A little over 12 months ago, my wife and I waved goodbye to her abhorrently unreliable Ford Focus. In its place, we welcomed a gently-loved 2017 Subaru Outback to our garage!
I wrote in more detail about our purchase experience in my Buying a Car From Carmax post, but to summarize: We had a great experience!
Start to finish we went from getting a quote on her Focus to driving home the Outback in just a few days.
So after a year of ownership and nearly daily use, how has the Outback fared? Well I don’t want to spoil it…but it’s probably the all-around best car I’ve ever owned. Let me explain…
Like a La-Z-Boy
Earlier last year (before the Focus shit the bed for the umpteenth time), my wife and I started a little proactive car shopping. We test drove a few different vehicles, including an Outback, and came away knowing it would be a top contender.
One of things I remember about the test drive in the Outback was the quality of the ride. Our test drive took us down one of the worst roads in south Milwaukee, and potholes that would have swallowed up the WRX were barely noticeable!
Our 2017 Outback is much the same story - it’s by far and away one of the most comfortable vehicles I’ve been in. Especially impressive considering the sub-$30k price tag!
The only downside of that comfortable ride is the sacrifice in driving position. Like most SUVs you sit pretty high up, which I personally don’t enjoy.
The upside of the higher ride is improved visibility which, when combined with the lack of blind spots, means you’re never worried about what’s going on around you on the road. Our Outback also came equipped with blind spot monitoring which I initially thought was kind of a gimmick, but I’ve come to seriously appreciate in rush hour traffic.
Parking isn’t an issue either, which is surprising for an SUV this size. The armada of sensors and aforementioned lack of blind spots makes placing the Outback in a spot a cinch! And high sidewalls mean there’s no worries about biffing the wheels on a curb.
While I wish wagons were more popular here in the US (thinking of you, RS6 Avant), I can appreciate the versatility and appeal of an SUV. The Outback is no exception, and while it may drive like a lifted wagon, it has the same space and ergonomics of a bigger SUV.
Not only is the trunk ENORMOUS, but all of the levers and latches are within easy reach, and the trunk cover is towable below the floor.
Even with such a large trunk, the second row of seats is very spacious. The seat backs are able to recline slightly, which is awesome for passengers on longer trips or squeezing those slightly-too-big boxes in the back without needing to drop the seats entirely.
Up front it’s much the same story. There’s a crazy amount of leg room, and the seats are extremely comfortable, even on longer drives.
If there’s one knock to be had, it’s the seat fabric itself.
While it’s very soft, it’s also a pain in the ass to clean. The texture of the fabric acts like velcro for hair, and requires some intense brushing to extract. Those folks with long-haired puppers may want to stick with the leather option.
The only other real complaint I have is that the climate control/center stack buttons and switches are a bit…unintuitive? Coming from my WRX with it’s three big knobs for everything, it can be disorientating to try and make adjustments while driving.
Because most of the main functions are buttons rather than knobs, I’ll sometimes end up hitting the zone button instead of the fan speed. This might seem like a fairly petty complaint, but every time you have to take your eyes off the road is a risky gamble.
Eye (Sight) With My Little Eye
I alluded to the blind spot monitoring above, but I want to explain more in-depth why I think all of the sensors and cameras on the Outback help elevate it from a good car to a great car.
The standout technology on display here is the EyeSight system. Up until the Outback, I had never owned or even driven a vehicle equipped with any form of adaptive cruise control.
But as we cross-shopped Outbacks, I knew the EyeSight system was a must-have; something that would really pay dividends where we needed it most. Considering the Outback would be our main “family hauler”, we needed something that could melt the miles on a longer road trip.
Well, after several longer road trips and lots of in-town driving, I’m happy to report that the EyeSight and other driver assistance tech was money well spent.
On one occasion, my wife and I took a trip down to Chicago for an overnight. We left Milwaukee just before rush hour, and hit the outskirts of Chicago around 5 PM. I had been experimenting with the EyeSight system on the way down, but figured it’d be fun to see how it dealt with stop-and-go traffic.
I was blown away by how well it worked. In the slow crawling stuff it performed flawlessly - keeping us a set distance from the car in front, adjusting for vehicles cutting over from other lanes, etc. It never missed a beat.
On a separate occasion, I tested the system in fairly heavy rain. Not only did it continue to perform, it was able to more safely predict changes in speed than I would have, thanks to the torrential downpour we were driving through.
