2015 Subaru Outback: More of the same

The Outback is a Subaru icon. Over the past 20 years, this Japanese wagon has put the brand on the map with its all-weather, all-terrain performance and adventure-seeking ways. Showing Crocodile Dundee behind the wheel also helped, for sure.

Honestly, though, I don't think even Mr. Dundee would be so thrilled about the prospect of exploring savannas with the all-new 2015 Subaru Outback. Make no mistake: This car has lots of great attributes, but it has evolved into a more civilized version of its former self. Our hero would be more likely to use it during his New York trips than in some kind of wild crocodile chase.

Conservative styling

Let's start with a bit of perspective. The legendary Outback is now two decades old (of course, it has received a certain number of updates and revisions) and arguably remains the godfather of versatile family cars.

Historically, driving this rugged Subaru gave you the confidence to tackle challenging trails and cross small rivers before getting all the family safely back across town. The Outback has always been a unique-looking specimen with extra body cladding that made it tougher and emphasized its go-anywhere capabilities.

That physical distinction still applies to the next-generation model, although the overall design isn't a radical departure from the previous one. Subaru performed some simple nip and tuck to give the Outback more flair and modern presence, but alas not the true manly look fans like myself were hoping for.

On the other hand, I tip my hat to the interior design team. The dashboard looks cleaner and more contemporary, with a large centre display and a quality audio system — even in base trim. More upscale models stand out with a powerful Harman Kardon sound system featuring a tablet-like interface.

Great news: The cheap, hard plastics that were easy to scratch are gone. They've been replaced by higher-grade, soft-touch materials, and build quality is improved.

Predictable powertrain

The 2015 Subaru Outback naturally comes standard with all-wheel drive, but there's a twist. It's called X-Mode, and it automatically controls the engine, brakes, and AWD system to maximize off-road capability. With enhanced performance and 220 millimetres of ground clearance, there's no denying its potential. To tell you the truth, I had a few apprehensions while venturing on some steep and rocky trails deep in the heart of Newfoundland, but the Outback never hesitated or wavered in the face of adversity (read: massive boulders).

Under the hood is a 170-horsepower, four-cylinder BOXER engine mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission (which I didn't get to try, unfortunately) or a CVT. The alternative is a 256-horsepower, six-cylinder BOXER that's also paired with a CVT. This bigger mill is clearly the way to go, in my opinion; the other feels a tad underpowered when the road gets rougher and the load gets heavier.

Another complaint of mine stems from wind noise. Granted, this may have been a case of early production issues, but I kept hearing a loud whistling sound from the driver's side whenever I exceeded 80 km/h.

During regular, urban commutes, however, the car proved plenty spacious and comfortable. The suspension is definitely more geared for a smooth ride than sporty handling.

In the end, it's obvious that the Subaru Outback has been slightly emasculated, but it's now much more refined and more mature, too. The reality is that few owners will take it outside the city and enjoy its off-road prowess.

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