2017 Subaru Outback review:

Despite drivetrain changes, Outback still a powder hound

Starting at $25,645
  • Engine 4 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain All Wheel Drive
  • MPG 28 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type Crossovers, SUVs

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall
  • Performance 7
  • Features 8
  • Design 7
  • Media & Connectivity 6

The Good Standard all-wheel drive and good ground clearance make the 2017 Subaru Outback more capable than the typical crossover SUV, and its EyeSight system adds collision prevention. The new Touring trim brings premium cabin appointments.

The Bad Buyers will have to wait another model year or two for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The adaptive cruise control feature, enabled by the EyeSight system, brakes a little too abruptly when approaching stopped traffic.

The Bottom Line Amongst five-passenger crossover SUVs, the 2017 Subaru Outback stands out for its standard all-wheel drive and unique culture around the brand. Advanced safety is on par with competitors, but dashboard electronics lag the market a little. The new Touring trim gives the Outback premium style.

Subaru enjoys a reputation for offroad-capable cars, but I still managed to get the 2017 Outback stuck in the snow. Although its crossover SUVs still come standard with all-wheel-drive, Subaru made some changes to its drivetrains over the past couple of years, such as replacing gearboxes with continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) and adding what it calls X-Mode, a traction control and throttle program designed for slippery surfaces.

I know, it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools, but here's the scenario: People who live in snow country favor Subarus, so for my review, I followed some tire tracks into about a foot-deep uncleared snow pack in a parking lot. The Outback handled it well, but then I got to a point where the tires lost traction and the car wouldn't go forward. A little reverse, then a little forward, and nothing, not even wheel spin. I was stuck.

Engaging X-Mode, the Outback still couldn't get out. Looking around outside, the Outback's 8.7-inches of ground clearance kept the body off the snow, so the stock Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport tires were making full contact with the ground. Some combination of CVT and drive program refused to put power to the wheels in this low-traction situation.

2017 Subaru Outback

The Outback's 8.7-inches of ground clearance keeps it from getting high-centered in moderate snow.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Saving the Outback, and myself from a towing fee, Subaru had the foresight to give the CVT a manual mode, programmed shift points that simulate fixed gears. Putting the Outback into virtual first gear, all four wheels got the power they needed to pull through, and I was home free.

The Outback vies with the Forester for the top sales spot in Subaru's line-up, achieving success with its crossover functionality, giving it a high riding position, seating for five and useful cargo space. Subaru reliability and standard all-wheel drive are points in its favor. This practical car serves well as a family vehicle.

The 2.5i Touring version I reviewed loads on the amenities while remaining frugal on fuel consumption. Its 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, in Subaru's standard flat four configuration, makes 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque, while achieving 25 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, according to EPA testing. Through a mix of city and freeway driving, my average came in at 26 mpg.

The cabin will likely surprise long-time Subaru fans, and it certainly impressed me with its satin-finish wood trim and saddle brown leather, in a color Subaru calls java brown. This coachwork comes courtesy of the Outback's new Touring trim, also loaded with dashboard electronics and driver-assistance features.

Subaru gives the Outback a premium treatment with satin finish wood trim.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Subaru tends to be a follower, not a leader, when it comes to dashboard tech, which shows in the Outback's navigation system. This head unit offers basic navigation, digital audio and Bluetooth phone support, all accessible on a modest 7-inch touchscreen. I found the touch response times reasonable, and never needed to double-tap the screen.

Although online destination search does not appear in the navigation menu, the Outback offers some limited search through its integration with the Aha app. And for that rare person with a MirrorLink-capable phone, the Outback will mirror the phone's apps on its own touchscreen. For emergency services and other on-the-road needs, Subaru includes its StarLink telematics system, along with an associated app. The Outback doesn't offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but that should be coming soon, as both the 2017 Impreza and 2018 Legacy support those features.

What really enhanced my driving pleasure was the Outback's Harmon Kardon stereo, also standard in Touring trim, which features 12 speakers and a 576-watt amp.

This week on Roadshow

Discuss: 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i

Please log in to CNET to comment
Post Comment As...