Every so often, an automaker hits a grand slam straight out of the park. Subaru did just that with its all-new 2010 Outback. Sales of the crossover shot up after its release in late 2009 -- when it was also named Motor Trend's Sport/Utility of the Year -- and its first full year of sales resulted in a 68% increase. As a result of that jump, it became Subaru's best-selling vehicle, a trend that continues into the model's sophomore year.
As in 2010, the Outback comes in two main flavors - four-cylinder 2.5i and six-cylinder 3.6R. Both engines feature Subaru's trademark boxer layout, are naturally-aspirated, and work fine on regular 87 octane, but the similarities largely end there. The 2.5-liter boxer four makes 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque and can be mated to a six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. The 3.6-liter flat-six, meanwhile, puts out a beefier 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque, but can be had with just a five-speed automatic. As with every other Subaru sold in the U.S., all Outbacks come standard with all-wheel drive. Because of that, and the standard 8.7-inches of ground clearance, the Outback is capable of some light off-roading, which is partially why it is popular with outdoorsy types that like to spend lots of time at ski resorts and national parks.
From a fuel-economy standpoint, neither version is particularly frugal on gas, but nor are they extra painful. The 2.5i achieves an EPA-rating of 19/27 mpg city/highway with the six-speed manual and 22/29 mpg with the CVT. The 3.6R is good for 18/25 mpg.
Both models come in three trim levels: base, Premium, and Limited. All models save for the base 2.5i come with 17-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows, and body-color mirrors. All models come with the same portfolio of safety features, which includes six airbags, daytime running lights, stability and traction control, and Subaru's famously-sturdy structure that provides exceptional protection in the case of a rollover accident. Other standard features include the presence of eight cupholders, a basic four-speaker stereo, cloth seats, steering wheel controls, cruise control, and a 60/40 folding rear seat. The folding the rear seats more than double the Outback's cargo space, from 34.3 cubic feet to 71.3 cubic feet.
Opting for a Premium Outback adds a 10-way adjustable power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and, in the case of the 3.6R Premium, the All-Weather Package. Optional on the 2.5i Premium, it includes heated front seats, side mirrors, and windshield wiper deicer. Also available are a 440-watt nine-speaker harman/kardon stereo (with satellite radio made standard for 2011) and power moonroof option that, for 2011, also adds a rear-view camera with a display in the rear-view mirror.
Upgrading to an Outback Limited makes the upgraded stereo standard, adds leather upholstery, dual zone climate control, wood interior trim, Bluetooth connectivity, and a four-way power passenger seat. A navigation system becomes available as an option. Like the moonroof, the nav comes with a rear-view camera, though in its case, the display shows up on the nav screen, not in the mirror. For 2011, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror becomes part of the navigation package.
Changes for 2011 other than the aforementioned updates consist of just two things: the addition of folding exterior mirrors and three changes to the color palette. Harvest Gold goes away, while Ruby Red and Caramel Bronze pearl arrive. Otherwise, the 2011 Subaru Outback is identical to the 2010 -- and with the model being such a runaway success, why fix what isn't broken, though some would say that the 3.6R should probably get a six-speed.