This is my second Subaru Outback. My first was a 2003 Outback Limited wagon. The versatility, reliability, and go anywhere nature of my first Outback was so enticing that I had an easy time deciding to stay with the Subaru family of vehicles when my lease was up. I have had my new 2006 Outback for a thousand miles now long enough to determine both what I love about it and what I am not totally thrilled about, but not long enough to comment on its long term reliability. I would venture a guess that its long term reliability will be very high though based on well published reliability histories of similarly equipped Outbacks. I am hoping this review will cater both to the potential first time Subaru buyer as well as to current Subaru owner who is contemplating upgrading or getting a new car within the near future. Accordingly I will lay out my comments in the following format Pros, Cons, and Improvements in the latest style of Outbacks verses 2004 models and earlier:
1. Versatility and Safety: I have found the Outback to be a very versatile vehicle. My wife and I used our first Outback when remodeling our house and we were able to carry healthy size loads of materials home from the local Home Depot / Lowe's stores. We often times would lay the seats down and carry home 8-10 long boards while still being able to close the back hatch. We actually once managed to carry 8- 8 2x4s, a washing machine, and a new kitchen sink all in one load. The new 2006 Outback has very similar interior dimensions so should be great for hauling as well. Will it carry as much as a full size truck? No, but it will accept about as much cargo as most midsized SUVs and it will keep things dry in the rain unlike non canopied trucks. Winter weather? no problem
My wife and I were the only ones to get out of our neighborhood last winter when we had freezing rain and snow. The Subaru all wheel drive system is very effective in slick road conditions. In my opinion Subarus are superior to 4WD trucks and SUVs on ice covered roads as they are usually lighter, have a lower and more balanced center of gravity, and have AWD that constantly routes power to gripping wheels while cutting power to slipping wheels, whereas 4WD systems often power all four wheels whether they are slipping or not. Like trucks and SUVs, Outback's are rated for light off-road duty, though that is where they would probably be outshined by most 4WD trucks. My 2006 Outback VDC has AWD, traction control, vehicle skid control, variable torque distribution, ABS, electronic brake distribution, active head restraints, smart front airbags, seat mounted side air bags, and front to back head curtain airbags. It received the highest safety ratings possible in its class from both the Insurance Institute and the Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You would be hard pressed to find a vehicle in its price range (or any price range really) that offers the versatility, safety, and go anywhere ability that this Subaru does all while still performing as a subdued and unassuming car in daily to and fro work traffic.
2. Fit and Finish: The fit and finish on the 2006 Outback is truly very good. If you were to slap a Lexus badge on it and put it in a Lexus showroom it wouldnt get laughed out of the place. All of the interior materials leather, plastics, etc. seem to be very high grade. It is obvious that the engineers paid close attention to the little details that one wouldnt necessarily notice at first glance. The front cup holders have an insert that can be taken out and washed for example the child seat LATCH tethers in the rear seat are not mounted between the crack of the bottom of the seat and the top of the seat but rather are mounted in the top of the seat behind removable access panels, thus your seats dont get deformed from shoving hooks between the cushions.
3. Feature Content and Price: I know that Subarus are inching up there in cost and I have read that Subaru of America is trying to slowly move its image more up market. Despite the slowly rising prices, and some may argue with me here, I still feel that the 2006 Outback is a good value when compared to its competition. I paid $32,500 for my VDC which came standard with power windows and door locks, cruise control, power driver and passenger seats with adjustable seat heaters, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, heated windshield wipers, dual automatic climate control, a seven speaker stereo system with a 6 disc CD changer MP3 ability and steering wheel audio controls, a GPS navigation system with fully integrated trip computer and calendar, home link, alarm system with immobilizer, full leather interior, AWD, ABS, EBD, VDC and traction control. The only option I paid extra for was a self dimming mirror. I would challenge most people who feel Subarus are overpriced to go find another vehicle with these options standard at a lower price. The Audi A4 and VW Passat 4Motion are the closest competitors and are both more expensive when similarly equipped and statistically have lower reliability.
