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.
What we really didn't expect to find in the new Outback was an electronic parking brake, with a controller by the driver's left knee. Push it in to activate; pull it out to release. Sitting at a stop sign on a San Francisco hill, with the manual transmission, we began to think the electronic parking brake wasn't such a good idea at all. But then we figured out that the button next to it, showing a car going up an incline, activated a hill-hold feature. While welcome, we found this system a bit clunky, and slow to engage.
An audio highlight
We weren't as surprised to see Harmon Kardon branding on the car's speakers, as Subaru promised this audio system at last year's Los Angeles Auto Show. This optional upgrade brings in a 440-watt amp and nine speakers, and produces very good-quality sound. The amp in particular gives the system some oomph, helping the speakers reproduce music with good definition.
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of audio sources. Our Outback was restricted to terrestrial radio, a CD changer, and an auxiliary input. Nothing else is available from the factory, although the changer does play MP3 CDs. There are a few dealer accessories listed on the Subaru Web site for satellite radio and iPod playback, but we can't verify how well these add-ons will integrate with the factory stereo.
Subaru is making a Bluetooth hands-free phone system available, with voice command controls on the steering wheel. This system is about where other automakers were five years ago. You can place calls by saying the phone number through the voice command system, and there is an onboard phonebook. But you have to make entries to the phonebook manually--you can't import your phone's contact list.
As mentioned above, the navigation system is only available with the Limited trim Outback. This system is DVD-based, and doesn't offer some of the more advanced features, such as live traffic, seen in other automaker's vehicles.
Finally, given the height of the Outback, a rearview camera would be a useful feature.
The small SUV segment isn't the most high tech of the automotive world, but even here the 2010 Subaru Outback is behind the times. The company's ancient rival Mitsubishi offers much more tech in its Outlander SUV, along with an equally capable all-wheel-drive system.
From a tech standpoint, the 2010 Outback proved itself average all around. There are a few high points, such as the standard all-wheel-drive system and the hill-hold feature. We were also impressed by the audio quality from the Harmon Kardon system, but really would have liked more modern options for audio sources. At this point, the mere presence of a Bluetooth phone system meets a minimum requirement for tech, as many states are outlawing hands-on cell phone use in cars.
|Model||2010 Subaru Outback|
|Power train||2.5-liter flat four cylinder|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city/27 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||23 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional DVD-based system on Limited trim|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible six CD changer|
|MP3 player support||None|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Optional nine-speaker 440-watt Harmon Kardon|
|Driver aids||Hill hold|
|Price as tested||$27,780|