The new 2015 Subaru Outback is now arriving at dealerships, and it's likely to continue the small Japanese maker's striking growth over the past five years.
Like every other maker, though, Subaru has to make all of its vehicles more efficient--and to do so on a considerably smaller development budget than large global makers.
We were curious to see how the latest Outback stacked up against its mid-size SUV competitors.
Those arguably include the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Ford Edge, Dodge Journey, and Jeep Grand Cherokee--although Subaru owner loyalty is such that many repeat owners never consider any other vehicle.
DON'T MISS: 2015 Subaru Outback - full review
The 2015 Subaru Outback is rated by the EPA at 28 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway) with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT).
That's a slight improvement over its 2014 Outback predecessor with the same powertrain, which came in at 26 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway). Unlike last year's model, the 2015 Outback no longer offers the option of a six-speed manual gearbox--the CVT is only transmission option.
On our 405-mile test drive, with about two-thirds of the miles on highways and the rest in stop-and-go city and suburban traffic, we registered 31.0 mpg on the car's digital display.
For a car with as much interior space as the Outback, that's pretty good.
2015 Subaru Outback - First DriveEnlarge Photo
Big, and safe
We weren't fans of the previous Outback generation's styling (2010-2014 models). It bordered on a caricature, with slab sides, huge exaggerated wheel arches, and a butch-SUV look quite different from the earlier and very pleasant wagon lines of 15 prior years of Outbacks.
The 2015 car is far smoother. It's still a big vehicle, but somehow Subaru has gotten slightly closer to the look of a wagon even though, for all intents and purposes, it's largely the same size as its graceless, trying-too-hard predecessor.
ALSO SEE: 2015 Subaru Outback: First Drive
The Outback habitually does very well in safety-test ratings, though the 2015 Outback hasn't yet been rated by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
And like the 2014 Subaru Forester we had as High Gear Media's recent six-month test car--and TheCarConnection's 2014 Best Car To Buy--the outward visibility is as good as you'll get in an age of tougher roof-crush standards and multiple airbags, including those along windshield pillars.
2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i, test drive, Catskill Mountains, NY, July 2014Enlarge Photo
The 2015 Outback has eight airbags, with a pair of new front-seat cushion bags supplementing the six in its predecessor.
It also has Subaru's very well-received EyeSight vision system, which provides data for the blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise-control systems.
Both of those systems worked flawlessly, though we resorted to turning off the lane-departure warning for the small and variably marked winding country roads we tested on.
The Subaru adaptive cruise system, however, worked as well as any we've used on German luxury sedans--and considerably better than that on our present test car from another volume maker (about which more in a few days).
A few things, both pro and con, struck us about the new Outback after our weekend inside it: