First Glance: Ready for the Outdoors
I recently spent a week with a 2007 Subaru Outback 2.5 XT Limited, and became convinced that this multi-purpose wagon/SUV does just about everything well, and is easily one of the best vehicles I've driven over the past year.
While the Subaru Legacy and Subaru Legacy Outback feature the same powertrain and AWD system options, the biggest difference is in the suspension setup and ground clearance. All Legacy Outback models feature a heavy-duty suspension and a few extra inches of ground clearance over their Legacy brethren -- the Legacy has a bit over 6", while the Outback has a tad over 8".
My test vehicle came loaded for bear: dual-zone climate control, power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, remote keyless entry, XM radio, a GPS-based nav system and an aux-audio jack.
Extra-charge options on my tester included an "outdoor recreation group 1" option package [$525] (with roof-mounted bike carrier and metal cargo basket) and a mirror/compass and security system upgrade [$304]. The system looked sturdy enough to handle a few bikes and their related accouterments.
In the Driver's Seat: Creature Comforts
The front seats were firm and comfortable: The driver gets spoiled with an 8-way power seat, while the front seat passenger has to make do with only a 4-way power seat. Both front seats feature manually-adjustable lumbar support and a heating option with four temperature settings.
My test vehicle was equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission and Subaru's SI-Drive system. SI-Drive allows the driver to select from three different engine management and transmission control settings: "intelligent," "sport" and "sport-sharp." Intelligent mode returns the best fuel economy and smoothness, while the latter two deliver increasingly responsive engine performance and shifting at the cost of fuel economy. The difference between all three modes is noticeable, but I would have preferred a dash-mounted 3-way switch over the current SI-Drive dial beneath the shifter.
Other nice interior features of note included the intuitive touch-screen Nav system, a spill-retaining cargo tray and a convenient set of cargo tie-down hooks.
On the Road: Incognito Performance
The full-time AWD system helped ensure that we carried that shelving home across all manner of road surfaces with ease, from unpaved roads and rutted trails to rain-slicked highways. The 2.5 XT features a modestly tuned version of the same 2.5 liter turbocharged engine found in the Impreza WRX STI, a powerful mill that served up some impressive oomph when we needed to merge into traffic or pass a lumbering cement truck.
With SI-Drive turned to the sport sharp setting, I'd imagine that 0-60 times in the high 6 second range are possible. While you won't be outrunning Mustangs or Evos at the stoplight, the Outback 2.5 XT is surprisingly quick. The suspension did seem a bit soft and squishy on twistier bits of road, but the entire combination is impressive -- this vehicle may look like a mild-mannered wagon, but it serves up performance that some so-called sports sedans can't match.
Journey's End: Picking Nits
The second row seats are perfect for children and even adults of average height. Sitting three adults abreast in that row is uncomfortable, especially if more than one is over 6 feet tall. Granted, Subaru would likely encourage people to move up to the larger Tribeca if they needed more interior room, but just an few extra inches of head and leg room in the second row would have made a huge difference.
The value dilemma is more problematic, as bang for the buck has historically been a Subaru hallmark: how many other vehicle makes offer such a great combination of resale value, AWD performance and reliability? Not many, but $35K for an AWD sports wagon seems a bit much, especially when you consider that it lands the Subaru within a reasonable distance of the Volvo V70R and the upcoming 2007 Audi Allroad Quattro. I applaud Subaru for refining and improving their vehicles over the years, but their recent move upmarket -- and their flirtation with the $40,000 mark -- is a bit troubling.
Seating gripes and value concerns aside, the 2007 Subaru Outback 2.5XT manages to feel just at home on twisty back roads as it does on mud-covered trails and smoothly paved highway. With a winning combination of cargo capacity, passenger comfort, all-weather/all-terrain capability and smile-inducing performance, the 2007 Outback 2.5XT stands at the top of its class.