2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Review

If there was a list of the most underrated family haulers on the market, the Subaru Outback would probably rank somewhere near the top.

It has quietly carried families and all their stuff around for 20 years, offering versatility that’s only matched by its practicality. But with so many crossovers to choose from these days, Subaru’s sport utility wagon is facing some stiff competition.

The Power of Choice

The majority of Outback models come powered by the same 2.5-liter boxer engine that’s offered in Subaru’s Legacy sedan and Forester crossover. A larger six-cylinder can be fitted under the hood on select trims, an engine that makes more power but burns more fuel as a consequence, and isn’t exactly necessary.

With the smaller four-cylinder putting power down to all four wheels, the Outback is good for 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, making it perfectly capable of handling the rigors of daily driving. Power isn’t abundant, but delivery is nice and smooth, while the engine’s impressive throttle response doesn’t leave a lust for more giddyup.

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Both engines come mated to a continuously variable transmission, but in Canada the smaller of the two is still available with a six-speed manual gearbox — and the Outback is better for it. Like pretty much every manual on offer in a Subaru this side of the WRX, the six-speed in the Outback is less than perfect. The clutch is long and a little vague, and the engagement point can be tricky to find, but the shifter is smooth and easy to use, and features pronounced gates that make it almost impossible to miss a gear. Like the recently refreshed Forester, the Outback’s continuously variable automatic doesn’t suffer from much of the rubberiness typical of transmissions of this ilk, and feels a lot like a traditional geared automatic.

Regardless of transmission choice, the clatter of the boxer engine throughout the rev range can be enough to draw complaints — especially from those unfamiliar with the horizontally-opposed cylinders.

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Roaming Roads

Out on the road, the Outback drives as smoothly as any midsize crossover. It glides over uneven pavement without much fuss, and body roll is almost non-existent at most speeds despite sitting 8.7 inches (221 millimeters) off the ground. It’s also more compliant than you might expect, with the stilted suspension not too stiff or soft, helping the Outback ride more like a car than a sport utility. The steering can feel a bit numb at times, but it’s surprisingly firm and communicative, and doesn’t feel floaty and disconnected like so many other electrically power-assisted systems.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Review

The only time the Outback’s poise was ever shaken was during winds that were gusting as high as 44 mph (70 km/h), which, in all fairness, would be enough to disrupt even the most sure-footed sport utilities. It was the only time the Outback’s steering felt less than firm, though even then it didn’t seem overly disengaged, needing only slightly more driver input to stay on its way.

Tackling Trails

For those looking to head off the beaten path, the Outback is more than happy to play along. Like its stablemates, and particularly the Crosstrek and Forester, the wagon is built to tackle more than just dirt parking lots, and does so quite capably. With independent suspension at all four corners, the Outback is able to articulate itself over most obstacles with relative ease, though its long wheelbase means the Outback’s breakover angle isn’t great. Likewise, its approach and departure angles are less than stellar, with long overhangs that run the risk of bumps and bruises out on the rough stuff.

Our tester didn’t have the advantage of Subaru’s X-mode, which is standard on CVT models and optimizes the engine and transmission, and all-wheel drive and traction control systems for off-road adventures, but the standard limited-slip center differential proved its worth, helping distribute torque front to rear in the event of wheel spin.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Subaru Crosstrek Manual Review

The Outback doesn’t look quite as trail-ready as its smaller sibling, the Impreza-based Crosstrek, but it’s got a little bit of body cladding to protect it out on the trail. It also features a pair of rugged looking roof rails that are rated to carry 150 lb (68 kg) of gear — and include integrated crossbars that tuck away until they’re needed — if you can’t find a way to stuff it all in the back. That wouldn’t normally be a problem though, with the Outback offering 35.5 cu-ft (1,005 liters) of storage space behind the rear seats, and a whopping 73.3 cu-ft (2,076 liters) with them folded, so it’s way ahead of the competition when it comes to lugging gear.

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Usable Interior

Up front, the Outback has plenty of room to carry four grown adults. Even with the front seats positioned to comfortably accommodate two taller adults, the Outback offers plenty of room in the second row, with plenty of head- and legroom. The rear doors also open wide to make loading and unloading as painless as possible, while the Jeep Wrangler-like ride height reduces the need to bend at the back to strap a child into a child seat.

