Silvio Calabi: Subaru’s Outback goes uptown
This Subie has equipment that we normally find in more upscale vehicles, and a peek at the window sticker reveals that some of them originate in Option Package 20: GPS navigation, a rear-vision camera, a self-dimming rearview mirror with a Homelink transmitter (it opens your garage door, switches on the house lights and turns off the burglar alarm, fluffs up the pillows and makes martinis) plus a Harmon-Kardon audio system with nine speakers, satellite radio and a hands-free phone link. Also the must-have USB/iPod connection port and a power moon roof.
The big news, however, in Option Package 20 is a safety suite that Subaru calls EyeSight Driver Assistance. The “eyes” are a pair of cameras, one on each side of the rearview mirror, that look forward through the windshield. In binocular vision, they scan the road, noting lane dividers and objects ahead and constantly gauging where they are in relation to the car. This gen is fed into a busy little computer that keeps the Subie from running into things.
If the Outback crosses a paint line without signaling a lane change, a chime sounds. If the Outback merely wanders from side to side within its lane, not crossing a divider, the chime sounds. If the computer thinks we might possibly hit the car ahead, another alarm sounds and a light flashes. Then, if we’re still not paying attention, the computer chops the throttle and leaps on the brakes to slow the car and even bring it to a stop. Pre-Collision Throttle Management also prevents us from accelerating into something — a car ahead that tries to enter traffic and suddenly chickens out and stops, for example.
EyeSight supervises the cruise control too, automatically slowing — and even stopping — the car as needed and then resuming the set speed when the roadway clears.
Maybe you thought you were doing the driving?
Option Package 20 costs $3,940, or about as much as the insurance claim on one minor rear-ender (provided no airbags go off). So it’s money well spent, especially for families with drivers who have cellphones grafted to their ears. The only downside is that the annoyingly loud lane-departure chime can’t be switched off by itself; disabling the chime means shutting down the entire EyeSight system. And then it’s of no use.
The rest of this particular Outback, a 2013 2.5i Limited model, costs $30,000, and it’s notably well-equipped all by itself: Heated and electrically adjustable leather front seats and no fewer than eight cupholders; plentiful airbags and other passive safety systems; a push-button electronic parking brake, dual-zone automatic climate control and even a wiper de-icer. The computer graphics are unusually crisp and pleasing — very up-to-date. For that matter, the entire cabin is remarkably upscale, with matte-finish wood trim that wouldn’t disgrace a luxury sedan.
The cruise-control and stereo switches are on the steering wheel and the satnav can be programmed by voice command, so the driver needn’t tear his eyes from the view ahead. As do nearly all Subarus, the Outback comes with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, which is another excellent safety feature all by itself. (And helps explain why Subarus are so popular in the Frozen North.) The 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower motor in our sample car is powerful enough to do the job, but the continuously variable transmission occasionally makes it sounds as though it’s straining harder than it really is. (More powerful engines and other transmissions are available.) However, there are shifter paddles on the steering wheel that let the driver select and hold certain “gears” as needed.
There are cars that we develop crushes on — irrational romances fueled by horsepower and elegant sheet metal and hood ornaments of great pedigree — but that tend to lose their appeal in the first snowstorm, or at the first lease payment or the first non-scheduled service. And then there are “ordinary” cars that we learn to appreciate as the years and the miles, and the bad weather and the carsick dogs and the popsicle-eating children, pile up. Guess which one is the Outback?
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of IMPA, the International Motor Press Association, whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or 207-592-2619.