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As much as we respect the general utility of many Subaru models, the cars have proved very limited in useful cabin electronics. That hasn't changed much for the 2010 model year, with Subaru moving very tentatively into accommodating personal electronics. The 2010 Subaru Outback 2.5i maintains Subaru's reputation with all wheel drive, but adds a quality audio system and Bluetooth phone integration, showing some interest in moving into the 21st century.
The 2010 Outback looked rather large when we first saw it in our garage, as if it suffered from the general bloat that many automakers inflict with each model update. A check of the specs showed that, while the new Outback is 4 inches taller than the 2009 model, it is also a tad bit shorter. What we don't get about the Subaru lineup is the need for the Forester, which is even taller, but shorter, than the 2010 Outback.
The 2010 Outback has midsize SUV dimensions, and seats five while offering a large cargo area. You can get it with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in Subaru's signature flat layout, or a 3.6-liter flat six. With either engine the car comes in base, Premium, or Limited trim models, and what really irks us about Subaru is that the company only makes the navigation option available with the Limited trim.
Six on the floor
Surprisingly for any SUV these days, our 2010 Outback arrived with a six-speed manual transmission, a legacy option from when the Outback was just a jacked-up Legacy. But forget short throws; the transmission shifts like a bus. The gear ratios are well configured for everyday use, with the tall fifth and sixth gears letting the engine run slow at freeway speeds, improving fuel economy.
With an output of 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is a little anemic for the Outback. The gentle acceleration when we mashed the pedal gave us little confidence for passing maneuvers, and we spent a lot of time working the low gears for power.
The small engine doesn't necessarily equal great fuel economy, either. The EPA ratings for the Outback with manual transmission and 2.5-liter engine are 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. We achieved 23 mpg in mixed driving city and freeway driving. The 3.6-liter engine Outback isn't much worse, getting 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, while producing 256 horsepower. But get the 2.5-liter Outback with the continuously variable transmission, the automatic option, and economy goes up to 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
Subaru makes use of turbo technology in some of its other models to increase power while not taking too much of a hit in fuel economy, and it seems like it would have been appropriate here. As it is, the engine technology tops out at the use of variable valve and lift control.
The 2010 Outback's all-wheel-drive system is as good as ever, and combined with a chassis allowing 8.7 inches of clearance, the car can bang around off-road pretty successfully. The qualities that endear the Outback to the outdoor activity crowd are in good evidence with this 2010 model.
Although no sports car, we did tackle a few corners in the Outback, and found that the all-wheel-drive system contributes to handling as well as keeping grip in slippery conditions. The Outback leans in the corners, as we would expect, but under stress, the torque shifted from front to back, giving us pull from the front wheels when needed, then pushing from the back wheels to carry the car through a turn.