There have been a few cases where the system has cut out in a heavy storm or fog, and these occasions are pretty frustrating. The system will disable cruise control entirely if the EyeSight system isn’t “ready”.
Another bummer is that the system requires your input if it comes to a complete stop. This can be frustrating when traffic is literally coming to a stop all the time, but still beats the workout my left leg gets in the WRX…
Finally I have a bit of a bone to pick with the lane departure system. The system itself works great - helping nudge you back into your lane if you start to drift astray. But it can be a bit aggressive and obnoxious sometimes. I wish there was the ability to adjust the strength of the warnings/intervention versus turning it entirely off.
These small things aside, I have to say I’m blown away with how well the EyeSight system works. It will absolutely be a must-have on any future Subarus we purchase.
To CVT or Not to CVT, That is the Question
One of my biggest worries with the Outback was the transmission. Almost every review and internet post I read about CVTs suggested that they’re “the worst thing to ever happen to the car”. (Clearly these people never owned a 2012 Ford Focus with the DSG transmission)
But after over a year driving the Outback, I really don’t get what all the fuss is about.
Having not driven the WRX with a CVT, I can’t speak to how the experience translates in a performance car, but for a family hauler/daily driver, its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.
There’s plenty of power, and the smoothness of the delivery makes driving the Outback…well, easy! Seriously, it’s one of the easiest cars I’ve ever driven. Coming from the satanic abomination that was the Ford, the uneventfulness and refinement of the CVT is a breath of fresh air.
There is only one situation I’ve found the transmission to be somewhat temperamental: going from reverse to drive.
For example, when backing out of our garage, when you shift the car into D, there’s about a two second delay before you can really set off.
If you try to press the gas before the car is “ready”, there’s a slight hesitation and then a lurch as the car catches up with your inputs. It’s not really a deal breaker, but if you’re in a hurry it can make you look/sound a bit lead-footed.
But overall I’m very impressed with the refinement of the Subaru CVT. Considering how complex a dual clutch transmission has to be (technically), I think the former is a much more user-friendly option. The average driver won’t see the benefits of a quick-shifting dual clutch, but they will appreciate the smoothness of a well-tuned CVT.
That being said, the inverse is still true for a performance car. Without a big leap forward in technology, I don’t see a CVT as being conducive to a “fun” driving experience.
Because of this, I’m anxiously waiting to see what Subaru will do with the next generation WRX/STI. Especially considering the “meh” reception the current automatic WRX has gotten.
The Wife is Always Right
So you’ve heard plenty of my thoughts on the Outback. But I thought it would be good to get my wife’s thoughts too - it is, after all, her car!
When I asked her what her favorite part of the Outback was, she said she loved the moonroof and spaciousness of the interior. She emphasized that it was nice to feel like she could offer to drive places, without worrying about passengers being uncomfortable or cramped.
She also mentioned that the power trunk is such a nice-to-have feature, especially considering a majority of our shopping is curbside pickup these days!
One complaint she had was the head unit/stereo. She streams a lot of podcasts/radio while she drives, and finds it really frustrating that the whole system is disabled when the car is in reverse.
Considering the slowness of the Bluetooth, sometimes she’ll be halfway out of the garage before the music starts and doesn’t have the option to turn it down/off til she puts the car back into park/drive.
I think both she and I would like Apple CarPlay compatibility in our next car, since we’ve never once used the built-in navigation system and very rarely use the stereo itself to change the song.
Overall though, she says she loves her new car, and both of us are sleeping better at night not having to worry about what might go wrong next with her Ford. And (insert cliche “It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru” statement here) I can rest easy knowing that she’s in a much safer and more capable vehicle.
Plus, I think she just loves sharing the driver’s seat with me.
Just kidding - she hates when I mess up her seat/mirror position. Subaru please put memory settings on your power seats. Sincerely, this very differently-sized married couple.
In summary, I stand by my initial statement that the Outback is one of the (if not the best) cars I’ve ever owned. It’s proven to be reliable, comfortable, economical, and very versatile in the past twelve months.
It’s hard to imagine a car that more perfectly suits our needs, at least at this point in our lives.
Both my wife and I look forward to many years of driving it to come. And maybe someday, she’ll even let me mod it a bit…
(She says “not likely”)