provides that gas guzzling gusto when needed without sacrificing too much in the fuel economy department. It’s also astonishingly quiet and won’t muffle your ears needlessly with its endless engine notes.
Ultimately thought, it’s up to drivers to choose whether they want power over fuel economy. If you’re considering doing some light off-roading we see the 3.6 making sense, but if your plans are simply to make use of the Outback’s added ride height and utility, sticking with the smaller CVT seems to be the way to go. To add some segment context, a 2013 Volvo XC70 T6 with all-wheel-drive and a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder making 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque returns an EPA-estimated 17/23/20, while the new Audi Allroad with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder produces 211 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque, and nets 20/27/23 when coupled to an eight-speed automatic and Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive.
Signature sure-footed Subaru
In the past, complaints have been levied at the Outback for providing a pillowy, roll-tastic ride that left a lot to be desired. For 2013, Subaru has addressed this issue with a retuned suspension that is stiffer and delivers a much more compliant ride. Cabin roll still seems to be an issue though, and one that’s been left unresolved for the new model year, but we definitely felt the Subaru sported some respectable and nimble car-like handling given its 8.7-inch ground clearance. That being said, one of the things we loved about the 2013 Outback was its added utility and the fact that it rides higher than your average wagon, yet doesn’t exactly approach dramatic heights seen in SUVs or even CUVs for that matter, making it perfect for light to moderate off-road jaunts when the need arises.
Given Subaru’s all-wheel-drive pedigree we weren’t surprised in the slightest to find that the 2013 Outback maintains an almost vice-like grip on the road. While we can rightfully complain of the slight sway and roll felt during light to moderate turns, the 2012 Outback plants itself firmly on the road and never lets go, and it’s this composed and competent handling that helps inject a greater degree of driving dynamism despite some slightly sloppy road manners.
Simply put, there is a lot to like about the 2013 Subaru Outback. It’s added space and utility is a huge draw for those looking to lug the family around or frequent the great outdoors. It might not carry the offroad ability of a dedicated SUV, but for trips up and down the mountain, and even off the beaten path, the Outback will more than suffice. What’s more, with Subaru’s signature AWD system standard in all models (base prices starts at $24,000, while our fully optioned review model came in at $37,000) drivers can rest assured the Outback will be able to tackle the roads regardless of whether they’re paved or of a more rugged variety. And with automated safety features that seem more at home in a luxury vehicle as well as a strong list of tech features, the 2013 Subaru Outback allows you the convenience of the civilized world even when you’re surrounded by nature’s more humble embrace.