The Outback shows a bolder, more rugged-looking face for 2018, highlighted by wider, lower grille openings and a new bumper that complement the Subaru hexagonal grille. The redesigned headlights feature distinctive ‘Konoji’ daytime LED running lights. Subaru photo

Subaru wagon still functional after all these years

Back in the Outback

Nearly 20 years ago I took a Subaru Outback to a snow-covered deserted parking lot in Kettering to see what it could do. You know, slides and spins and such. Five minutes later and the Outback had proved its mettle. This was no rear-wheel drive behemoth of my youth that gleefully (and sometimes terrifyingly) skidded under the tamest of winter conditions.

Fast forward a few years to Connecticut, where the white stuff fell heavy and often. It was hard to miss all the Subarus traversing merrily along, led by the Outback.

And now here we are in 2018 and while the Midwest’s weather pattern has been stop and go, there is no need to second-guess the abilities of the Outback whose all-wheel drive was, is and likely will forever be a stabilizing factor under the worse of conditions.

The latest Outback comes in base, Premium, Limited and Touring trims with pricing beginning at $25,895 and rising to $38,690. The standard engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that turns out 175 horsepower. A 3.6-liter V6 with 256-hp is available on the Limited and Touring models.

Our test vehicle was the Touring version with the 4-cylinder engine. Did we feel short-changed with the pedestrian power output? Absolutely not. Take a look at the Outback. It’s a labeled sport-utility vehicle disguised as a wagon whose primary purposes are cargo-loading versatility (35.5 cubic feet of space in the back; 73.3 cubic feet with the split/folding rear seats down) and decent handling when circumstances require peace of mind.

The continuously variable transmission operates as smoothly as you would expect, and there are also paddle shifters that allow for an automatic transmission-like experience.

The exterior of the Outback has been freshened with a new grille, bumpers and mirrors and sits 8.7 inches above the ground. LED headlights turn along with the steering wheel. The trim we drove has auto-up and auto-down power windows. Infotainment feature have been upgraded. The tire-pressure monitoring system now displays individual tires.

Inside there is comfortable and roomy seating for five. Driver-accessible controls are large and easily used, including the audio, Bluetooth and cruise control switches on the steering wheel. Back-seat riders have a good amount of legroom that might be deceptive considering the vehicle itself is less than 16 feet long. They also get their own USB power port. All riders have a good view of the outside surroundings.

The cargo area has a rubber mat that keeps items from rolling around. It’s easy to clean and is accessed by a wide-opening power rear gate.

Just like it was 20 years ago, the Subaru Outback proves to be a multi-purpose vehicle for all seasons.

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