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Subaru’s sport utility wagon is still going strong and for 2018 the Outback gets a mid-cycle refresh with some major updates

Thank Subaru’s foresight, their solid all-wheel drive, and of course Aussie-badass Paul Hogan for putting the Japanese automaker’s Outback SUV on the map, going strong over 20-years since it debuted in 1995. There really wasn’t anything like it: a unique, off-road SUV in wagon form born from the Legacy sedan, to compete with the more popular SUV players at the time including the Grand Cherokee.

Fast-forward to 2015, the Outback entered its 5th-generation with an all-new design which today happens to be highest selling version to date, getting a nice model refresh for 2018. Mr. Hogan would be proud.

2017 vs 2018 Subaru Outback

Major Changes for 2018:

For 2018, the Outback gets a mid-cycle fresh that finds a more rugged styling upgrade with some new wheel options, a more refined and quieter powertrain, a spruced up interior with more technology and features. And gone for good is the 6-speed manual transmission.

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Performance and Handling

Personally owning both a 2015 and now a 2017 3.6R trim Outback, the refinement in the powertrain over the years is evident — it just just feels smoother, both on the highway and in the city. And it’s definitely much quieter as well, especially compared to the new 2015 version.

More Responsive and Improved CVT Transmission

In particular, the CVT has been improved for a smoother operation and better fuel economy, sound insulation and driving performance. Plus, other finer updates including more responsive braking and steering and some weight reduction at the engine which helps reduce vibrations while increasing fuel economy as well.

As an Outback owner with two kids, it’s nice to see Subaru added additional USB ports in the rear console for those long journeys when Nintendo DS batteries alone just won’t cut it anymore.

Available in either a 2.5L or the more robust 3.6L engine, all 2018 Outbacks now only equipped with an updated CVT automatic transmission; gone is the manual stick-shift. While not all are fans of this auto transmission found in new vehicles today, the Subaru’s 2018 updated CVT is improved for smoother operation and better fuel economy; plus, Outback models with this tranny are now PZEV-rated.

2018 Outback Exterior Colours and Styling

Subaru made a few changes to the exterior colours available; gone is the Carbide Grey Metallic replaced by the brighter Magnetite Grey Metallic, Lapis Blue Pearl replaced by the deeper hue Dark Blue Pearl, and Venetian Red Pearl replaced by the more vibrant Crimson Red Pearl.

All the exterior paint schemes now available include Crimson Red Pearl, Ice Silver Metallic, Crystal Black Silica, Magnetite Gray Metallic, Crystal White Pearl, Tungsten Metallic,  and Dark Blue Pearl.

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More Aggressive Look

Overall, the new model looks more rugged with new details including increased cladding on the bumpers and rear. The headlights are newly designed on the 2.5i trim featuring a C-shaped design element. LED daytime running lights are standard while the Limited and Premier trims find new steering-responsive LED headlights. The front hexagonal grille is tweaked, and below, the fog lamp bezels are redesigned and more pronounced compared to the 2017 Outback.

As for wheel options, a new dark metallic 18-inch wheel design in high-gloss aluminum is standard on both the 2.5i Limited and 3.6R Limited flavours.

New Outback Interior: More Tech

If there’s one thing Subaru has ramped up in the past 5 years, it’s their products’ interior and cabin setups — not just in terms of new technology, but introducing more contemporary (and less utility-only) designs and control layouts; all this, appealing to more consumers in this competitive segment.

Updated features for 2018 include a new steering wheel design, an improved air conditioning system and panel, standard dual pane front windows, and for a more upscale feel both the Limited and Premier trims now get real stitching added to the instrument panel and doors.

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Also check out: 2017 Subaru Crosstrek Review

As an Outback owner with two kids, it’s nice to see Subaru added additional USB ports in the rear console for those long journeys when Nintendo DS batteries alone just won’t cut it anymore. Not only handy for this Dad, but a feature that’s necessary these days if the Outback wants to compete. Rear passengers need love too, and the more tech the better.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Standard

The centre stack has been redesigned a little with a blend of advanced functionality and ease-of-use in mind. As with most of the competitors now, the Outback finds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, while the hardware features all the latest technologies for 2018.

…the Outback paves its own path as a more low-slung, wagon-style SUV unlike all the others. And both the interior and styling are finally catching up.

The screens a larger in the 2018 Outback as well: a 6.5-inch in the 2.5i models and larger, optional 8-inch display for the Touring, LImited and Premier Outback trims.

Pricing for 2018 Outback

The new Outback starts at US$25,895, C$29,295 for the entry-level 2.5i trim. Topping out at US$38,690 for the 3.6R Touring in the United States, and C$42,195 for the top-of-range 3.6R Premier with EyeSight package in Canada.

Visit here for more on pricing.

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Takeaway

What drew our family to the Outback was a sport utility in a stylish wagon guise, paired to the all-wheel drive. But finally, Subaru has recognized that they’ll need step up their styling and cabin features to compete. And they’re doing just that.

The 2018 Outback carries through the all-new 2015 redesign, but now finds a more aggressive exterior look, a refined CVT and improved engine for more responsive steering and braking, and the cabin finds more technology and features compared to the outgoing version including added USB ports in the back, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

With so some many choices in the sport utility market — and frankly, there really isn’t a ‘bad choice’ these days as they all compete — the Outback paves its own path as a more low-slung, wagon style SUV unlike all the others. And both the interior and styling are finally catching up.

Learn more:

2018 Subaru Outback – US

2018 Subaru Outback – Canada

2018 Outback Photos: