The Subaru Outback offers the best of an all-wheel drive crossover in the form of a lifted wagon. But what’s the smarter buy, new or used?
Sure, the Subaru Outback is in large measure a segment of one, part wagon, part off-road capable crossover, but some niches are larger than others and the Outback has carved its own big enough to be the brand’s second best-selling model right behind the Forester. The 2020 generational update and this year’s addition of the new off-road Wilderness edition have further refined an already attractive and unique offering in the Outback.
But the prior generation Subaru Outback is almost as well-equipped and capable as the current one. For those looking to save by buying used, the 2016 model year Outback can be an attractive alternative. The current 2022 model year starts at $26,945 and runs all the way into the low $40,000 once dealer markups, taxes, and fees are accounted for. A used 2016 Outback comes in at considerably less, around $17,000 for a base or Premium trim and up to around $25,000 for the 3.6L Limited trim (depending on mileage and location, of course).
So do the improvements, upgrades, and five-years of depreciation make up that $10,000-$15,000 gap? Let’s find out below.
The 2016 Subaru Outback offers two engine options. The base engine is a 2.5L flat-four making 175 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy comes in at 25 city and 33 highway mpg. The upgraded 3.6L flat-6 produces 256 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy predictably suffers in the name of greater power, coming in at 20/27 mpg. Both engines come with the same continuously variable transmission (CVT) and Subaru’s standard symmetrical all-wheel drive.
The 2022 Outback also has two engines to choose from. First is a slightly more powerful 2.5L flat-four making 182 horsepower and 176 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s also marginally more efficient at 26 city and 33 highway mpg. A new 2.4L turbocharged flat-four is now the upgraded engine, producing 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy dips to 23/30 mpg. Again, both come with the same CVT and standard AWD.
A maximum tow rating of 3,500-lbs. comes with either of the two larger engines.
When it comes to performance, the chief virtues of the 2016 Subaru Outback lie in its quiet and calm on road manners and impressive AWD capabilities. While the CVT isn’t the worst offender when it comes to the typical “rubber band” feel of most CVTs, the Subaru transmission is still reluctant under hard acceleration. But that’s really a minor quibble. The 2.5L will satisfy most drivers (along with the superior fuel economy), but for those looking to tow or live in hillier areas of the country, the 3.6L’s extra power will be preferred. The standard AWD performs does an exemplary job in adverse road conditions and is a major attraction over other CUV options, most of which charge a few thousand for less capable systems.
The 2022 Outback builds on the strengths of the prior generation with a near-luxury level of placidness and that same impressive AWD at home in dirt or snow thanks to both X-Mode and Hill Decent Control. The CVT’s behavior is unchanged, for good and ill. But the turbocharged 2.4L offers an extra jolt of power, with less of a concession in fuel economy compared to the old 3.6L. There is some amount of body-roll present, thanks to the Outback’s 8.7-inches of ground clearance, but it’s not overly pronounced. The new Wilderness Edition, with its knobby off-road tires, skid plates, improved approach and departure angles, and robust cladding, is the Outback to get if you’re serious about taking the road less traveled.
While the 2022 Outback does feel a bit better and offer slightly improved fuel-economy, its differences in performance over the 2016 Outback are minor.
The 2016 Subaru Outback’s cabin is roomy, well laid out, and airy, the last thanks to the narrow A-pillars. Unlike many CUVs, the Outback is generous with rear seat room and offers a fairly cavernous cargo area measuring 35.5 cu. ft. behind the rear seats and 73.3 cu. ft. with them folded down. The dash and infotainment system are simply and logically laid out. The touchscreen interface comes in either 6.2- or 7-inch varieties. The resolution and response times are good. The premium Harmon Kardon stereo is one of the better audio upgrades available in a non-luxury vehicle.
The 2022 Outback keeps all the strengths of the 2016 and makes further strides. Materials are of a high quality and deployed with an impressive degree of aesthetic thoughtfulness. The seats are comfortable and forgiving, even on rougher roads (something neither the Bronco nor Wrangler can say). The 2022 improves on the seats over the 2016 by adding to optional front seat heating with ventilated front seats, heated rear seats as well as a heated steering wheel. The 2022 also gains 1.4-inches of rear seat legroom but give up a bit in initial cargo with 32.5 cu. ft. in back and a grand total of 75.7 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded down.
The most significant change is the new 11.6-inch infotainment screen in all but the base version of the 2022 model year. Clearly Subaru fell for participating in the ever-escalating screen-wars, erring on the side of too big versus not big enough. The result is a massive tablet-size screen housing everything from navigation and stereo functions to the HVAC controls. The latter of which really should, never, ever be relegated to a touchscreen interface. Worse, the new system is inconsistently laggy, with some vehicles experiencing little-to-no lag, while others exhibit an annoying delay between input and response, further exacerbated by cold weather. It’s the one flat note in an otherwise crisp effort from Subaru.
The 2016 Outback comes in three basic trims. The base 2.5i, the Premium, and the Limited 2.5i and Limited 3.6i (indicating the engine size). The base offers standard features like Bluetooth, HD radio, and a 6.2-inch infotainment touchscreen. The Premium adds items like fog lights, a power adjustable driver’s seat, and a 7-inch touchscreen. The top trim Limited adds the Harmon Kardon stereo, leather upholstery, interior wood accenting, and a power liftgate along with active safety features like blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts.
Starting at $26,945, the 2022 Outback offers a generous standard features array that includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, a 7-inch touchscreen, HD and satellite radio, and keyless entry. Standard safety features include forward collision warning, land departure warning, lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, adaptive LED headlights, automatic high beams, and a rearview camera.
The Premium trim adds a Wif-Fi hotspot, the 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen, heated front seats and additional safety options like blind spot monitoring and lane change assist. The Limited and Limited XT (again indicating the upgraded turbo 2.4L engine) add leather upholstery, the premium 12-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, as well as blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts. Options include a moonroof and navigation. The Onyx Edition adds black exterior accenting while the Wilderness Edition adds off-road centric features like increased ride height (up to 9.5-inches from the standard 8.7-inches), off-road tires, and additional body cladding and skit plates. The top trim Touring tops things off with ventilated front seats and a front-view camera.
When weighing whether to buy a new or used example of a vehicle, it’s often the case, given depreciation and the overall quality of automobiles built in the last 10-15 years, that the used one comes out slightly ahead. But there are cases, and the Subaru Outback is one instance, where the new version offers enough additional value to represent the better long-term deal.
The 2022 Subaru Outback’s pluses are many. The interior impresses with its thoughtful design and high-quality materials. Then there’s the improved fuel economy and the new Wilderness if you’re serious about taking your Outback on an overlanding adventure. And then there’s all the active safety technology that comes standard on the 2022 model.
The 2016 Outback has a lot to offer and is an excellent buy for anyone that wants a CUV with car-like handling and AWD. But, if you have the opportunity, we’d recommend going for the excellent 2022 model.