Strengths and weaknesses:
- clean emissions
- holds resale value
- slightly underpowered in this configuration
A greener Outback
Throughout my week-long test of the new Subaru Outback PZEV, examples of the previous generation vehicle are turning up all over the place - on the road, the highway and beside me in parking lots - which gives me ample opportunity to compare the two.
Invariably, the older models sport political or eco-themed bumper stickers and have roof racks that actually see use. The outgoing Outback is unmistakably a wagon, which is how I’d have classified the 2010-- until I see them side by side.
Larger and taller, the new Outback has an obvious infusion of SUV DNA but in moderate enough doses so it’s still sharp, streamlined... and wagon-like. Count me among those who consider that a good thing.
Subaru’s always had a loyal, yet off-the-beaten-path following. While the performance-oriented WRX STi is revered in hard-core motor sports circles, mainstays like the Outback and Forester are known for their outdoorsy and academic set appeal. So it seems odd that they’ve yet to jump on the hybrid bandwagon. While their reliance on fossil fuels won’t earn them points with the Sierra Club, the new PZEV designation introduced on several models last year may help offset that.
PZEV, or Partial Zero Emissions requires 90% cleaner emissions in order to qualify as a SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle). Other than a small badge on the tailgate, and nifty embroidered logos on the floor mats, there’s nothing about my PZEV tester that screams “green” - it even takes regular fuel.
Inside, the cabin’s been treated to an overhaul as well. Although my tester’s color scheme is black on black, it’s saved from sombre by its simplicity and use of quality materials. Heated, cloth-covered seats are comfortable, but I feel a bit perched on their flatness.
The 70 mm increase in length adds a noticeable improvement in legroom which is augmented by concave front-row seat-backs, and there’s sufficient headroom for the lofty of height. Even with the seats up there are 972 litres of cargo space, but I’m surprised at the lack of power-assisted tailgate in a vehicle of this calibre.
The centre console is cleanly executed, and a handy dash mounted multi-information display is easy to read without excess frippery. The steering wheel is thick and nicely weighted, the steering itself is direct and accurate without being overly boosted.
The 2.5L four cylinder PZEV engine puts out 170 hp, which is more than adequate for daily driving, and performs in smooth silence for the most part. But step too hard into the gas pedal and it groans in protest. It’s more than up to the task of moving the Outback’s 1591 kg with very reasonable fuel efficiency though - I average 10.6 L/100 km.
The boxer engine’s power is channelled through a Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) driven by a wide, steel chain. The driver can use the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters to perform a reasonable simulation of a gear shift, but left on its own - it accelerates in a smooth, linear progression.
As luck would have it, I pick up the AWD Outback during a mild spell with nary a trace of ice or snow in which to test the Subie’s much lauded sure-footedness.
But in typical Canadian fashion, four days later the temperature drops, the skies open up and the roads are greasy enough to send beige sedans scurrying (slowly) for cover. Suffice it to say, the Outback’s Symmetrical full-time All-Wheel Drive is hardly challenged and it sticks to the road like glue. The reworked suspension is marvellous - with flat cornering and zero nose-bobbing while braking.
Though not overly fast (those looking for more oomph can opt for the 256 hp V6) the PZEV Subie wagon is stylish and capable... even if your Outback’s merely tarmac.