2018 Subaru Outback

Product Reviews Approval Seal

Best for Families who want an all-wheel drive vehicle with great fuel efficiency at a budget-friendly price point
Top benefits Great fuel economy, a wide range of standard and available safety features, all-wheel drive, lots of cargo space
Considerations No hands-free liftgate, middle rear seat may not be usable if two car seats are installed
Bottom line The Subaru Outback is fun to drive, has lots of great safety features and offers enough cargo storage for everything from a big grocery haul to a week-long family camping trip. It offers several trim levels so you can get the exact options you want, and you get all-wheel drive for under $30,000—impressive.
Buy
subaru.ca CAD $29,295.00 subaru.com USD $25,895.00

Features

  • Heated front seats
  • Tilt-adjustable and telescopic steering wheel with illuminated audio controls and integrated cruise control
  • Bluetooth mobile connectivity
  • 10-way power adjustable driver seat with lumbar support
  • Power-adjustable, foldable and heated door mirrors

Tech Specs

SEATING
  • Up to five passengers
  • Two rows of seating
  • ISOFIX/LATCH anchors for two car seats
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES
  • Airbags: Front seat side-impact, front seat cushion, side curtain, driver dual-stage deployment with seat position sensor, front passenger dual-stage deployment with occupant detection system
  • Rearview camera
  • Traction control system
  • Vehicle Dynamics Control System
  • Whiplash-reducing front seats
  • Hill descent control
  • Collapsible steering column
FUEL ECONOMY
  • 2.5i — City: 9.4 L/100 km
  • 2.5i — Highway: 7.3 L/100 km
  • 3.6R — City: 12.0 L/100 km
  • 3.6R — Highway: 8.7 L/100 km
2.5i ENGINE, HORSEPOWER, TOWING
  • 2.5-litre dual overhead cam (DOHC), 16-valve, 4-cylinder engine
  • 175 horsepower at 5,800 rpm
  • 174 lb.-ft @ 4,000 rpm
  • 1,224-kg (2,698-lb.) towing capacity
3.6R ENGINE, HORSEPOWER, TOWING
  • 3.6-litre dual overhead cam (DOHC), 24-valve, 6-cylinder engine
  • 256 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
  • 247 lb.-ft. @ 4,400 rpm
  • 1,224-kg (2,698-lb.) towing capacity

Review

When you’re buying a family vehicle, safety features are often top of the list. But it also has to stand up to some serious use: daily commuting, getting kids to and from their various activities (sometimes with a huge bag of gear in tow), big grocery hauls, beach days (the sand!), road trips, and so much more. Kids bounce in and out, tossing backpacks and basketballs in the back seat, spilling snacks and drinks, slamming doors with abandon. Parents want a vehicle that’s going to keep everyone safe and comfy—and a pretty package never hurts, either. The Subaru Outback fits the bill on all fronts.

Today’s Parent Approved editors put the Outback (specifically, the 3.6R Premier with EyeSight) to the test, taking it out on the road, and also seeing how it measures up when it comes to the things that impact families, like installing car seats, loading strollers and big items in the cargo space, and even the number and quality of cupholders. Plus, we arranged vehicle loans for three families so they could provide us with detailed feedback on everyday use. The Outback’s EyeSight safety features, roomy cabin and generous cargo space were big hits with editors and parents alike.

SAFETY FEATURES

When you’re buying a vehicle for the family, safety is a big priority, and the Subaru Outback comes with a range of standard safety features, as well as some impressive options. All trims of the Outback feature a plethora of airbags, a rearview camera, stability and traction control, hill descent control and whiplash-reducing front seats. In all trims other than the base Outback 2.5i, you’ll also get the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD), which includes rear cross traffic alert (to let you know if a vehicle is approaching when you’re reversing), blind spot detection and lane change assist, which warns you when another vehicle is approaching fast on your right or left when you’re changing lanes.

Subaru’s advanced safety package is called EyeSight, and all of its features make use of two cameras mounted near to the top of the windshield. Most manufacturers use radar and sensors to operate collision-avoidance features. But Subaru’s pair of cameras does this and has the added benefit of being able to distinguish between a person and a vehicle, and detect when rear brake lights have been activated on another car. EyeSight is bundled with specific trims at an added cost of $1,500; you can get it on the 2.5i Touring, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Premier, 3.6R Limited and 3.6R Premier editions.

