The Outback enjoys a deserved reputation as a practical, smart, progressive ride. Buy one and you might not have to take a shower, recycle or quit eating fried food – your neighbors will still consider you more of an environmentalist than the guy with the Yukon up the block. The Outback made its American debut in the mid-’90s and has since been pushed aside, unfairly, by an avalanche of SUVs and crossover vehicles glutting the market. It has survived by its good reputation, quality of construction and continued tweaking by engineers, and it’s not nearly as difficult to park or squeeze into a garage as some steel galoots out there. For 2015, the Outback features revisions to its already solid body, with a larger grille opening, new front and rear fascias and new head and taillights. My test car’s two-tone body trim was distinctive and snappy — “fly” or “dope” just wouldn’t work for this thing — and it helped me find the vehicle in parking lots. The body’s been slightly elevated this year, too, making snow navigation easier. Its electroluminescent gauges are especially attractive in that space-age way, and four-stage heated front seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat, a cargo cover and tray, windshield wiper de-icer and fog lights further burnish the car’s can-do flavor.
Base price: $32,995 As tested: $36,040
The Outback’s biggest improvement is a righteous 256-hp, 3.6-liter Boxer six-cylinder engine offering robust power and improved fuel economy while still operating on regular grade unleaded gasoline. Mileage is a not-bad 20 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway. New standard Active Torque Vectoring and electric power steering deliver better agility, a plus in this winter of eternal snow and ice. They’ve also shushed the car a bit with extensive quietening revisions in the windshield as well as liquid-filled engine mounts. The extras have been upped, too, with a particularly easy-to-use touch screen display and high resolution backup camera as standard on all trim levels. If you like to take your new car through the woods or off-road elsewhere, you’ll benefit by the 2015 Outback’s taller (8.7 inches) ground clearance. Tap a tree in the woods and new front seat-cushion airbags will keep you more or less in place. Three trim levels and numerous option packages are available for 2015; check the website for all models. Our “Limited” trim offered 18-inch alloy wheels, perforated leather upholstery, two-position driver’s side memory, heated front and rear seats, rear seat climate control vents, a harman/kardon® 576-Watt-equivalent audio system with 12 speakers and a pain-in-the-butt Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Sexy and chic the Outback is not and never was – but it’s still a great car choice as kids arrive or if you’ve got to transport that new stand-up bass to a wedding gig.