Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: 2010 Subaru Impreza Outback—Everything you need

The Subaru Impreza is the company's entry in the compact market. However, like all of its vehicles, it comes standard with all-wheel drive. For those looking for a bit more ruggedness over a standard Impreza, Subaru offers the Impreza Outback Sport. With a more ground clearance, protective body side molding, and a standard roof carrier base, the Outback Sport is the one to choose if you're looking for an Impreza more suited to an active lifestyle.

Pros: Standard all-wheel drive; good interior versatility; great ride
Cons: Somewhat plasticy interior; so-so exterior styling; not a lot of tech features
Overall: Just about everything you'd need in basic all-wheel drive transportation.
EXTERIOR: Not my favorite, but it's practical
When this car was redesigned in 2008, I didn't much like the look. Now in its second model year, I've gotten more used to the five-door's appearance, but it still isn't my favorite shape on four wheels. And although I'm still not a fan of the two-tone paint either, the gray lower body molding does help to protect the paint against gravel—something very important if you ever venture off the asphalt or even on winter roads with sand or gravel. The car does have attractive 17” wheels and tires, though, and the included roof rails should be a plus for anyone looking to haul skis, snowboards, kayaks, etc. The car definitely says “outdoor lifestyle,” though. I'm sure you'll see plenty of these at your local REI.

INTERIOR: Function, not frills
The Outback Sport's interior is decidedly functional—not many frills. The seats are comfortable and good on long trips, but there isn't much bolstering to hold you into the seats. You sit very low; something people cross shopping small SUVs and crossovers might not like. The interior is somewhat plasticy, and certain bits of switchgear feel downright cheap. Other parts, such as the straightforward climate control, feel smooth and refined. Regardless, the interior is very functional.

Rear leg room is adequate, and the rear seats fold down 60/40 making for a lot of cargo carrying ability (it swallowed up my Costco run easily). Plus, there is a great rear cargo mat to contain any wet clothing when hiking, skiing, camping, biking, kayaking, hunting, fishing, … you get the picture. Other goodies include power windows, locks, keyless entry, and A/C. It's basically everything you'll need.

TECHNOLOGY: Not full of the latest techie bits
This car isn't for the technophlile. The four-speaker six-disc AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary jack sounded muffled, regardless of the numerous adjustments—a stark contrast to the harmon kardon stereo available in the Subaru Legacy. It did, however, have the ability for satellite radio. The car's AWD system, of course, is its technological showpiece, and it is a good one. The one cool tech-like feature is the defroster element under the windshield wipers to keep them from freezing up on cold, snowy days. The car did have cruise control, ABS, skid control, steering wheel mounted audio controls, and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. However, if you're looking for all the latest tech gadgets, you'll be disappointed.

ENGINE/DRIVETRAIN: A solid performer
We're talking Subaru, so we're talking horizontally opposed flat-four “boxer” engine. Making a respectable amount of power, the Outback Sport never feels wheezy; it's smooth, quiet, and powerful. Plus, with 170 ft./lbs. of torque, it's got enough low-end grunt to sprint off the line. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and does have manual shifting capability. No qualms here.

DRIVING: An all-around winner
I wouldn't call the Outback Sport “fast;” I'll reserve that for the turbocharged Impreza WRX. It is, however, plenty powerful with 170 hp and 170 ft./lbs. of torque. Acceleration is good, and passing is never an issue. Only a few AWD cars will get getter mileage as the Impreza: 20 city and 26 highway. I got about 22 combined during my week with the car.

With the car's soft, raised suspension, handling isn't as taught as its “Sport” moniker would suggest. However, the combination of 17” wheels and tires with Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive system means traction is never an issue. This is definitely a great car for rainy or snowy climates.

I was quite impressed at the Outback Sport's ride quality on the highway; the car rode very well and was much quieter than anticipated. Again, the combination of more suspension travel and soft tuning means a nice, soft ride. The car has a fully independent suspension system, too which helps. Around town, that suspension also soaks up the bumps nicely. Impressive!

For $19,995 base ($22,117 as tested, which included the automatic transmission, satellite radio, and $695 destination fee), you get a sold, safe, all-wheel drive car with lots of room inside without being too big outside. Subarus tend to hold their value and be pretty reliable, so I'd say this is a good deal, especially if you don't want or need the latest (and expensive to fix) tech gadgets.

The bottom line is this: The Outback Sport does a little bit of everything. It's got good power, it rides well, it has plenty of grip, and lots of storage inside, without being too big outside. It doesn't look the same as everything on the road, and has all of the safety accouterments. No, it isn't chucked full of the latest doodads and gizmos, but I prefer a simpler vehicle, and yes, the interior is a bit plasticy. But with its inherent practicality, go-nearly-anywhere AWD system, and compact shape, the Outback Sport is a winner in my book.


rubicon4wheeler said...

Great review! But is the Impreza Outback actually lifted versus the stock Impreza's suspension? It's so low to the ground! Our Legacy Outback has a nice bump in ground clearance versus the regular Legacy so we can actually get up the unplowed road to our cabin in the winter. The primary reason I bought a Suzuki SX4 and added a lift kit is because the Impreza Outback is such a low-rider and there are no aftermarket options for lifting the suspension. My SX4 actually has more ground clearance now than almost all SUVs and crossovers!

Andy Lilienthal said...

Yes, according to Subaru the Impreza has a slightly raised suspension. On, it says "4-wheel independent raised suspension."

D2M said...

Ah.... I don't mind the two-toned look, especially since it's got a practical purpose. That being said, what a bland exterior! I'm getting used to seeing compacts/hatches with unique or stylish looks. I'm not sure why Subaru decided on this type of look. Did they want it to stand out by "blah-ness"? It's just sort of puzzling to me.