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Road Test: 2009 Subaru Outback

As-Tested Price: $31,190
Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder
Transmission: 4-speed automatic w/shift control
EPA Fuel Economy: 20-city, 22-combined, 26-highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 18.8-mpg [90% snow covered roads, < 45mph]

The industry standard for usable utility that will get you anywhere you need to go in the most severe of weather conditions without breaking the bank during these frugal times.


  • Tackles the worst road conditions without breaking a sweat
  • Small thoughtful features, like wiper-blade deicers, are a lifesaver
  • Comfortable and well finished interior
  • Large and flexible storage capacity


  • Navigation screen brightness is never quite right and display graphics are looking dated
  • Wheels are prone to catching snow and becoming temporarily unbalanced
  • Fuel mileage lower than you would expect from a 4-cylinder
  • Four-speed automatic is smooth but needs at least another gear

2009 Subaru Outback Road Test

Vehicle Dynamics & Performance
Subaru has been long known for its affinity to all-wheel-drive. Every Subaru that rolls off the factory line has it, including the 2009 Outback.  It’s an often under appreciated feature that non-Subaru owners may be quick to dismiss as unnecessary, however we found during our stint it was extremely invaluable.  With snow falling every few days here in the Northeast we had ample opportunity to find out exactly how the Outback handled in the worst of road conditions.

Powered by a 2.5 liter horizontally opposed 4 cylinder- the Outback is not a screamer.  With only 170-horsepower on tap, it’s immediately obvious you’re not driving a WRX.   Despite some reservations we came to love the Outback’s mild demeanor and found the engine to be perfectly matched to the AWD system.  Lay on the throttle and power builds in a smooth predictable manner.

Vehicle stability control is standard across the Outback line for 2009.  By keeping tabs on the AWD system and taming wheel-spin when necessary the VDC system turns the Outback into a point and shoot tank. Aim the wheel where you want to go and hang on.  Snow, freezing rain, sleet- it doesn’t matter. We threw the Outback into the most challenging conditions we could find and every time drove away impressed. While other cars literally slid off the road around us, the Outback was sure-footed and inspired confidence. Trust us when we say not many cars, crossovers, or even trucks feel this balanced.

2009 Subaru Outback Road Test

Design Execution, Appearance, Fit & Finish
Subaru has increasingly done a great job on design over the past few years.  While going through an awkward styling phase not too long ago, minor changes on the 2009 Outback present a crisp visual package. The front end is more angular than in the past, almost aggressive.

Inside, the Outback has soft textured surfaces reminiscent of what you would find in a Volkswagen. You’re not getting top quality all the way around, but harder plastic and materials are limited to scratch prone areas, consistent with the overall utility theme.

The faux interior wood trim adds warmth and looks good.  Gauges are straight forward but even at max, never got as bright as we would have liked.

2009 Subaru Outback Road Test

Audio, Electronics, & Technology
We were reassured that Subaru isn’t resting it’s hat entirely on the Outback’s utilitarian qualities.  An impressive 440-watt harman-kardon branded sound system plays burned MP3 files, is pre-wired for satellite radio, and even has an auxiliary input.  Sound quality was impressive for this price range.  Being the spoiled audiophiles that we are left us wishing for a crisper low end, but in reality it’s hard to get much better.

Our Outback also came equipped with Subaru’s navigation system.  While simple in presentation, it offers a set of digital auxiliary gauges, fuel mileage information, a calendar, and a simple display of maintenance records.  Handy and useful for sure.

2009 Subaru Outback Road Test

Comfort & Ergonomics
A stand out area for Subaru has been their three-spoke steering wheel.  It’s super comfortable, wrapped in leather, and just feels right.  Audio and cruise controls are positioned perfectly and have a positive action.  It’s surprising how many automakers can’t get steering wheel mounted controls to feel even remotely this good.

The door window switches are oddly placed- partially blocked by the door grab handle. It leaves no good spot to rest your arms and makes quick window adjustments challenging behind the wheel. The heated leather seats are a lifesaver on frigid mornings and allow the already comfortable seats to be even more so.

One small touch that we really appreciated was a heated wiper blade rest at the base of the windshield. Even a thick coating of ice and snow was quickly loosened enough to come free in a few minutes.  When heavy snow is falling the last thing you need is frozen wiper blades streaking your vision.  Subaru does a great job building in utility and function all around.

2009 Subaru Outback Road Test

Closing Words
While almost every single automaker saw a massive drop in sales during 2008, Subaru actually bucked the trend and gained ground. After getting wheel time in the new Forester a few weeks ago and now the 2009 Outback it’s really no surprise why. Subaru offers an affordable no frills ride that is really tough to beat when it comes to value.  The 2009 Outback will never let you down when you absolutely need to get somewhere while comforting you in all the right ways. We’re sad to see it go.

Check out our Road Test Gallery
We’ve got a whole slew of photos from our time in the 2009 Subaru Outback Click the image below and take a look.

2009 Subaru Outback Road Test

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