The Subaru Outback has a loyal fan base of buyers that has been steadily expanding for years. As smaller crossovers gain popularity, more are turning to the Outback as their choice. We don’t blame them and the 2018 Subaru Outback carries a well-deserved reputation for reliability, capability, and versatility that it’s inherited from decades of Subaru excellence.

Quick Specs & Info

2018 Subaru Outback Class: Small crossover
Base Model As Tested: 3.6R Touring
Powertrain 2.5L 4cyl, CVT Powertrain 3.6L 6cyl, CVT
Base MSRP $25,895 MSRP as tested ~$38,690

Overview

The 2018 model year Outback sees several updates. These include a new front fascia, more aerodynamic side mirrors, upgraded infotainment, and a new center console design. The same roominess and wagon-designed versatility remain in this generation of the Outback.

Trim Packages

The 2018 Subaru Outback is available in six trim levels, split between two engine options. The trims marked “2.5i” utilize the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine while the 3.6R trims use the six-cylinder engine option. The trim levels are otherwise largely the same. All Subaru Outback models are all-wheel drive as standard and include a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

  • 2.5i – The base model comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, roof rails with integrated crossbars, hill descent control, hill hold assist, a 60/40 split-fold rear seat, Subaru Starlink on a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a USB plug, and Bluetooth connectivity.
  • 2.5i Premium – This trim point adds heated exterior mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, foglamps, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering, a power-adjusting driver’s seat, heated front seats, an 8-inch touchscreen, and three more USB ports. Options packages include the Power Moonroof package which adds a sunroof and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. A power liftgate is also available.
  • 2.5i Limited and 3.6R Limited – Adds 18-inch wheels, a front bumper underguard, power moonroof, a power liftgate, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, keyless ignition/entry, leather upholstery, a powered passenger’s seat, heated rear seats, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. An option for Xenon headlamps is available in the 2.5i Limited, but comes standard with the 3.6R Limited. Options come in two packages, the first being the Subaru EyeSight collision warning and automatic braking system with several driver’s aids. The other package adds to that as the Premium EyeSight, adding: navigation, automatic rear braking systems, and steering-responsive LED headlights.
  • 2.5i Touring and 3.6R Touring – Includes all of the upgrade options for the Premium packages, unique 18-inch wheels, darkened exterior trim for a two-tone look, low-profile roof rails (crossbar delete), premium leather upholstery, wood grain interior trim, and a heated steering wheel.

Exterior and Interior Design

The 2018 Subaru Outback continues with the model’s appealing wagon styling with crossover underpinnings. The no-nonsense ground clearance of over eight inches, relatively low ride height, and unique styling are all attraction points for the Outback. Changes to the exterior are slight, but important, with the 2018 model being a little more muscular-appearing than it was before.

Most noticeable are the more aggressive notes on the front fascia, which add highlights to the grille and bumper to thicken and widen them. Accent on the lower approach guard and narrower headlamps (especially with the LED package) aid this change. The Outback’s side mirrors are narrower to reduce road noise and profile, but this was done without losing visibility for the driver.

Inside, the 2018 Outback retains the rear seat roominess obtained in this-generation of the crossover. Cargo space is also still stellar with a versatile appeal about its design. In addition, the more upscale appeal of the Outback’s interior, taken largely from the Legacy model, remains intact.

What’s changes are the dashboard’s design to accommodate more technology. These are subtle changes, but add a little more svelte to the Outback. The improved infotainment that brought these changes is based on a 7-inch touchscreen (upgrading from the 6.2-inch, which is standard). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are added and the changes to the screen’s position with the dashboard modifications mean less glare.

Driving the 2018 Subaru Outback

The 2018 Outback has two engine options, starting with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder opposed-piston (boxer) engine that outputs 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. This engine mates to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in all-wheel drive. It’s just barely enough for the Outback, producing enough power to get around as a daily driver, but adding no confidence or umph to the crossover. This engine’s chief purpose is fuel economy, which is rated by the EPA at 28 mpg combined, with 25 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. In previous years with this engine, we’ve noted that those numbers are close to reality.

The upgrade engine, as we drove the Outback this year, is a 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer that produces 256 horses into a similar CVT with AWD. This engine adds a lot more confidence and go-power to the Outback, but with some fuel economy sacrifice. The EPA rates the 3.6R models at 22 mpg combined, with 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. In the real world, we averaged 21 mpg combined all told.

Our recommendation is to go with the standard four-cylinder engine unless you plan to do a lot of driving that requires hill climbing, stuff hauling, people carrying, or towing. Adding any load to the 2018 Subaru Outback will make the four-cylinder seem sluggish and towing is not possible in the 2.5i models, but can be done (up to 2,700 pounds) in a properly-equipped 3.6R.

The drive dynamics of the 2018 Outback are largely unchanged between engine options. It’s not a sports car and doesn’t have any kind of performance heritage, so the Outback is a more laid-back, family-style drive than it is sporty. This is good for its market, of course, though the driver will get enough feedback to feel in tune with the machine as well.

Competition

The most-cited competitors for the Subaru Outback are the Volkswagen Alltrack and the Audi Allroad, though neither is very similar to the Subaru outside of cosmetic appearance and AWD. The Alltrack has less ground clearance and a smaller interior while the Allroad is a premium vehicle with similar downsides. The Buick Regal TourX could also be compared, but is more akin to the Allroad than it is the Outback.

In conventionally-styled crossovers, chief competitors for the 2018 Subaru Outback would include the Kia Sorento, Ford Edge, Toyota RAV4, and similar models. All of these are more mainstream in appearance and will generally have more interior cargo space, but are really more competitive against the Subaru Forester than they are the Outback.

Strong Points

  • Excellent interior experience.
  • Good fuel economy that translates into the real world.
  • Capable all-weather and light off-road confidence.

Weaknesses

  • Drive quality can be boring.
  • Cargo space is smaller than some competitors with more traditional styling.
  • Engine power delivery slower and more deliberate, aimed towards economy rather than muscle.

Conclusions

The 2018 Subaru Outback is unique in the marketplace with no direct competitor. It’s wagon styling and versatility, crossover underpinnings, and excellent all-wheel drive are all points of interest that make for its core values. With a great interior experience, good road presence, and solid reputation for excellence, the 2018 Outback is one of our top choices in the small crossover market.

Test Period Length and Limitations
The 2018 Outback was a manufacturer’s press loan for about a week. During that time, it was driven as a daily family vehicle with varied passenger loads. It was also used as a camping get-away drive, hauling five people and their gear into the mountains for a weekend trip.

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An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP) and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com.

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