2012 Subaru Outback Review and Prices

Last Updated: Nov 2, 2011

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2012 Subaru Outback Buying Advice

The 2012 Subaru Outback is the best car for you if your idea of a midsize crossover SUV includes one with space and capabilities you’ll actually use.

The 2012 Subaru Outback gets standard Bluetooth connectivity as part of a general audio upgrade but otherwise carries over little-changed from model-year 2011. This remarkably roomy five-passenger wagon continues with standard all-wheel drive and a choice of four- or six-cylinder engines. Outback isn’t designed for serious off-roading but it can acquaint you with the wilderness and won’t be daunted by deep snow. Last redesigned for model-year 2010, Outback is Subaru’s most popular vehicle. The 2012 Subaru Legacy is essentially a sedan version with lower ride height and an available turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Should you buy a 2012 Subaru Outback or wait for the 2013 Subaru Outback? Sign on the dotted line for a 2012 Outback. The 2013 Outback isn’t likely to be changed enough to compel you to wait. It’ll look older more quickly than a 2012 model because Outback is due for a model-year 2014 facelift. And it’ll cost more thanks to the inevitable model-year-changeover price boost.

2012 Subaru Outback Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Subaru Outback’s styling is unchanged. It retains the basic pumped-up wagon look it adopted with its successful model-year 2010 redesign. That was an evolution of the original Outback, which qualified as a pioneering crossover sport-utility vehicle when it bowed in 1995 as a ground-clearance-enhanced station-wagon version of Subaru’s Legacy sedan. The basic formula remains intact in today’s fourth-generation Outback, though its junior-SUV look has thankfully been toned down over the years.

Black-out treatments in the lower front and rear fascias and along the sides lend the 2012 Outback a more rugged appearance than the Legacy. The Outback also sits about four and a half inches taller and is nearly two inches longer than the sedan. Overall, it’s about the same size as the similarly wagon-ish 2012 Toyota Venza crossover, though the 2012 Honda Accord Crosstour is about 8.5 inches longer overall.

Ground clearance of 8.7 inches is a bonus. That’s nearly three inches more than the Legacy sedan and nearly an inch more than the Venza or Crosstour. In fact, Outback’s 8.7 inches is more than some more overtly SUV-like crossovers (the Honda Pilot, for example, has 8.0 inches) and rivals that of some bona fide off-road oriented SUVs, such as the Toyota 4Runner, which has 9-9.6 inches.

The 2012 Subaru Outback also shares its basic interior design with the Legacy sedan, so it’s comfortable and nicely finished with high quality materials. The winged motif of the grille and headlamps is mirrored in the attractively styled dashboard, which has conventional round gauges and a straightforward assortment of buttons and dials on the center stack of controls. When fitted with the available navigation system, a color LCD touchscreen display is located at the top center of the dash.

Outback’s cabin is impressively spacious, with plenty of headroom and 37.8 inches of rear-seat legroom, a measure that puts it in league with the Accord Crosstour and only an inch or so behind the Venza and the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox and 2012 Ford Edge, all of which have notably longer wheelbases. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and key to how much interior volume a vehicle can provide.

Indeed, Outback gets the most of its comparatively brief wheelbase. Cargo volume, for example, is competitive with anything in the class, exceeding that of the crossovers mentioned above, as well as that of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Murano. The 2012 Outback provides 34.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats and can expand to 71.3 cubic feet with the 60/40-split seatbacks folded flat; the rear seatbacks also recline for added passenger comfort. This five-seater boasts no less than eight cupholders.

The 2012 Outback continues with six models, three for each engine offered. Four-cylinder versions are designated 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, and 2.5i Limited models. Six-cylinder Outbacks are designated 3.6R, 3.6R Premium, and 3.6R Limited models.  

Visual distinctions between the models are not extensive. The 2.5i model has 16 inches steel wheels with wheel covers, while all other 2012 Outback models have 17-inch alloys, body-colored side mirrors, rear privacy glass, and fog lights. Inside, Limited versions have leather upholstery and woodgrain cabin trim, while other Outback models feature cloth seats and silver “etched” accent trim.

Mechanical: With no changes under the hood, the 2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, and 2.5i Limited versions continue with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. (Think of torque as the force behind acceleration and horsepower the energy that sustains thrust.) The 2012 Subaru Outback 3.6R, 3.6R Premium, and 3.6R Limited versions return with a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine with 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard on 2.5i and 2.5i Premium models. Optional on those models and standard on the Outback 2.5i Limited is Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

A CVT does the work of a conventional automatic transmission but eschews a set number of gears for a belt working variable-width pulleys. The intent is the most efficient balance of engine output, acceleration, and fuel economy. A CVT delivers power more or less seamlessly, though the lack of shift points takes getting used to. While there are no physical gears, Subaru’s CVT nonetheless has a “manual mode” and includes steering wheel-mounted paddles that allow the driver to replicate manual-type gear control.