The optional EyeSight package includes several high-tech features. There’s adaptive cruise control to automatically adjust your speed to keep you at a desired distance from vehicles ahead (ideal for highway commuters). Pre-collision braking will sense if panic braking is happening ahead and slow or stop you. And there are three lane-assistance features to help prevent crashes. Lane departure warning beeps and flashes if you begin to move out of your lane without signalling. Lane keep assist will “nudge” your wheel back into the centre of the lane. And if lane keep assist has activated twice and no correction has been made, lane sway warning will beep and light up the dashboard to alert you—super useful for those moments of distraction and for sleep-deprived new parents. The package is rounded out with pre-collision throttle management—which basically stops you from driving into a potentially hazardous object as you start driving (no running into the back wall of your garage)—and lead vehicle start alert, which prompts you to get a move on if your car remains stopped after the vehicle in front of you has started to move forward.

Overall, editors and parents were impressed with the safety features in the Subaru Outback 3.6R Premier with EyeSight trim they tested. Our testers said the driver assist features made them safer drivers and more confident on the road, and they felt that the safety features added value to this vehicle.

COMFORT

During testing, our editors found sitting behind the wheel of the Outback super comfortable. The driver’s seat features 10-way power adjustability, including adjustable lumbar support, so you can be truly comfortable when you’re on the road. The Limited and Premier models also allow for two memory presets—especially handy if your family has multiple drivers of varying heights. Front heated seats are also standard across all models. The steering wheel also adjusts: it can be tilted and telescoped manually, so there’s no chance of bumping your legs and people with long arms aren’t crowded. Reaching buttons, knobs and other instruments on the dashboard is easy as well (though it’s worth noting that many of the controls are only operable when the car is stationary; voice control is required when driving).

Passengers in the rear get a bit of extra legroom thanks to smart cut-out space under the back of the front seats that allow for stretching out. Our editors enjoyed the Subaru Outback’s roomy cabin and the rear seats’ ability to recline a bit. Plus, rear seat passengers in the Limited and Premier models get their own heated seat controls—super convenient in those cold winter months (though your kids won’t be able to take advance of this until they’re out of a booster seat). Parent testers agreed that passengers were able to sit comfortably in the Outback for long periods of time, and one parent commented on how spacious the interior is.

It’s a very impressive SUV with lots of extras, like heated seats for passengers in the back.” —Morgan, mom of two

It’s worth noting that one of our tester families had to move the front passenger seat forward quite a bit to accommodate a rear-facing car seat, leaving her 6’1″ husband feeling a little cramped for space. It’s a common example of how some vehicles and car seats simply aren’t very compatible—many convertible car seats installed in the infant recline angle don’t fit well in a lot of vehicles. If you (or your kid) loves the car seat they’re in or you don’t want to have to get another one, your best bet is to take your car seat with you when you’re test-driving vehicles and try to install it. (This is really important because front seat clearance isn’t the only car seat–vehicle incompatibility issue.)

If you’re a family who likes to sip and snack on the go, the Outback’s got you covered with ample cup and bottle holders throughout the cabin. All of our parent testers said the cup holders in the Outback feel high-quality and durable, and our editors agreed. There are two sturdy cup holders nestled between the front seats and two on the console neatly hidden within the middle seat of the back row. On each door there’s a deep and secure bottle holder that’s accessible when seated.

CARGO SPACE

Mid-size SUVs have a lot going for them, most notably good cargo capacity without sacrificing interior space or legroom (a common compromise in crossover SUVs). The Subaru Outback boasts an impressive 1,005-litre trunk capacity. Translation: A large stroller (the UppaBaby Vista) fit in cargo area with lots of room to spare. Our editors also noted that a jogging stroller would fit well, while some side-by-side double strollers could be stowed, albeit angled to fit. All in all, it’ll give you the space you need for baby and kid gear if your little ones are still deep in their stroller years.

If you need additional cargo space, the rear seats fold in two sections: one outer seat on its own, and the other outer seat and middle seat together. Our editors found the rear seats fold down quite easily, requiring only the pull of a lever located on the seat’s shoulder or with the push of a button in the cargo area. Putting the seats back up required little effort, too.

