When launched in 1994 as 1995 models, Outbacks were wagon and sedan variants of Subaru’s Legacy series, with higher ground clearance and full-time AWD. Outback was named after the vast unsettled regions of Australia, and Aussie actor Paul Hogan, famous for his film character Crocodile Dundee, was the first commercial spokesman. By the time the third generation Outback made its debut in 2004, it was no longer a trim line of Legacy, but a line of its own. Originally powered by Subaru’s normally aspirated 2.5-litre or 3.0-litre horizontally opposed “boxer” engines, Outback XT added a turbocharged version of the 2.5L in 2005. A short bed pickup truck version, called Baja, was available from 2003-08. The slow selling sedan was dropped in 2009.
THE GOOD STUFF
Since all are equipped with Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive, Outbacks are excellent in snow and in many areas of Canada do not require winter tires. Outback shared Top Gear’s 2007 Car of the Year Award with the Ford Mondeo. Outback wagons offer excellent cargo room and the rear seats fold flat. The normally aspirated 2.5L engine delivers fuel economy in the range of 8.5 L/100km in combined highway/city driving. In 2005, the Outback was crash tested by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and received the top five-star rating all around. Outbacks came standard with ABS and many other safety features. Handling is excellent, thanks to full-time AWD and a low centre of gravity created by the low-slung “boxer” engine.
Higher mileage Outbacks have a reputation for timing belt breakage, resulting in all kinds of engine damage (the propeller shaft for one, and the universal joints on either cannot be repaired). So the entire unit has to come out, which takes little time, but the replacement part costs more than $1,050. Overall, Outback’s reliability rates as better than average, with few common trouble spots. Rear seat legroom is good, but headroom may be an issue for taller passengers. Thrill-seekers may be disappointed with the normally aspirated 2.5L’s acceleration numbers, so would be advised to search out the turbocharged version borrowed from Impreza WRX.
The fourth generation Outback, available only as a wagon, went on sale in 2010 with cleaner styling, higher ground clearance and new engine and transmission choices. It was named Utility Vehicle of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Subaru owners are among the most faithful on the planet and that loyalty is reflected in higher-than average used car prices, especially for older low-mileage vehicles. Subaru consistently wins awards for best residual value.
PRICES AT A GLANCE
Note: These are asking prices, not selling prices, in a cross-Canada survey using Autonet.ca and other sources.
Year Approximate price range
2004 $6,995 - $11,900
2005 $7,950 - $14,495
2006 $8,495 - $17,995
2007 $13,950 - $20,950
2008 $14,495 - $25,498
2009 $18,800 - $26,900
Engines: 2.5L SOHC H4 (175 hp); 2.5L DOHC H4 turbo (250 hp); 3.0L DOHC H6 (250 hp)
Transmissions: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic; 5-speed automatic
Layout: front engine/AWD
Bodies: 4-door wagon; 4-door sedan