Back on the road, the Outback features a comfortable and clear view of its surroundings, with all the extra glass doing a great job of cutting down on blind spots. Our tester was also equipped with blind spot monitoring for an extra sense of security, while other safety features, including adaptive cruise control, forward and reverse automatic emergency braking, and lane-keep assist can also be added as part of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance suite.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder Review

Even in lower-grade trims, the Outback comes pretty well equipped, and features a backup camera, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, and heated front seats. It’s also got a pretty decent stereo that puts out impressive sound despite only having six speakers. The infotainment system is Subaru’s Starlink interface running through a seven-inch touchscreen. It’s also one I’m not crazy about, and is laggy and convoluted and could really use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Otherwise, the Outback’s seats are comfortable, even in cloth, everything is well laid out, and most of the materials feel pretty nice to the touch. It’s a spacious cabin that somehow still feels cozy, and is definitely one of the easiest to live with on the market.

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The Verdict: 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i

Even easier to live with is the Outback’s sticker price. Starting at $26,520 ($29,670 in Canada) including destination fees, the Subaru Outback packs a lot of value into a family-friendly package.

With all the competition in the midsize crossover segment these days, it’s easy to forget about the under-the-radar Outback. But with its easy-to-live with ways, incredible cargo volume, and adventurous personality, it’s still at the top of its game — and as underrated as ever.

  • Will Owen

    With essentially the same engine and rated hp as my elderly Forester, but with the CVT instead of my creaky 4-speed automatic, my brother-in-law in his Outback took me and three other grownups zipping up several miles of winding uphill road that would have had my car looking for the right gear and running out of breath. I just wish I could get that drivetrain stuffed into my ’01; both Forester and Outback have just gotten too damn big for my taste.

  • allencic

    I’ve been driving since 1955 and have owned or leased 23 different cars ranging from a little Honda CRX to several Jeep Grand Cherokees. This 2010 Outback is our first Subaru and my wife and I agree it may be the most satisfying car we’ve ever owned. An Acura Legend is the only car my wife liked better. The Outback gets outstanding mileage, often as high as 36 mpg on I-5. It is quiet, smooth and simply wonderful on long trips. It hauls everything we want even a lightweight kevlar canoe on the top. When the lease ended I could have sold it for $6K more than the residual value. It’s incredible in holding its value. In seven years and 52K miles it has been utterly trouble free. I can’t say enough good about it.

  • jalbertini

    Consumer Reports says Subaru reliability has slipped. Say it isn’t so.

  • Johnnie Goode

    One thing that sets the Outback apart from most, if not all, of its competition is that it is full time all wheel drive. It feels and handles a bit differently from the rest, which run as front wheel drive, until the wheels start to slip, then the computer sends some power to the rear wheels. So instead of “slipping, then gripping,” the Subaru doesn’t slip. This is even more beneficial on the high horsepower models. You get none of the torque steer…you stomp on the gas and it just takes off, right where you pointed it…unlike a Ford Fusion EcoDrive I recently rented.

  • Isend2C

    I had one for 11 months and hated it almost the whole time. I had a 2015 2.5 Limited loaded with everything. The adaptive cruise worked well. It was also extremely comfortable on road. It got stuck easily and couldn’t get out. It was so slow and I rarely got my city EPA rating with mixed driving, although on two all-highway and 55-mph road tanks I got 34ish mpg. It was spacious.

    It was also in the shop for 4 of the 11 months I owned it. Never again.

  • pbug56

    Funny; I wish my 2003 Forester XS would be a bit bigger (seating wise)!

  • pbug56

    I’m curious what tires your car came with. My 2003 Forester came with awful Geolanders – great if you like to slip and slide and like road noise. I eventually put on Michelin Pilot Exalto’s that were not just much quieter, but offered greatly improved winter handling – the handling I expected when I bought the car. For several years I regularly had to get out of heavily snow covered commuter parking lots and never got stuck. The Forester – even in 2003, once given good tires, could go through just about anything I’ve encountered. Comfort wise not as good as yours, but replacing door window seals cut noise way down, an upgraded radio added bluetooth. Though fuel economy on that antique tranny isn’t great.

