What crossover can shame truckier-looking rivals? Subaru’s 2018 Outback can

2018 Subaru Outback

2018 Subaru Outback

What changes will make the 2018 Subaru Outback different?

Probably little of note, given updates it got for model-year 2017 – and the bigger ones likely for model-year ’19. Among the more underrated midsize crossovers, this five seater will continue with a choice of four- and six-cylinder engines and again come standard with all-wheel drive (AWD). Last fully redesigned for model-year 2015, it’s on track for its next complete redesign for model-year 2020. That leaves the ’18 with perhaps new color choices and maybe some feature-shuffling as its main changes. Expect more for 2019, when tweaks to styling will aim to sustain showroom interest in the final year for this design generation. It’s been a good run, with demand strong even as the current Outback matures. In fact, with a 19-percent jump in calendar-year 2016 sales up, Outback outperformed the midsize-crossover segment and surpassed Subaru’s compact-sized Forester as the brand’s bestselling vehicle.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

You probably shouldn’t, since it’ll be a near mirror image of the ’17 but will almost certainly cost more. And with the facelifted ’19 Outback in the works, the ‘18’s styling will have a shorter shelf life than the 2017 model’s. On the upside, the ’18 would likely be available at clearance-sale prices to make room for the revamped ‘19s. It’ll again be a pleasantly rational substitute for a bulkier crossover. Most competitors look more macho, but few can match Outback’s off-road prowess. And despite a low roofline by midsize-crossover standards, headroom is plentiful and cargo volume exceeds the likes of the Nissan Murano and Jeep Grand Cherokee’s. The comparatively squat profile is evidence of a relatively low center of gravity, which contributes to carlike stability. Fuel-economy ratings are among best in class. Resale value and safety ratings are top notch. And with standard Subaru Active Torque Split AWD and sensible tires, every Outback has fantastic traction and handles great in the snow. Expect the 2018 lineup to repeat the ’17 roster. Four-cylinder models should again be grouped under the 2.5i banner and come in Base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim. Look for six-cylinder offerings to again wear the 3.6R badge and come in the Limited and Touring grades.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Seriously consider it. You’d be getting essentially the same vehicle as the 2018 model, but without the inescapable model-year price inflation. With the anticipated midcycle refresh for model-year 2019, and the next full redesign for model-year ’20, the ’17 Outback has two seasons to look current and three before it gets a new body and structure and next-gen styling, features, and engines. Subaru executed some choice updates to the ’17 Outback. It added a new flagship Touring model, autonomous braking to prevent a collision while backing up, and automatic high-beam-headlight dimming. The Touring jumps on the dark-trim trend with a deep-gray-tinted grille and wheels and black side cladding. It’s exclusive ivory-stitched Java Brown leather upholstery is upscale but not ostentatious – just right for a Subaru. The Touring supplanted the Limited as Outback’s flagship and both gained sensors that detect objects behind and automatically stop the vehicle to avoid a collision. Also for ’17, Subaru bolstered its EyeSight safety system, adding High-beam Assist. It automatically turns the high beams on to illuminate dark roads and off as a courtesy to oncoming traffic.

Will the styling be different?

Only if Subaru introduces yet another model with specific appearance details. The new-for-’17 Touring edition, for example, got exclusive body-colored door handles and silver-finish roof rails to complement its dark-tint theme. Otherwise, the ’18 Outback’s styling will be a repeat of the ‘17s. Even with the expected model-year-2019 facelift, which is likely to modify only the nose and tail, this generation Outback will continue to look more like an inflated station wagon than a pretend-truck SUV. Indeed, it shares its basic structure and mechanical components with the Subaru Legacy midsize sedan. Don’t be deceived. In this class, only the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner beat Outback’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Yet, the Subaru’s step-in height is modest, and with its generous legroom, four adults ride in terrific comfort and a fifth is not unwelcome in a pinch.

Visual differences among Outback trims should remain minor. The Base 2.5i model now has 17-inch alloy wheels instead of more prosaic 17-inch steel rims with plastic wheel covers. The 2018 Premium grade should again build on the Base version with fog lamps, privacy rear glass, and body-colored instead of black mirrors. Expect the Limiteds and the Touring to repeat 18-inch alloy wheels, a front bumper under-guard, side mirrors with integrated turn signals, perforated leather upholstery, and faux-wood cabin accents. The 2018 Touring’s cabin should again upgrade that via silver trim and gloss-black control bezels. All models will return with roof rails that incorporate innovative integrated retractable crossbars.

Any mechanical changes?

Very unlikely. Look for the 2.5i line to reprise a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that should repeat at 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. A few other midsize crossovers offer four-cylinder engines, but they’re typically limited to front-wheel-drive models. Even with its standard AWD, Outback’s four-cylinder furnishes adequate acceleration, thanks in part to the Subaru’s relatively light 3,600-pound curb weight. Outback 3.6R models will retain a 3.6-liter six-cylinder that should again have 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. The sixes in most rivals will again have more power and torque. Same for the increasing number of turbocharged four-cylinders making their way into this class. But even 3.6R Outbacks weigh a couple hundred pounds less than comparably equipped crossovers, so they deliver satisfying get-up-and-go.

