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2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited review:

2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited

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Following the cabin tech competition
As we saw in the Impreza WRX, Subaru is playing catch-up with its cabin tech, but it hasn't yet come even with the competition.

Our Outback came as well-equipped as you can get, but the navigation system is still only DVD-based, and lacks advanced features such as traffic. Being DVD-based, we had to ensure that our region of the country was selected before entering a destination. We also found that the points of interest database was limited; for example, it showed only major chain restaurants.

These maps look good, but they don't show traffic.

All of that said, the maps on the navigation system, although lacking a 3D view, are colorful and easy to read. The system also operated quickly, letting us search the map for destinations and recalculating with no hesitation when we took it off course. Graphics for route guidance are simple but explicit, and the system will read out highway numbers, but not street names.

One of our biggest complaints with this navigation system, and something we found in the WRX as well, is that it locks out all destination entry while on the move, except for an emergency locations section. We could not even choose a previous destination.

Similarly, in Subaru's overzealous concern for safety, we could not choose music from a connected iPod while under way. We quickly learned to get a playlist or genre playing before driving onto the freeway, unless we wanted to get stuck listening to the same album over and over.

Of course, we could switch to other audio sources, such as satellite radio or Bluetooth streaming. Typical for Bluetooth streaming, there isn't much onscreen control from the car's interface. The satellite radio interface was, however, easy to navigate.

This equalizer lets you adjust not only levels, but also frequency.

As we found on the WRX, the navigation head unit also holds very extensive audio controls, including a four-band parametric equalizer, which let us not only change frequency levels, but also choose which frequencies to adjust. It is a little more complex than simple bass and treble controls, but offers a satisfying level of tweaking. The head unit also includes a number of surround effects, but as we were listening to music we tended to choose simple stereo output.

We noted in our review of the WRX that these audio controls went to waste with the car's stock audio. Not so in our Outback. At the Limited trim, it comes standard with a 9 speaker Harman Kardon audio system, using a 440-watt amp. Although not an absolutely top-tier audio system, it is very good, with a level of detail you don't get from a typical six speaker system.

Although it has a subwoofer, the bass was not particularly strong, but it produced some thump when we really cranked up the stereo. And although we appreciated the detail, the highs were a little shrill for our taste.

The audio gets muted, of course, when a call comes in over the car's Bluetooth phone system. We easily paired an iPhone to this system, but although the car gives the option of transferring the phone's contact list to the car, it requires a push function not present on the iPhone.

The navigation screen is also used to show the view from the backup camera, a useful feature considering the height of the Outback. This view shows distance lines, but not trajectory lines. The Outback lacks other driver assistance features such as blind-spot detection or adaptive cruise control.

In sum
The high point of the 2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited is its drivetrain tech, as it uses a smart all-wheel-drive system and the rev-matching transmission. The boxer-style engine is interesting, but its variable valve timing tech is only average by today's standards. The suspension is a little soft for our taste, but the amount of travel should help the car get over obstacles.

Subaru has certainly improved its cabin tech, but it is still behind the times. The DVD-based navigation is very limited in features, although the Harman Kardon audio system raises the bar a bit. The Bluetooth phone system has some nice features, but we would prefer a phone book function that can pull contact lists from phones.

As for design, the cabin tech interface looks good and is usable, but we do not like how it locks out inputs while the car is moving. The exterior of the Outback shows Subaru's unique design language, making it easily identifiable, and the interior space is laid out practically.

Tech specs
Model 2010 Subaru Outback
Trim 3.6R Limited
Power train 3.6-liter flat six-cylinder, five-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 19.5 mpg
Navigation DVD-based
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3-compatible single CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio USB drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio
Audio system Harman Kardon nine-speaker 440-watt system
Driver aids Backup camera
Base price $30,995
Price as tested $35,195

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