4. Power and Driving Refinement: I cross-shopped both the Outback XT and the Outback 3.0 R VDC. While the XT is exhilarating and a bit faster off the line than the 3.0R VDC, I opted for the VDC which still has prodigious power. I liked the refinement and smoothness of the H6 engine over that of the turbo H4 engine and I found the freeway passing power going up hills in the H6 to be as good as (or even slightly better than) the turbo H4s due to its smoother power band. The VDC feels very solid on the road, is plenty fast, and even a bit tossable in the curves. I drive fairly mildly and have especially been driving mildly during vehicle break in so I cannot speak to how the car would behave when pushed to its performance limits. I really like the 5 speed transmission as I can slide the selector into manu-matic mode and shift as I please. There is a BIG difference in how my new 3.0R VDC Outback feels on the road verses my 2003 H4 Outback a difference one would just have to feel to fully appreciate.
1. Gas Mileage: The Outback is not a super light car and pushes its power to 4 wheels all of the time which takes its toll on fuel economy. I have averaged about 16.5 MPG in all city driving the first 1,000 miles. I have personally experienced that gas mileage is erratic the first few thousand miles in Subarus while the engines fully break in. I am guessing I will get about 17 city and 26 highway over the long haul. This mileage still beats most trucks and SUVs but is no match for vehicles like 4cy Rav4s, AWD Matrixs, etc. Please note that my actual mileage has been slightly less than what my trip computer tells me it should be. It has been off about .5 to 1 mile per gallon or so.
2. Small Glove Box: The glove boxes on 2005 and up Outbacks have a new compartment that is made to hold the vehicle manual which is nice. Unfortunately it pretty much renders the rest of the glove box unusable. You seem to only be able to keep items that dont exceed about 1 in thickness in the glove box. The 2004 model Outbacks on back had a much bigger glove box.
3. Steering Wheel Audio Controls wont allow Preset Scanning: It is so nice to finally have a car that has audio controls on the steering wheel. My one frustration though is that they dont allow me to scan through my preset radio stations but rather just scan up and down the radio band. I will say the mute button is great though for those incoming cell phone calls.
4. No iPod port: More and more people are buying iPod's or other types of portable music devices. It would be nice if auto manufactures factored this in when designing car stereo systems. A $15,000 Scion has an iPod port standard yet my car costing over twice as much does not. I know the iPod thing may be deemed a youth craze and thusly not considered on otherwise non youth types of vehicles but I am in my 30s and know several people in their 40s and 50s who would like to use their portable music players in their cars.
5. VDC standard only on the highest priced Outback: I know I stated above that I think the Outback is a good value and I do. My one comment on the more negative side though is with the pricing of the VDC option. The VDC is a couple thousand dollars more than the otherwise almost identically equipped LL Bean Outback. Given the great safety advantage of VDC I feel it should be available as an option on other grades of Outbacks.
Key Improvements in 2005+ Outbacks over 2004 and Earlier Models
1. More Power all three engine choices offer more horsepower and torque than what was available on earlier models. For the most part despite the gain in power the fuel economy has stayed the same or improved
2. More interior refinement the materials and build quality rival that of true luxury cars. While the fit and finish in my 2003 Outback was very good it didnt compare to my 2006 Outback.
3. Variable Torque Distribution a more rear wheel drive bias and feel
4. Storage space for the hatch security cover built into the rear floorboard
5. LATCH system designed so seats dont become deformed by the seats and straps of car seats
6. Dual sunroof redesigned to a single panoramic style roof
7. Available navigation
8. Removable front cup holder inserts for easy washing
9. Engine immobilizer chips built into the keys / alarm fobs with hatch buttons
To sum things up
The 2006 Subaru Outback VDC is a great car with only a few minor drawbacks. I would strongly recommend it to those who want the ultimate in safety, reliability, and versatility. One likely wouldnt go wrong with any Subaru purchase.