Road Trip Report: 2012 Subaru Outback

2012 subaru outback

  • Model: Outback 2.5i Premium (four-cylinder/CVT)
  • Starting Price: $24,795
  • Options: All-weather package (heated front seats, heated side mirrors, windshield wiper deicer, Harman/kardon audio system, Bluetooth wireless device connectivity and streaming, satellite radio with 4-month trial subscription, HD radio w/4.3-inch color display, power moonroof and rearview mirror with integrated camera), CVT with 6-speed manual mode and all-weather floor and cargo mats.
  • Total Price: $29,104 (excluding $775 destination fee)
  • Miles Tested: 241 miles
  • Fuel Economy: 26.8 mpg

Subaru's midsize wagon was last updated for model-year 2010 and has seen few changes since. For that redesign, it got a raised suspension and a few more inches of length, blurring the line between wagon and SUV. I count the Outback's standard all-wheel drive, roomy cabin and cargo-friendly body style among the car’s strengths. But how did it perform for my small family of three on a 200-plus-mile road trip? Though overall pleasant, this staff favorite wasn’t without gripes.

Stop-and-go traffic felt like a chore for the Outback's CVT and four-cylinder engine. It was pokey from a stop and was slow to spool out more power at highway speeds; passing required some planning and a deep stab of the pedal. It sounded just as unhappy about it as I was. The CVT droned intrusively during around-town driving, emitting a near-constant crabby groan. The noise faded to tolerable levels on the highway, though.

For a large all-wheel-drive wagon, the Outback returned pretty favorable fuel economy. During my 241-mile trip, it returned 26.8 mpg, which is great considering the Outback is EPA-rated at 22/29 mpg city/highway. I spent about 85% of my drive on the highway, staying between 60-70 mph.

Although the front seats look nice with their attractive design and slight bolstering, my first impression turned out to be unsupported -- literally. I spent most of the trip trying to get comfortable, and there are plenty of buttons to help with that in the form of lumbar support settings and two levels of heat. I fiddled and fidgeted for a while, but I couldn’t find the right mix. In fact, I fiddled for almost 200 miles and I think, in the end, the seats were just too firm for me.

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I also couldn't get used to the placement of the backup camera. Integrating it into the rearview mirror was distracting, and the screen is so small that it takes a minute to figure out what you’re even looking at. If you upgrade to get a navigation system (only available on Limited and Touring trims), the camera displays on the larger, more centrally located screen.

One small cabin feature that I got a lot of use out of was the visor extenders; not many vehicles have these. Though they add only a couple of inches of plastic to the visors, they came in handy during my southbound trip while I was beset by the bright sun setting in my side window.

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The second row scored some points with its reclining seatback and fairly accessible Latch anchors. The reclining seatback is a nice convenience for passenger comfort. It also helps when installing a child-safety seat; adjusting the angle often affords it more room. Installing my rear-facing convertible car seat was pretty easy, thanks to Subaru’s anchor system. Instead of digging for the Latch brackets, I found them quickly under strips of fabric Velcroed to the seat. They are more recessed than I’d like, but their placement was still easier than what you see in a lot of vehicles.

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Things continued looking up behind the seats. All-weather floormats were handy at catching spilled milk in the backseat; the mats also line the cargo area. Behind the second row, there was more than enough room for a day’s worth of stuff, a roomy 34.3 cubic feet. Again, the heavy-duty all-weather floormats were a nice feature, especially if you’re hauling messy items.

Overall, the Outback capably managed to get us and all our stuff over the river and through the woods without much fuss, unless, of course, you count the CVT’s complaints. An annoying drivetrain and less-than-comfortable front seat were offset by commendable fuel economy, a reasonable base price and an accommodating second row. Maybe I should relegate myself to the backseat during my next Outback outing.

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Comments 

mw

Sorry to hear about the front seats. I have the Forester and the front seats are unbearably hard, but I always thought (after a few minutes sit at the dealer) that the OB's seat was softer and more comfortable.

