TESUQUE, N. M. -- All four of the 18-inch all-season tires on Subaru's 2015 Outback 3.6R -- an expansive and refined all-wheel-drive 5-door crossover wagon constructed at Subaru of Indiana Automotive -- scratch in gravel but hold a steady grip on the unpaved road that winds way up Mount Baldy to the Santa Fe Ski Basin, perched some two miles high in the Sangre de Cristo Range of New Mexico.
The stylish Outback wagon series for 2015 marks the fifth generation of what Subaru calls the world's first sport utility wagon with a new treatment that represents a significant upgrade over previous iterations. There's a larger and stiffer unibody structure with simplified trims and powertrain options, fresh body styling and a new cabin design with more room and refined fittings.
Slotted for the mid-size class with a 108.1-inch wheelbase and a 5-seat passenger compartment encompassing 108.1 cubic feet, the Outback wagons of 2015 contain a host of materials to reduce interior noise levels plus a carload of electronically controlled safety devices.
Outback is designed to live up to its rugged name.
It has the rigid unibody structure of a car but a hiked suspension which compares in height to a sport utility vehicle. And it carries that all-wheel-drive traction system that's always engaged. With all tires clawing for grip and the chassis elevated, an Outback can bump across a rocky field, scamper through a creek bed or scoot through snow like a snowmobile.
But Outback also delivers the poise and easy-to-drive traits of a fine sedan -- it owns a curvy mountain road and mainlines on a freeway with a cushy ride quality, then provides a spacious passenger compartment stocked with comfy seats and cabin perks comparable to a luxury car.
Outback's revamped exterior styling looks sleek and sporty. The prow, tapering to a narrow point in front of a sculpted aluminum hood, features new front fascia that blends bumper and hexagonal 3-bar grille into one smooth unit. And the grille adds a standard Active Grille Shutter to reduce wind resistance and boost fuel economy.
Top trim Outback 3.6R Limited stocks new HID low-beam headlights which bring a distinctive nighttime signature. And all four trim versions of Outback employ U-shape taillights and brake lights with LED bulbs.
Smooth flanks are interrupted by edgy high and low character lines extending rearward from front wheelwells. Wheels and tires vary from 17 to 18 inches, depending on trim. The 3.6R Limited uses 18-inch alloy wheels capped by 225/60R18 tires.
Subaru outfits all 2015 Outback models with suspension, brake and steering systems designed to forge a responsive vehicle. The suspension is fully independent with tuned MacPherson struts up front and a subframe-mounted double wishbone design in the rear. The steering system, through a rack and pinion arrangement, employs electric power assistance tuned for quick responses.
The 4-wheel disc brakes tie to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA) plus a stability system under Subaru's label of Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) with a 4-wheel traction control system (TCS). Active Torque Vectoring (ATV), a new feature on the multi-mode VDC stability and traction control system, can apply brake pressure to the inside front wheel to facilitate more neutral cornering.
Every 2015 Outback model employs symmetrical all-wheel-drive (AWD) equipment and Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). The active torque split AWD device is managed electronically through a continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch (CVHTC).
Trims for Outback begin with Outback 2.5i, 2.5i Premium and 2.5i Limited, each rigged with a revised Subaru engine which has four cylinders opposed horizontally and set perpendicular to the drive line, then linked with equal-length drive shafts so pairs of cylinders act like boxers jabbing at one another in counterbalanced movements which negate the typical in-line-4 engine's vibrations. Displacing 2.5 liters, the aluminum-block plant has aluminum cylinder heads and dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) plus Subaru's active valve control system (AVCS). It generates 175 hp at 5800 rpm and torque of 174 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
Outback 3.6R Limited edition gets a 6-cylinder boxer engine which displaces 3.6 liters and features DOHC and dual active valve control system (D-AVCS). Output reaches 256 hp at 6000 rpm while torque climbs to 247 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
MSRP figures for 2015 Outback models extend from $24,895 to $32,992.