The Outback is an excellent road trip vehicle, with ideal cargo storage for loading up gear.” —Melanie, mom of one

How you access the cargo space is another important factor. The power rear liftgate (offered on every trim but the base model) can be opened with the push of a button on the key fob, a button on the lift gate itself or from a button located to the left of the steering wheel. It also has a memory feature, which allows you to set the height it opens to—a really handy feature because the Outback’s rear liftgate opens up really high (71 inches to be exact), and while there’s a button for power close, if you’re short, you could have a little trouble reaching it. The floor of the cargo space sits flush with the liftgate frame, so you can slide items out with ease.

For those outdoorsy families, Subaru also offers a ton of sport accessories, like bike carrier mounts, canoe carrier, roof basket and roof cargo boxes to name a few, giving you extra flexibility and storage options.

FUEL ECONOMY

It was no surprise when our parent testers unanimously gave the Outback top marks in how long a tank of fuel lasted. For a mid-size SUV, the Subaru Outback offers great fuel economy—especially for an all-wheel-drive vehicle. This is thanks to the Outback’s Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission and Boxer Engine, which have both been designed to use as little fuel as possible.

All Outback 2.5i trims will get you 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres in city driving and 7.3 L per 100 km on highways. That averages out to an impressive combined fuel economy of 8.5 L per 100 km. (For context, that’s just slightly above the combined fuel economy you can get with a hybrid SUV.) If you opt for any of the Outback 3.6R trims, a high-torque version of the transmission is standard, and that will reduce fuel efficiency a bit. Even so, the fuel efficiency is still at a respectable 10.5 L per 100 km combined (12.0 L per 100 km city, and 8.7 L per 100 km highway). With a 70-litre fuel tank, you’ll be able to drive the Outback well over 600 kilometres before needing to make a visit to the pumps.

DRIVING

During testing, our editors found that the Subaru Outback provided a smooth ride. Thanks to a higher seating position, the driver can see over smaller vehicles you may be sharing the road with, and that perspective adds to the driver’s confidence when behind the wheel. The Outback handles corners with ease and it feels more like you’re driving a crossover, even though it’s definitely a larger vehicle. Parents testers described the drive as “easy” and felt the vehicle handled like a dream and accelerated nicely, and one parent in particular told us they enjoyed how the Outback felt more like driving a car than an SUV, with the added benefit of a lot more cargo space. Our editors also found this to be true when taking the Outback through tight suburban areas: manoeuvring confidently through narrow streets and around tight corners was no problem.

Each trim level of the Outback comes with Subaru’s Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which eliminates any jarring you get from a shift in fixed gears (3.6R models come standard with a High-Torque Lineartronic CVT, designed to handle the higher torque engine). Our editors noticed its effects while cruising in the Outback and were impressed with just how smooth the ride was. All CVT equipped Crosstreks also come with the X-Mode feature, which takes over the engine, transmission, all-wheel drive system and brakes to safely and smoothly tackle the toughest landscapes—great for families in rural areas, or those who like venture into the wilderness. One parent tester suggested the Outback would make an excellent road trip car thanks to the combination of how easily it drives and the cargo space for packing in gear or suitcases.

It’s a great vehicle—full featured and spacious. I really enjoyed driving it.” —Abigail, mom of two

Another nice thing about the Subaru Outback is its minimal blind spot. Editors found there was only a split second where an approaching vehicle would be out of sight. To give the driver even more confidence, the vehicle’s blind spot warning (standard on all models minus the base 2.5i trim), lights up the corner of your side mirror to let you know someone’s there. Our editors appreciated that the warning lit up before the approaching vehicle had left the side mirror, giving the driver plenty of heads-up when planning a lane change. Parent testers also said they found this feature to be effective and helpful.

The rear view camera (standard on all models) is also super helpful when it comes to parking. The camera shows a wide view of what is behind you, with coloured guidelines that indicate the direction your wheels are turning. It also gauges how close the objects behind you are to your bumper, so you can get in and out of tight spaces without a scratch.

