2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 R VDC Limited review: 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 R VDC Limited

2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 R VDC Limited

Wayne Cunningham

Wayne Cunningham

Managing Editor / Roadshow

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.

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Subaru Outback 3.0 R VDC
The 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 R VDC Limited maintains and enhances Subaru's reputation among weekend nature lovers, all while adding a level of luxury that ensures its constituency won't outgrow it economically. It's still the perfectly designed small wagon, easily seating four while transporting bikes or skis via the roof rack, as well as backpacks in the cargo area. Passengers can also sink back into the leather seats, which are eight-way power-adjustable in the front, and enjoy excellent sky views through the long, double-pane sunroof. All-wheel drive, a vehicle-stability system, and a torquey 250-horsepower, six-cylinder engine make it confident in light off-road or heavy weather conditions. Plus, dual-zone climate control and heated front seats make trips through the desert or in snowy mountains more than bearable. The six-disc, in-dash CD MP3 player delivers excellent sound, aided by seven speakers and a subwoofer. But Subaru doesn't offer much more in the way of electronics in this car, where a navigation system isn't even an option. In fact, there isn't much that does come optional, as all the equipment listed above is standard at an MSRP of $33,495. Our test car had an autodimming mirror with an integrated compass and a security system ($281), which pushed the total price up to $34,351, also taking into account the $575 destination charge. The interior appointments of the 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 might spoil any outdoor cred you previously earned and might even dissuade you from getting in with muddy hiking boots. The leather is nice, though not quite as good as the Hummer H3's, and the eight-way power-adjustable seats are convenient but don't include a memory option. Mahogany accents the dash and the top half of the Momo steering wheel, further pushing the idea of luxury in the unlikely container of an Outback. Despite these appointments, the Outback is a practical car for everyday errands and weekend jaunts; the cargo area is as functional as ever and includes a retractable cover for keeping luggage out of view and stowed securely.


2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 R VDC Limited

The Good

Large sunroof; quality sound system; all-wheel drive; well-designed interior space.

The Bad

Shifty transmission; minimal dashboard electronics; overreactive climate control.

The Bottom Line

The Subaru Outback is well designed for camping trips and grocery runs, but its transmission could use some refinement.

Enjoy the view through the Outback's large, double-pane sunroof.

The dual-zone, automatic climate-control system is set via large, easy-to-access knobs at the bottom of the center dash console. We found one oddity with this system: With sun streaming in through the large sunroof, the air conditioning worked overtime, blowing chilly air even when the cabin didn't feel all that warm. We had to close the interior sunroof cover, blocking out the sky view, to get the climate control operating in a reasonable manner. The power sunroof is one of the high points of the 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0. It includes three settings: The front vent can be flipped up (for minimal air), halfway back, and fully open. The latter position isn't really recommended for highway driving but provides nature lovers with a huge dose of the great outdoors while being transported around.

You can enjoy hours and hours of tunes with the Outback's six-CD, MP3-capable stereo, but satellite radio fans are out of luck.

The stereo system doesn't have a satellite radio option, but other than that, it's very good. It takes six CDs, either standard audio or MP3, potentially offering enough hours of music for a cross-country trip. Integrated steering-wheel controls offer volume adjustment, track navigation, and mode shifting. The quality of the sound really stands out, thanks to the six well-placed speakers and a subwoofer. The only other noteworthy tech feature is the autodimming mirror with integrated compass. The top of the center dash includes a display strip for trip information, with an odd hole on top of it covered by a flip-up cover. Although convenient for storing sunglasses, it looks like Subaru planned on offering a navigation-system option, which we would have preferred, but didn't follow through.

As the flagship model of the Outback lineup, the 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 boasts the most powerful engine: a 250-horsepower, 3.0-liter flat six-cylinder that produces 250 pound-feet of torque. It's coupled to a five-speed automatic, which includes a manual mode dubbed Shiftronic by Subaru. The engine is a good fit for this car, operating very smoothly while easily bringing it to freeway speeds or up steep inclines. That said, the transmission is a bit shifty, as it seems to have trouble finding exactly the right gear when climbing hills.

The Momo steering wheel adds a racy streak to the Outback, but the car's more suited for off-roading than hairpin turns.

We already mentioned the Momo wheel, but the sport mode on the transmission is further evidence that the Outback wants to play race car. However, it isn't suited for it. Take it hard on a twisty mountain road, and the suspension reveals that it would rather be smoothing the ride over rough gravel tracks or speed bumps than holding the road. Plus, the transmission's sport mode doesn't feel terribly different from the drive mode, and as we've found on a few other newer automatics, it hesitates a bit when you mash the accelerator down.

The manual mode on the transmission is better used for selecting just the right gear for old logging roads leading deep into wilderness--the kind of place the 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 was really meant to go. Its all-wheel drive is complemented by a torque-distribution system that dynamically moves power fore or aft from its default 50-50 split, all the way up to 100 percent in either direction. VDC stands for vehicle dynamic control, which contributes to keeping the Outback upright, and its 8.7 inches of clearance are adequate for light off-road driving.

Mileage on the Outback isn't stellar, with an EPA rating of 19mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway. During our testing, which included mostly freeway and highway miles, we averaged 18.1mpg according to the trip computer, something that might make environmentalists pause.

The 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 is equipped with good safety features, including full air-bag coverage. Along with front air bags, the Outback comes equipped with front seat-mounted side air bags and full side curtain air bags. The aforementioned vehicle-stability system is complemented by antilock disc brakes on all four wheels. The all-wheel-drive system helps hold the road in poor conditions, and tire-pressure monitoring provides an alert for underfilled or leaking tires. Subaru's warranty is adequate, providing three years/36,000 miles for basic coverage, five years/60,000 miles on the power train, and five years with unlimited miles against rust.


2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 R VDC Limited

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 5Performance tech 6Design 7


See full specs Trim levels 3.0 R VDC LimitedAvailable Engine GasBody style wagon