First used in the mid 1990s, the Outback
nameplate dates to the dawn of the crossover age, but never has it graced a more capable Subaru
than today’s spacious five-seater. This is essentially a midsize SUV disguised as a big station wagon. Indeed, Outback has as much usable passenger room as virtually any midsize crossover. And only its relatively low roofline prevents it from matching most for cargo volume. The all-wheel-drive systems are impressively capable, the 8.7-inch ground clearance in Jeep
territory. And the station-wagon-like center of gravity means it leans less in corners than traditional crossovers. Our $30K Cheap ceiling confines us to the 2.5i models with their 173-horsepower four-cylinder; the 256-horse-six version starts at $32,920. With the continuously variable transmission, the four can feel overmatched, though it rates an impressive 26 mpg city/highway combined. It’s livelier with the available six-speed manual, itself a rarity among SUVs, though suffers a drop to 24 mpg combined. The top Cheap choice is the 2.5i Premium. At $26,620 with manual and $27,620 with the CVT, it comes with a power driver’s seat, 17-inch alloys, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats and mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer. You can add a moonroof for $1,445. Subaru puts a navigation system out of reach by making it part of a Cheap-busting $2,745 nav-moonroof package. At $29,920, the 2.5i Limited model is eligible, though. It includes the CVT, plus leather upholstery, power passenger seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a harmon/kardon nine-speaker audio system with a subwoofer. Don’t buy another crossover on this list without shopping the Outback.