  • pbug56

    That is true even on my 2003 Forester XS once I gave it good tires. Turned it into a great winter driving car.

  • pbug56

    My 2003 Forester XS probably had a bad water pump, did have a leaky head gasket. Beyond that biggest problems; easy to wear out brakes, rear view mirror with compass could use a 3rd replacement.

  • Will Owen

    The only time I truly wish for more room is when I’m camping out in the Forester. I fit back there okay (not being quite 6′ long anymore!), but there isn’t headroom for me to sit up, a major PITA when you’re trying to get dressed …

  • jalbertini

    A ’03 doesn’t owe you anything unless it has sat in a garage for those 13+ years. Consumer Reports was talking about reliability sliding down on recent model years.

  • pbug56

    Sat outdoors the whole time; first it very reliably got me to and from the commuter train station daily, including through high snow. Now my daughter drives it more than me. Early on she crashed it, we put Humpty Dumpty back together again because overall the car runs very well and is rather low mileage for its age. Only change beyond tires and repairs (like the head gasket) is a new radio with B/T and HD. And if I had the money I’d buy a loaded new Forester!

  • chienpo

    Wow, I guess while you got a lemon while I got whatever the opposite of a lemon is. I love my 2015 2.5i Limited fully loaded Outback. It’s already approaching 50k miles in about 1.5 years of driving.

    Acceleration isn’t great, but I knew that going into the deal (I test drove the same model after all). That rarely matters but now and then I’ll be in traffic situations where I feel a little impatient trying to pull a quick maneuver.

    Everything else is wonderful. Everyone who rides in my car loves the feel. It’s so comfy and great for long trips. I regularly make 600-mile (300 one-way) road trips to my hometown on the weekends cruising at 80 MPH on the interstate (that’s the speed limit here). I’ll get around 31 MPG which I consider a great deal (and is what I expected; I referenced consumer reports MPG estimates and always adjust my expectations from the window sticker EPA estimates as those are always super idealistic). If I drive faster or aggressively or on more hilly terrain (this trip includes hilly terrain as well as flat stretches) then I get MPG in the high 20s (26-29). For a car this size and always-on AWD, I consider this great gas mileage. I specifically shopped and researched with long road-trip (a.k.a. comfort + gas mileage) balanced w/some higher clearance and off-road capability (I ruined my old Honda Accord using it off road to get to some trail heads) and great weather/snow performance in mind. Based on my experience so far, I succeeded as it’s the best compromise between these competing demands (lots of vehicles will do way better on any one of these things, but none that I could find had such a good balance of all of them… at this price range).

    So yeah, so far I haven’t yet had one issue with it. It’s only been in the shop for regular service appointments and about 3 different brief, minor recall issues, none of which came into play so it was all preventative.

    Also, I’ve done lots of camping where I’ve slept in my car and taken it on some super sketchy dirt roads, far worse than I originally intended to take this on. I’m really curious how you got yours stuck. I used to get my old 4×4 pickup stuck now and then since it had an open-ended differential. My Subaru has surpassed that old truck for off-roading and especially in snow driving with it’s AWD system (not that the old truck was a serious competitor; it had high clearance but it’s 4×4 capabilities otherwise sucked). The Outback’s weakest off-road characteristic has been the clearance… also expected (I studied and knew the clearance and that w/the nose and rear-end overhangs my approach and departure angles weren’t great). However, overall for clearance it has more than my brother’s Rav 4 and some other low-clearance SUVs, but again, that doesn’t mean much. The real point is that it’s not trying to be a full-fledged off-road vehicle (in my opinion) so much as a higher clearance, more rugged car with a good drive train for traction (great in snow and sand).

    I do wish the infotainment system were better though. I’m sick of car makers’ approach to this. Standardize (like w/android smart phones) on an underlying, compatible platform and OS, saving yourself some engineering $ and open the platform up to app makers (via reviewed, closed garden apple-like store), taking security into account in the underlying design. Then push regular updates (like Tesla) and allow other app makers to provide map/navigation (swappable) and entertainment (music, etc.) apps. Just sayin’ Subaru.

