Refreshed 2018 Outback adds styling muscle and refines interior

 Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.

Popular Outback crossover SUV having a great year 

The highly successful Outback has been given a mid-cycle refresh for the 2018 model year, adding a more muscle to an otherwise sophisticated design that better reflects its "rugged character," states Subaru in a press release.

What's more, the 2018 Outback gets a revised interior with higher grade finishings, greater comfort, and an updated infotainment system, while the "world's first sport utility wagon" now rides on a recalibrated suspension that promises a "smoother, quieter ride" as well as better control.

The Outback is Subaru Canada's third-most popular model, with 11,255 down the road through calendar year 2016. Over the first two quarters of 2017, Outback sales grew to 5,648 units, and while this number appears to only be slightly larger than half of last year's sales, it's really much stronger than the 5,195 units Subaru sold over the first six months of 2016.

Altogether the model's Q1 and Q2 year-over-year growth was up 8.7 percent, which is considerably better than some competitors that have actually been falling backward despite the auto market's love affair with crossover SUVs. A mid-cycle makeover for the last four months of the year bodes well for continued upward momentum.


New styling adds ruggedness to sophisticated near-premium crossover SUV 

From the outside it's all about showing a "bolder more rugged face," continues Subaru, this due to a reworked grille, revised lower front fascia, new door mirrors, and a much more aggressive rear bumper design.

While the grille gets a stronger strikethrough in its upper section, the 2018 Outback's redesigned headlights might be the most dramatic visual enhancement up front, now more sharply angled with a unique scalloped treatment at their topmost inner point, as well as more defined signature LED elements inside, whereas the matte black lower fascia's fog lamp bezels protrude upward in a more pronounced fashion, or at least they appear to now that more body-colour surfacing separates them from the centre vent.

From profile the updated model gets new mirror housings with slimmer more sophisticated looking LED turn signals, while if you look carefully from this vantage point it's possible to pick out some augmentation to the new taillight lenses and rear bumper, the latter getting additional black cladding extending upward at each corner. That bumper cap makes the most obvious difference from the rear view too, giving the new Outback much of the "rugged" visual upgrade mentioned earlier.


Seven-speed manual mode enhances transmission performance 

Helping the new Outback perform as well as it looks is a new seven-speed sequential manual mode for the standard continuously variable transmission (CVT), which also includes paddle shifters and off-road enhancing X-Mode, while all 2.5i trims are now Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) rated, which translates into some of the lowest emissions levels in the mid-size SUV class. Also important, all Outbacks get a revised brake booster to improve stopping performance.

Inside, enhancements to the new 2018 model include a redesigned steering wheel with reorganized switchgear that improves "comfort and convenience" across the entire Outback line, while over on the centre stack is a new voice-activated dual-zone auto climate control interface featuring digital readouts for easier legibility and greater overall functionality, standard in just-above-base 2.5i Touring trim. Lastly, rear passengers get dual USB slots for connecting personal devices.


The updated Outback receives two well-proven engine choices, starting with the most fuel-efficient 2.5i and topping off with the most powerful 3.6R. The base four-cylinder displaces 2.5 litres and produces up to 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, whereas the larger six-cylinder makes 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. All Outbacks transmit power to the wheels through the CVT mentioned earlier, this type of transmission ideal for maximizing efficiency.

Fuel economy continues to be impressive too, with the H-4 rated at 9.4 L/100km in the city and 7.3 on the highway, and the H-6 achieving a claimed 12.0 city and 8.7 highway rating.


Seven trims cover all needs and desires with safety high on the list 

The Canadian-spec Outback will be available in seven trims for 2018, starting with 2.5i, 2.5i Touring, 2.5i Limited, and 2.5i Premier. Premier trim includes Subaru's advanced EyeSight driver-assistance package as standard equipment, whereas EyeSight is optional with Touring and Limited trims. The Outback's optional 3.6R engine can be had in Touring, Limited and Premium trims, although with this larger engine EyeSight becomes available with the 3.6R Limited and is standard with the 3.6R Premier.

That EyeSight package, which is a very reasonable $1,500 upgrade, includes pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and new high beam assist.


Of note, the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD), which includes blindspot detection, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert, is standard with all models above the base 2.5i.

Last year's Outback achieved a best-possible Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS when upgraded with EyeSight, so there's no reason to think the new 2018 model will fare any worse. In fact, it should be safer and more convenient in real-world scenarios now that Subaru has integrated auto high beams on so-equipped Limited and standard Premier trims, which incidentally let them remove the third camera from behind the rearview mirror.

Additional 2018 Outback safety upgrades include a collision detection feature that can automatically unlock the doors if required, plus automatic door locks that do the opposite when getting under way, a window off-delay timer, improved child safety seat anchors, and a stiffer chassis that should also improve driving dynamics.


Apple CarPlay and Android Auto improve smartphone connectivity 

All Outback trims should be quieter too, thanks to acoustic front door glass to reduce engine, wind and road noise, while additional standard equipment now includes a standard 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen featuring new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.

That centre display grows from 7.0 inches to 8.0 in Touring trim and above, while the driver and front passenger benefit from a reworked centre vent grille, centre panel, air conditioning panel, and instrument panel.

Additionally, navigation with detailed mapping adds functionality to that new larger infotainment display in Limited and Premier trims, while steering-responsive LED headlights benefit forward visibility.

These upper trims get real stitching across the instrument panel too, as well as on the revised door panels, while new shift panel detailing and new seat trim patterns pull the mainstream volume-branded crossover SUV closer to premium rivals. On this final theme, top-tier Premier trim now includes auto up/down powered windows all around.

All trims can easily be sorted out via unique alloy wheels, with base 2.5i and Touring models getting 17-inch rolling stock, and larger 18-inch alloys added to Limited and Premium trims.


Ultra-competitive pricing should help 2018 Outback gain in popularity 

The 2018 Outback 2.5i will start at $29,295 plus freight and dealer fees, whereas 2.5i Touring trim is priced $3,500 higher at $32,795, 2.5i Touring trim with EyeSight at $34,295, 2.5i Limited trim at $36,795, 2.5i Limited trim with EyeSight at $38,295, and 2.5i Premier with EyeSight at $39,195.

Upgrading to the 3.6R six-cylinder engine in base Touring guise will require $35,795 before discount, whereas the 3.6R Limited starts at $39,795, the same package with EyeSight is $41,295, and finally the 3.6R Premier with EyeSight gets priced at $42,195.

Docksteader Subaru already has a new 2018 Outback demo available for test drives, so make sure to contact them directly at (604) 325-1000 or feel free drop by the showroom just south of the Marine Drive Skytrain Station between Yukon and Cambie streets to experience it first hand.


Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press 
Photo credits: Subaru 
Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.
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