A

It took some adjusting, but I find the Outback seats very comfortable. I have a 2011 of the same trim level. During my first long trip in it, I was constantly adjusting the seat. But now that I have it in the right spot, it feels great.

With 85% on the highway, I'm surprised your mileage was so low. I can manage 30-32mpg on steady highway driving without trying. If the "deep stab of the pedal" is something normal for you, that explains your lower numbers. I've never had to do so with this car; there's always been plenty of power available (from my perspective) without having to dig for it.

Eric

I have a 2011 Legacy and came from a 2007 Legacy and have found the CVT much better at getting moving and passing than the 4EAT in the 07. I also haven't noticed any drone during around town driving, and I do consider myself a little heavy on the throttle too.

kj

I recently test drove a 2012 Legacy with the 4-cyl and CVT. Found the power to not only be sluggish but the CVT had a droning sound that was slightly annoying. Would I buy a Subaru such as this model...probably not.

I found the CVT annoying too.But the overall performance was ok.

billd

Glad I'm finally seeing someone address the horrible seats in the Outback. I purchased my '12 OB a few weeks ago and I've never owned a car with more uncomfortable seats, even for short trips. It's like this is some kind of secret that Subaru manages to keep quiet. The problem is simple - the front seats are simply too damn small for the majority of SUV buyers regardless the number of adjustments that can be made. They could have easily inserted larger seats given the available interior room. So sad that an otherwise good car has been such a disappointment. If you're considering this car, think hard about the importance of seat comfort and don't depend on a ten minute test drive.

Rick

Obviously seats are a personal issue. We have had our outback for 3k miles and the front seats are the most comfortable I have sat in in quite a while. Better than my mothers Lexus for sure. Trips of 4 hours plus no problems. I am a decently big guy- 6-1 225 lbs and seats fit me very well. We have the cloth seats-also clean up easily-have a 3 yr old. 2 thumbs up for this vehicle and seats in particular. Get the 6 sp MT.

Rick

Btw with manual tranny getting 28.8 mpg overall and got 31.3 on 350 mile road trip. This is loaded up with 2 adults 1 kid and 135 lbs of dog in back.

DannyK

I just bought a new 2012 Outback Limited, I can tell you from test driving the base/premium models that the seats in the limited are worth the extra money. It was a clear deciding factor for me.

I drove a manual for the last 8 years so I'm still getting use to the CVT. Overall, I enjoy how smooth the CVT sounds when accelerating. However, it does have a slight problem figuring out what gear to be in when slowing down. Personally, I just think its something that takes time getting use to. They might have made improvements to this in the 2013.

Overall, I love my Outback.

Mike

I have 22,000 mile on my 2012 outback premium.
average 28 mpg and get 30 on the highway. Traded a Jeep Cherokee for the Outback am saving money on gas and loving it

Matt

While I agree the 4-cyl with CVT seems abysmally underpowered (even flooring it took 1/4-1/3 mile uphill to reach 35mph with 3 people in the car).

I got the 3.6R 6-cyl engine model and it does MUCH better in pickup and power with less than half throttle. And even with more cylinders I'm still pulling 28mpg highway VERY easily - even higher than the 4-cyl is rated.

As for the seats I find the ones in my 2012 3.6R Limited to be the best seats I've ever sat in for a vehicle. It's the only car I've been able to drive long distances (200+ miles) and not get tired or sore in. We thought it was so wonderful we actually got an identical 2013 Outback.

I rather like the mirror backup camera, it seems so much more intuitive than one in a radio console. The 2013 they moved it to the radio display which just feels awkward trying to back up looking at 3 mirrors and a camera...vs the 2012 in the mirror I can just look an inch to the right and see the mirror, an inch left to see the backup camera. It's extremely intuitive and I can often even make out details enough to identify the brand of soda on a crushed can in the parkinglot. Only time it's been fuzzy is if there's road grime on the camera lens (above the license plate) and wiping that off after foul weather (rain, snow, salt) clears it up quite well.

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