  • chienpo

    Here’s 1 data-point: I’ve had 0 issues w/my 2015 which now has close to 50k miles. I could be the exception. However, my anecdotal evidence from the few other people I know who have 2015 and newer models are similarly reliable. I’ve wondered if the 3 or so recalls I’ve taken my car in for–none of which affected me–have had an effect on CR’s reliability rating. Technically they are “issues” and, as I read prior issues of CR and taken the surveys, I got no indication they’d modulate the influence of a minor recall issue in the first year to have little influence compared to some car’s major (drive train, etc.) issue. Don’t know and don’t care too much since (knock on wood) I appear to have lucked out.

  • jalbertini

    Don’t get me wrong. We’re on our 3rd and 4th Outbacks and we’ve been generally satisfied.

    The ’99 was 12+ years old and 155k miles when traded for an ’11.
    The ’04 was almost 10 years old and 160k miles when traded for a ’14.

    There were some expensive repairs ($600-$800) (clutch, head gasket, manual tranny, brakes, can’t recall any others off the top of my head. But that is to be expected over that many years/miles and there weren’t too many of those.

    As I said, we were happy enough we have bought FOUR! Just concerned when CR indicates that more recent models haven’t maintained that same level of quality.

  • c-bass

    I loved my ’14 – and my ’17 even more. I haven’t experienced the “engine clatter” complaint, and the infotainment system takes a while to get used to, but the new refinements to the interior have made it the best Outback ever. I’ve driven several cars with a CVT, and the Outback is the only one that doesn’t have that rubber-banding annoyance.

  • Fred

    We have the 2015 Outback 2.5 Limited and are generally very happy with it. It took a while to get used to the CVT as there is a brief delay when you shift gears (eg from P to D, etc). We did end up complaining to Subaru Canada about the battery as it was, in our opinion, to weak to support all the electronic needs of the car. The battery only came with 365 CCA and would die if we had the trunk open for more than an hour (which happened once when we were camping) or when listening to music whilst waiting for a ferry for 30 minutes. Subaru ended up upgrading the battery for us for free. Secondly, we also upgraded the tires to the Michelin Premier LTX for a better ride with hugely upgraded snow and ice performance. With those two upgrades, the car has been really great.

  • td577

    I am on my 3rd Subaru and I love them. I don’t think they are the greatest vehicles on the road, but I think they are the greatest vehicles on the road at their price points. I have owned an Outback, a Legacy, and just got a ’17 Outback with eyesight. Could it have a little more juice? Sure. Could the infotainment center be a little better? Sure. But there is no way I could get this much vehicle for under $30k (I opted for the premium because while I like leather, I liked the price of the Premium with all the options). I would love for someone to show me a vehicle that could match up to the Outback at less than $30k pound for pound. I know I could have found a better vehicle, but I couldn’t find a better value. Lastly, while I am sure I will find things I don’t like about this vehicle, every single thing I hated about the 2010 Outback is not found on the 2017 (no temp gauge and rock hard armrests, for example). I am impressed Subaru seems to listen to complaints. Even if it takes a while since i know people have been complaining about the infotainment system for a couple of years now.

  • jalbertini

    What the heck does Subaru have against the color RED, REAL RED?! Our first Outback ’99 came in Rio Red I think it was called. Since then they push maroon and call it Venetian Red. It is NOT RED!!!! NOT EVEN CLOSE!!! They tell me red isn’t a popular color?! Are they serious? It s the MOST popular color!!!! White, black and gray are NOT colors and they are the only “colors” more popular than RED!!! So when will we get the choice of fire engine red, candy apple red, or something close to those. Maroon is NOT RED!!! Listen up Subaru of America!!! Otherwise our next car will likely be a Soul Red Mazda CX-5!!!

  • mnm

    So why won’t you buy a fire engine instead? Perfect red. If the RED color is the main thing about car for you.

  • jalbertini

    Not the main thing. We’ve owned four Outbacks, three the non-red maroons they Call red. The first, a ’99, was a true Rio Red. But a definite strong color preference and drops the Outback in our personal comparison rating against the competition when shopping. What does SOA have against a true red for the Outback? It hasn’t been a deal-breaker, YET, but could be in the future. The Mazda CX-5 came VERY close to winning last time when we bought a ’14, LOL!!!