Both engines utilize the Japanese automaker’s space-saving “boxer” layout, meaning their cylinders are horizontally opposed rather than arranged vertically inline or in a “v.” And both will again mate with a continuously variable transmission. A CVT takes the role of a conventional automatic transmission but doesn’t have stepped gear ratios. Outback’s CVT comes with steering-wheel shift paddles that give drivers some manual-type gear control. Throttle response from low speed isn’t as sharp as with a good conventional automatic. But this CVT works well enough and delivers the fuel efficiencies and weight-savings that have convinced rival automakers to begin using CVTs in many of their crossovers.

All Subarus except the rear-wheel-drive BRZ sports coupe come with an AWD system tailored to their market segment and price point. Outback’s boasts torque vectoring, which aids handling by distributing power laterally as well as longitudinally. It also has the automaker’s X-Mode programming, which bolsters off-road grip and control. In all, it’s a sophisticated setup that can gets an Outback through terrain that would alarm many of its owners and embarrass lots of trucky-looking rivals.

Will fuel economy improve?

With no mechanical changes for 2018, EPA ratings shouldn’t change, so the Outback ought to continue with higher mileage than most competitors with similar power. Thank the CVT and the aerodynamic efficiencies of a body profile that’s more car than truck. The 2.5i models also have active grille shutters that automatically open and close to manage wind resistance. Expect the 2018 Outback 2.5i line to again rate 25/32/28 mpg city/highway/combined and the 3.6R models 20/27/22 mpg.

Will it have new features?

Not likely; the list of standard and optional features is already quite comprehensive. More probable would be some mixing and matching, like making the heated steering wheel introduced as an exclusive on the 2017 Touring model also available on, say, the Limited trim. More important, we’d encourage Subaru to consider making the EyeSight safety system standard on both the Touring and Limited and maybe even on the Premium. It’s been optional on the latter two, and unavailable on the Base 2.5i. EyeSight is a laudable driver aid. It includes adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, steering-linked fog lamps, automatic reverse braking, high-beam assist, and lane-maintaining automatic steering. Ordering it on a 2.5i Premium has added blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, which has been standard on the Limited and Touring. Vitally, EyeSight also includes autonomous emergency braking designed to automatically stop the crossover to prevent a frontal collision. That capability earns EyeSight-equipped Outbacks coveted Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ status.

Figure little change to the balance of the features roster. Notables should again Subaru’s Starlink connectivity platform as standard on every model. Expect the version on the Base 2.5i grade to retain a 6.2-inch dashboard touchscreen for integration of entertainment apps, smartphone mapping, and Bluetooth linking. The other Outbacks should keep a version of Starlink featuring a 7-inch screen with pinch-and-swipe control and hands-free SMS text messaging. Again optional on Premium and Limited and standard on Touring should be imbedded GPS navigation and a moonroof. Look for a power liftgate to again be standard on Limited and Touring and optional on the Premium. We’d like to see the convenience of keyless access with pushbutton ignition migrate beyond just the Touring, where it’s been standard, and from the Limited, where it’s been optional.

How will 2018 prices be different?

Anticipate some increase, but nothing drastic. Estimated 2018 base prices in this review include Subaru’s destination fee, which was $875 for the 2017 Outback.

We project starting prices of around $26,900 for the 2.5i Base model and about $29,000 for the 2.5i Premium, making them again some of the most affordable AWD crossovers this size. Expect every ’18 Outback to again come with standard features expected in this class, including a rearview camera and power windows, locks, and mirrors. Figure the Premium to expand on that with the previously outlined connectivity and convenience features, plus heated front seats and mirrors, a windshield-wiper de-icer, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a power driver’s seat.

With an estimated base price of about $33,650, the 2.5i Limited may be Outback’s top overall 2018 value, particularly when equipped with EyeSight (see below). This four-cylinder model includes all the aforementioned features, plus a power passenger seat, heated rear seats, and blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. Although the 2018 2.5i Touring will again come fully equipped, at a projected starting price of around $37,300, it would remain pricey for a midsize crossover with a four-cylinder engine of modest output.

Subaru will probably again outfit the 3.6R Limited and Touring models with xenon low-beam headlamps and dual exhausts but otherwise duplicate the features of their 2.5i counterparts. Expect the 2018 3.6R Limited to be priced from abound $36,300. At an estimated base price of $39,500, the 3.6R Touring should again list for thousands less than the flagship version of any other crossover in its competitive set, although most of those rivals will again have far more powerful engines.

Subaru has grouped options in a fairly simple manner and isn’t likely to deviate for 2018. Don’t expect any options to be offered on the 2.5i Base model. The 2.5i Premium should again be available with a roughly $1,700 package that will include a moonroof, a power liftgate, and an automatic-dimming rearview compass mirror with Homlink remote controls. It should continue to offer EyeSight and the power liftgate for around $2,000, or group EyeSight, the moonroof and power liftgate, and GPS navigation for about $3,600. Up until now, The sole 2.5i Limited option has bundled EyeSight with reverse automatic braking, navigation, and xenon headlamps for $1,995. And until now, the 3.6R Limited’s only option has consisted of Eyesight with auto-reverse braking, navigation, and automatic high-beams for $1,595.

When will it come out?

Release date for the 2018 Outback should be in the third quarter of 2017.

What change would make it better?

Little of substance is likely to change with the model-year 2019 update, although we’d urge Subaru to recalibrate the CVT before the model-year 2020 redesign. Right now, it triggers the engine drone during rapid acceleration that’s a characteristic of the less sophisticated CVTs. The annoyance is particularly evident with Outback’s four-cylinder engine, which itself would benefit from an upgrade to the efficiencies of direct fuel injection.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]