INTERIOR

Our editors and parent testers were taken with the impressive interior of the Outback we tested—the top trim 3.6R Premier with EyeSight. Its stylish brown leather seats are buttery and woodgrain-plus-high-gloss-black trim adds an extra special touch to the interior. If you opt for one of the Limited editions, Subaru’s standard leather seating is paired with woodgrain trim for a handsome look, while the base Outback and Touring models are appointed with premium fabric seating. A nice touch that comes standard on all Outback trims aside from the base is a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Our testers noted that the leather seats resisted scratches during normal use—exactly what you want, because kids can do a number on a car. But while the seats of the Outback resisted scratching, the standard carpeted floor mats may not be able to resist snacking. Carpeted floor mats can be a bit tricky to keep clean, as they can hide and store crumbs and dirt more easily than rubber mats—which can just be hosed down in a matter of seconds. Subaru offers high-wall rubber floor mats for $129.95 for a set of four—a small price to pay for easy clean-up in the event of a spill or a bout of motion sickness.

INSTALLING A CAR SEAT

Installing a car seat is tricky at best. In the Outback, the doors open nice and wide and the door frame equally spacious, so there’s lots of room to get your car seat in and out without bumping your head or elbow. The interior of the Outback is also quite roomy, our editors found that there was enough space for them to get around the car seat, making it that much easier to tighten the car seat once they’d achieved the proper installation angle. There’s more than enough room in the cabin for two parents to join forces and tackle car seat installation together. The headroom is also quite generous—and we’re all for car seat installs that require less crouching. Our parent testers reported they didn’t have any trouble getting their car seats (both an infant and convertible car seat) into the Outback and had an easy time with the installation.

When our editors tested car seat installation, they appreciated how flat the rear seats are (rather than sharply contoured) because it makes for an easier fit with some car seats. Our editors were able to install a convertible car seat rear-facing at the infant recline angle (which eats up the most room), but they did have to move the front seat forward somewhat to get the seat in. That being said, car seat dimensions differ seat to seat; it’s all about finding the car seat that’s going to be the most compatible with your vehicle, and that can take some legwork. (We always recommend try before you buy—or ask a certified car seat technician.)

When it comes time to install car seats facing forward, there are three tethers that are very accessible thanks to the Outback’s easy-to-move headrests, so you can install up to three car seats across the rear row. However, car seats can be bulky, so you’ll need to choose one of the narrowest models on the market to fit three across.

INFOTAINMENT SYSTEM

Being able to quickly and easily connect your smartphone to a vehicle’s infotainment system is a big part of driving these days. It only makes sense given how much time and attention we pay our smartphones. The Outback supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as and Starlink (if you happen to have a non-iOS or non-Android device). During testing, our editors found it easy to connect their devices using both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but one of our testers found the process somewhat difficult.

The Subaru Outback 2.5i (the base model) comes with a 6.5-inch screen, while all other trims have an eight-inch screen. The easy-to-operate menu system is the same in all trims. When the car is in motion, most features are only accessible with voice commands, and our parent testers found the system consistently understood their voice commands. Editors were also impressed with the responsiveness of the Outback’s voice control system; it will pick up voice commands from either the driver or passenger, which isn’t all that common. Editors were also able to easily program destinations on the navigation system and change radio stations by following the prompts that pop up on the dashboard screen when the voice command button (located on the steering wheel) is pressed.

VALUE

When shopping for a new vehicle, one of the first things you’ll need to consider is your budget. The Subaru Outback has a base price of $29,295 making it one of the most reasonably priced midsize SUVs on the market today. If you’re looking to spend a little more, the top trim Outback 3.6R Premier with EyeSight package starts at more substantial $42,195. With its spacious interior, intuitive infotainment system and great safety features, you get a lot of vehicle for your money.

FINAL WORD

Our parent testers really enjoyed their week with the Subaru Outback 3.6R Premier with Eyesight. They loved how easy it was to drive, the generous cargo storage and the wide range of safety features. Parents gave it good to very good ratings for quality and ease of use, and a good rating for value. All of our parent testers said they’d recommend the Subaru Outback to other families. Our editors are big fans, too. With all the safety features and cargo space a family could need, in one stable, nimble and fun to drive package, it’s impossible to deny the Subaru Outback offers a lot at a competitive price.