2012 Subaru Outback

We take a look at the 2012 Subaru Outback and how it stacks up against the other SUV's.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Unlike many SUV makes that slowly creep more into the crossover realm from model year to models year, the 2012 Subaru Outback is not ashamed of its rugged, off-road pedigree – even if that pedigree has its limits.

There’s a beefier toughness about this crossover SUV than you find with some of its worthy competitors – the Kia Sorento, the Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan. All of those rivals are good vehicles and quality drives, but there’s a solidness – a reassuring heaviness – within the driving experience for the Outback that the others lack.

While Subaru calls the Outback a wagon, we’re sticking with that crossover SUV tag. Far be it from us to tell Subaru it’s business, but the days of the wagon are long gone. Families are getting kids to school, and progressive bachelors are getting their sports equipment back and forth to the gym in crossovers these days.

Standard equipped, the 2012 Outback includes a 3.6 liter, V6 with an automative transmission and all-wheel drive. Throw in standard stability control and traction control with the basic kit.

That bigger V6 engine we tested – in place of the optional four-cylinder option – means the Outback is a little thirstier than some crossover SUV entries. Set up with their V6, Subaru promises 18 city and 25 highway mpg, but on our test drive, I was unable to pull those numbers down.

Inside, you get Bluetooth, iPod input, satellite radio, side/curtain airbags, stability control, traction control and and option navigation system. The model we were test driving had that navigation system, and its menu options ran pretty standard to typical voice control expectations. The interface is intuitive enough to save the buyer having to waste too much time paging through the manual.

If you want to kit out your Outback to its maximum capacity, you end up with the 2.5i Premium. That adds in 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, privacy glass, an eight-way power driver seat with memory settings, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a cargo cover, audio streaming capability and a six-speaker sound system. Additional options include the All-Weather performance package, a Power Moonroof and a rearview camera.

During street driving conditions, the Outback was never quick or overly eager, but there was ample power to pull away from trouble in freeway driving conditions. We took the Outback out near the Angeles Crest Highway just outside Los Angeles in search of dirt roads. That same heaviness I described in its general handling feels especially comforting on those dirt roads.

But, don’t get carried away. The Outback is a little too civilized and too safety cautious – with its all-wheel drive and plethora of airbags – for serious off-road use. Visit the farmer’s market, but don’t tear through the backwoods looking for an actual farm. You get the idea.

For just less than $30,000 fully equipped (and as little as $21,939), the Outback is a stable, safety-minded urban vehicle with enough toughness to head out to the countryside. Just don’t be overeager to rumble out into 127 Hours territory in the vehicle.