All 2012 Outback 3.6R models come with a conventional five-speed automatic transmission that also includes a manual mode via paddle shifters.

In Subaru tradition, both engines in the 2012 Outback are of a flat or “boxer” design, so named because the cylinder banks are in horizontal opposition instead of aligned vertically or in a V, as with most engine designs. The cylinders move horizontally, “punching” outward like a boxer in the ring.  

Only Porsche among other volume carmakers embraces this type of engine design, primarily because it helps maintain a low center of gravity to the benefit of handling. Combined with a well-sorted suspension, the boxer design helps keep the 2012 Outback among the very best midsize crossovers for ride control and handling security.

Along with its enhanced ground clearance and wagon-worthy hauling ability, the Outback gets a heavier-duty version of the Legacy sedan’s all-independent suspension. And like every Subaru, it comes standard with all-wheel drive (AWD).

Subaru actually offers three separate AWD systems on the Outback. Two slightly different AWD setups are offered with the 2.5-liter engine, the operation of each tailored to suit manual transmission or the CVT. Basically, the one used with manual transmission locks into a 50/50 front/rear torque split upon wheel slip while the one used with the CVT reapportions the split constantly. The 2012 Outback 3.6R models feature a more sophisticated version that normally splits engine power 45/55 to maintain a slightly sportier rear-drive feel, then reapportions constantly if traction is compromised.  

Features: The 2012 Subaru Outback comes nicely equipped even in base 2.5i and 3.6R versions, with the Premium and Limited trim levels of both series adding convenience features at progressively higher prices.

Every 2012 Outback features Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics Control antiskid system to help keep all four wheels planted during extreme or emergency handling maneuvers (stability control is now required in all vehicles by federal safety regulations). Traction control to help the car get going on wet or snowy surfaces at lower speeds also is standard. Passive safety features include torso-protecting front side airbags and head-protecting side curtain airbags for all outboard positions.

Other standard features include air conditioning, power locks and windows, keyless entry, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a CD audio system with an auxiliary input jack, and alloy wheels.

New for model-year 2012 is an updated standard audio system with Bluetooth hands-free linking to mobile phones and MP3 music streaming; steering-wheel control buttons are included. Bluetooth was previously standard only on Outback Limiteds; it was unavailable on base 2.5i and 2.6R models and required an extra-cost option package on 2.5i Premium and 3.6R Premium versions.  

For model-year 2012, Subaru adds a new screen display and iTunes song tagging to Outback’s available 440-watt, nine-speaker harmon/kardon premium audio system.  The system is optional on the Premium models and standard on Limiteds and includes a CD changer and XM satellite radio.

To base 2.5i and 3.6R models, the 2012 Outback Premium versions again add such amenities as a power driver’s seat, cargo cover, fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and rear privacy glass. Top-of-the-line Limited versions come standard with a host of features, many of which are optional on the Premium models. These include heated front seats and side mirrors, windshield wiper de-icers, power passenger’s seat, automatic climate control, plus the leather upholstery and woodgrain dashboard trim.

Optional on all Outback Premium and Limited models is a power moonroof that comes bundled with an automatic-dimming rearview mirror that includes a 3.3-inch insert that displays the view from a rear-backup camera. Subaru continues to confine the Outback’s navigation system option to 2012 Limited models. It responds to voice commands and uses an 8-inch dashboard screen and rearview camera.

2012 Subaru Outback Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2012 Subaru Outback is $24,070-$32,470. Those prices are competitive with those of AWD versions of other midsize crossover SUVs with four- and six-cylinder engines. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Subaru’s fee for the 2012 Outback is $775.)

The 2012 Outback 2.5i starts at $24,070 with the six-speed manual transmission and at $25,070 with the CVT.

The 2012 Outback 2.5i Premium model is priced from $25,570 with the manual transmission and from $26,570 with the CVT. The 2012 Outback 2.5i Limited model, which comes only with the CVT, starts at $29,470.

The 2012 Outbacks with six-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission begins with the 3.6R model at $29,070. The 3.6R Premium starts at $30,270 and the 3.6R Limited at $32,470.

Among popular 2012 Subaru Outback amenities is the All-Weather Package that’s a $500 option on 2.5i Premium models (it’s standard on 3.6R Premium models and on all Limited versions). It includes heated front seats, heated side mirrors, and windshield wiper de-icers. It’s priced at $1,945 bundled with the power moonroof/backup camera, $1,795 with the harmon/kardon stereo, and $3,240 packaged with both.

On 2012 Outback Limited versions, the moonroof/backup camera package costs $1,445, with an option group that bundles the moonroof and navigation system/backup camera going for $2,995.

2012 Subaru Outback Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2012 Subaru Outback are unchanged from model-year 2011 and keep this crossover in line with some of its most fuel-efficient SUVs in its competitive set.  

With the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, 2012 Outback 2.5i models rate 19/27 mpg city/highway and 22 mpg city/highway combined with manual transmission and 22/29/24 mpg with the CVT.

