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.
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 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.