The 2013 Outback spent some time in my driveway, and as far as jacked-up wagons with off-road cladding go, this is one of the most affordable of the lot. That doesn't mean it's cheap; the Outback I tried was a Limited model with moonroof, navigation, EyeSight, leather and CVT added on. That takes the Outback from its roughly $25,000 starting point and adds nearly $10,000, landing solidly in the mid-$30,000 range. Still, against its most natural competitors like the Volvo XC70 and Audi A6 Avant, the Outback is a better value.
- The new 2.5-liter four-cylinder is surprisingly happy in this big wagon. It never felt underpowered, though it also never felt abundantly strong. Adequate.
- Even more shocking, the CVT and four-cylinder combo proved smooth and refined most of the time. Hard acceleration, like merging on the highway, was really the only time the slippy-revvy characteristic of the CVT appeared. Most of the time it was as unobtrusive as the smoothest automatic transmission.
- This is a very nice car in Limited trim, and the interior materials are better than I remember them being in the last Outback I sampled. The leather seats are very comfortable for long hauls, the interior is acceptably quiet, and the car is a perfect match for climates that see lots of inclement weather. Driving through rain and snow quickly points out what the buzz is all about with these cars. The Outback is comfy and confident in the slop.
- When it's dry, you pay a price for the increased ride height and chunky tires. Still, sporty handling is not this car's forte unless you're competing in winter rallies.
- The navigation system is fiddly to use, the screen is now on the small side compared to the competition and it generally just isn't that good. It took a lot more active babysitting of the nav to get it to display useful information and get me to a destination when a clogged highway changed my route. The key to a successful arrival turned out to be 70-percent my own wits and 30-percent the navigation system's capabilities.
- The EyeSight system is mostly annoying. It's really sensitive and alerts at the slightest provocation. The first thing I did every time I got into the Outback was hold down the two overhead buttons to shut the EyeSight system up.
- The fuel economy I saw was better than you'll get out of a CUV or SUV with comparable space, though given the ride height and size, the Outback is practically a crossover anyway, so the solid mid-to-high 20s I was able to squeeze from each gallon of fuel are mostly due to having a small engine and a transmission programmed to reach for the sky as fast as possible.