The six-cylinder Outback 3.6R models are rated at 18/25/20 mpg. That rating in particular is testament to Outback’s sound engineering since the 3.6R model achieve it with a five-speed automatic transmission. Most rivals employ a more efficient six-speed automatic transmission.  

2012 Subaru Outback Release Date back to top

The 2012 Subaru Outback went on sale in September 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Subaru Outback back to top

Along with the Subaru Legacy, the Outback should receive a midcycle update for model-year 2014. This would not be a full redesign but likely include minor styling tweaks to nose and tail, a few new interior touches, and perhaps some added features. Expect the next fully redesigned Outback for model-year 2016.

With that fifth-generation, don’t expect Subaru to venture far from the 2010-2015 Outback’s successful formula. The next Outback will likely remain similar in size, shape, and function. It will be recast with increased fuel economy in mind, particularly with a 40 percent boost in the federally mandated corporate average fuel economy requirement phasing in between the 2012 and 2016 model years.

Expect the redesigned 2016 Outback to be constructed with weight savings in mind, since weight directly influences fuel economy. Anticipate a more efficient engine lineup, too, with a direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder likely replacing the six-cylinder engine in top-line models. Replacing the 2.5-liter four-cylinder as the base engine will probably be a modified version of Subaru’s new 2.0-liter four-cylinder that debuted in the 2012 Impreza compact car. Manual and automatic transmissions will be in the mix, but probably with at least six speeds. A CVT also could survive.

A gas-electric hybrid version of the next-generation Outback also is possible, with technology sourced from Subaru minority shareholder Toyota. Perhaps even a plug-in version will join the line at some point.

As is the case with most other midsize crossovers, the next-generation Outback will play catch-up in terms of infotainment and driver-aid technology. Expect lane-departure and blind-spot warning systems, for example, plus a rear-seat entertainment system and more complex interfacing with mobile technology.

2012 Subaru Outback Competition back to top

Chevrolet Equinox: One of the major success stories for Chevy in recent years, this attractively styled five-passenger crossover shines for refined road manners, fuel economy, and competitiv3e pricing. With the optional AWD, the standard 182-horsepower four-cylinder engine is rated 22/29 mpg city/highway, 23 combined and the available 264-horsepower V-6 is rated 16/23/19. A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission is standard across the line. Features include a rear seat that adjusts fore and aft to maximize legroom or cargo space. New for 2012 is Chevrolet’s voice-activated MyLink infotainment system that’s similar to Ford’s Sync technology. Exclusive to the top-line LTZ model is GM’s Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning system; it can warn if the Equinox is inadvertently wandering across lane markers or if a crash is imminent. The 2012 Equinox base-price range is $24,260-$33,200. Expect a freshening for model-year 2013 with a hybrid version possible for 2014. The 2012 GMC Terrain is essentially an Equinox with more truckish styling.

Ford Edge: The 2012 edition of this five-passenger crossover SUV adds Ford’s EcoBoost 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder to its engine lineup. It generates a V6-style 240 horsepower yet rates a four-cylinder-like 21/30/24 mpg. On the downside, the EcoBoost four is available only with front-wheel drive. Available with both front- and all-wheel drive is a 285 horsepower V-6, with a 305-horsepower V-6 standard in the Edge Sport model. Edge isn’t as nimble as the Outback, and it feels bigger and heavier on the road than it looks. The interior could be more accommodating for taller drivers and front-seat passengers. Gadget-loving buyers will find no shortage of high-tech features from which to choose, including the controversial MyFord Touch operating system that eschews most gauges and switches for configurable touch-screen LCD displays. It’s complicated to master, but fortunately it’s not included on all versions. Next big revision for the Edge isn’t likely until the 2014 or 2015 model year. The 2012 Edge base-price range is $28,465-$39,650.

Toyota Venza: As the Outback is essentially a crossover version of the Legacy sedan, the Venza is a wagon version of the Toyota Camry sedan – though the 2012 Venza is built on the 2007-2011 Camry platform. Venza was introduced for model-year 2009 and won’t transition to the current-generation Camry structure until at least model-year 2015. That’s of little consequence in practical terms. Venza remains a roomy and comfortable five-seater, though Toyota sacrifices some ride comfort for the sake of styling by equipping four-cylinder Venzas with 19-inch wheels and tires and V-6 versions with 20s. Both engines are available with front-wheel drive or optional AWD. The four-cylinder has 182 horsepower and rates 20/25/22 mpg with AWD. The V-6 has 268 and rates 18/25/21 with AWD. A six-speed automatic is Venza’s only transmission. A long list of features includes an optional high beam system that senses oncoming traffic and automatically adjusts the headlamps’ intensity. Expect a 2012 base-price range of roughly $28,200-$32,200.

UPDATED BY CHUCK GIAMETTA

2012 Subaru Outback Next Steps