Subaru Outback is Pragmatic Choice For Winter Sports Wheels

In this adventure

Editor’s note: How the 2018 Tesla Model X performed in a comparison by Trucks.com and winter sports enthusiasts with the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford F-150 and Subaru Outback on a round trip from Las Vegas to Brian Head, Utah. Find the other vehicles and the full report here.

Big trucks like the F-150 and Tahoe are a big commitment, both in size and prices. There are other great options for snowbound adventures that many drivers will find more practical in their weekday lives. That’s why we tested the Subaru Outback, a five-seat station wagon.

Our model was an Outback 3.6R Touring with a price tag of $38,690 as configured. Winter driving musts – all-wheel drive and roof rails for mounting skis and snowboards – are standard. The wagon is powered by a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine with 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. The powertrain is mated to a continuously variable transmission with a seven-speed manual-shifting mode.

Subaru’s advanced safety technology package — EyeSight — comes standard on the Touring trim. It includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane-departure warnings. There is a lane-keep assist system that includes blind-spot and rear-traffic alerts.

Our panel and the Trucks.com team agreed that this was the most pragmatic choice in the field. It was sure-footed in all road conditions and offered nice agility in the snow. It gets decent fuel economy and is a good everyday driver.

“For that price, that is an amazing deal. I thought it was super comfy … very capable,” said Steve Isbell, an avid snowboarder and surfer and father of two small children who is a partner at a Costa Mesa, Calif., law firm.

Subaru uses the Boxer engine architecture – the engine has horizontally opposed pistons. In most gasoline engines the pistons move up and down. A Boxer-style engine lowers the center of gravity of a vehicle, contributing to the Outback’s planted feel.

One complaint from our group was the Subaru’s lack of storage. That’s a compromise you have to accept when you go from a truck to a station wagon. You are going to need to use the roof racks.

“As much as I love Subarus, it’s annoying to put stuff on the roof racks when you’re short, like me,” said Arielle Shipe, a yoga instructor and avid outdoor adventurer from Aspen, Colo.

Another complaint applied to all of our test vehicles’ automated lane-centering systems.

Each of the manufacturers has programmed the vehicles to stay centered even when passing a semi-truck or other large object on the left. Our drivers found this disconcerting. The computers knew they had positioned the vehicles at a safe distance, but it wasn’t obvious to the humans.

“I drift over to the left when I’m passing a big semi, and [the computer] sees that as you’re hitting the lane and it pushes you back over,” said Samuel Lippke, an expert snowboarder and Long Beach, Calif., photographer.

This is a common complaint and some automakers – notably Cadillac – have identified it as a problem to be fixed on future models.

Beyond that, we found the adaptive cruise control and other automated driver-assist features on the Subaru to be the best executed in our test vehicles.

The Outback 3.6R Touring is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 20 mpg in city driving, 27 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg overall. We paid about $11.59 to drive the Outback 100 miles in a mix of traffic and roads.