2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Review – Road Trip Reveals the Joy of Six Cylinders

By Steve & Tamami Laser 

Subaru continues to set new records in the showroom with sales passing the 500,000 mark for the first time in the U.S. last year. Subaru’s top sellers continue to be its trio of wagon-style crossovers – the Outback, Forester and XV Crosstrek. We’ve tested all three and recommend them for folks seeking the brand’s traditional virtues of standard all-wheel drive traction, car-like driving position, affordable pricing and reputation for durability.


Our favorite remains the Outback because we like its larger size. As previous owners of a midsize crossover from another brand, the Outback offers everything we need in a right-size package to transport our family of four (including our dogs). While the bulk of Outback sales remain the 4-cylinder models, we decided to go upmarket this time and test the 6-cylinder 3.6R.

The lineup includes the 4-cylinder 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited and top 6-cylinder 3.6R Limited all teamed with a new Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). Fours feature Subaru’s Boxer 2.5-liter engine with 175 horsepower and 174 lbs-ft of torque. The 3.6-liter Boxer six delivers 256 horses and 246 lbs-ft. Subaru offers the Outback in other markets with turbo-diesel fours (gas turbos are still available in the Forester, WRX and STI, of course). Yet if you crave more power in an Outback, the six is the only way to go for U.S. models.

Since we live at 1,200 feet above sea level, the extra power of the six was welcome in our daily drives up and down the hills. The smooth and powerful engine handled the steepest stretches with power to spare. To put it to the test we decided to leave our familiar surroundings and take a road trip to San Diego.

We took the coastal route, crossing the Vincent Thomas and Gerald Desmond bridges on the way to Long Beach then headed down Pacific Coast Highway to Huntington Beach were the speed limit in some stretches increases to 60 mph. After a relaxing lunch in Dana Point, we took the freeway the rest of the way.


We stayed in Carlsbad, a coastal town that offers attractions including the popular Legoland and miles of beautiful beaches to explore. Venturing onto the sand for a photo session, the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive and increased 8.7-inches of ground clearance handled it with ease.

A refined version of Active Torque Split Symmetrical AWD is standard on all Outbacks. The system’s electronically managed continuously variable transfer clutch actively controls torque distribution in response to driving conditions and wheel slippage. It optimizes traction and steering response when accelerating through turns and curves, particularly when the road is slippery.


All Outbacks also include the X-Mode system, which debuted on the Forester. When engaged by a switch on the console, X-Mode optimizes engine output and CVT ratio position, increases Active All-Wheel Drive engagement and uses enhanced control logic for the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system to reduce individual wheel spin.


X-Mode also activates new Hill Descent Control, which uses engine braking to help maintain a constant vehicle speed when traveling downhill. Incline Start Assist helps to minimize forward or backward vehicle rolling on inclines, and the electronic Hill Holder System holds the vehicle in place until the driver presses the accelerator pedal to pull away from a stop.

The Outback rides on a new platform for 2015 featuring a bit bolder styling along with a new front fascia and hexagonal grille. While Outback is only slightly larger, it feels bigger inside thanks to the windshield being pushed forward two inches at the base and higher seating hip points. Our 3.6R Limited tester included new standard HID low-beam headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels.


All Outbacks offer comfortable seating for five. Subaru discontinued its larger Tribeca crossover, so if you need more seats you’ll have to look elsewhere for now. Subaru does offer a larger Outback variant in Japan called Exiga Crossover 7, yet there’s no word whether it will come to the states.


Meanwhile Outback’s cargo area offers a generous 35.5 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up and an impressive 73.3 cu. ft. with them folded down. In addition, the load floor provided by the lowered seats now lays flatter, and new rear seatback release levers in the cargo area enhance convenience.


In the safety department, Outback has new front seat-cushion airbags bringing total airbag count to eight. Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are standard on 3.6R Limited. Our tester was equipped with Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist system that included Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-collision Braking, Vehicle Lane Departure Warning, new color stereo cameras and steering-responsive fog lights.


Luxurious interior trimmings on our tester included perforated leather upholstery, two-position driver’s side memory, heated front and rear seats, rear seat climate control vents and a superb harmon/kardon® audio system with 12 speakers and 576 watts. Options included a moonroof package, keyless access and push-button start, navigation and EyeSight.


All Outbacks gain a new infotainment system with a standard touch-screen display and backup camera. Our tester’s 7-inch screen offered multi-touch control with swipe, scrolling gesture control, and voice-activated controls, plus SiriusXM, SMS text messaging, iTunes tagging, and dual USB ports.

We had a very relaxing time during our weekend in San Diego and also enjoyed the long drive home. With a base price of $32,995, our 3.6R tester added options and destination bringing the bottom line to $36,835. Outback models start at $24,895 for the base 4-cylinder 2.5i.


We drove the Outback 3.6R more than 200 miles during the trip to San Diego and scored 23 mpg. Prior to the trip, 100 or so miles driving around town resulted in 20 mpg. That compares well to the last Outback that we tested two years ago, a 2.5i Premium 4-cylinder model, where we averaged 25 mpg. However, that model was based on the previous platform and didn’t have the updates of the new generation.

While we would welcome any Outback into our family, the road trip confirmed that the joy of six cylinders is worth the price.

2015 Subaru Outback press fleet vehicle provided by Subaru of America. (Prices and vehicle information apply to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All information including prices, features and specifications is subject to change without notice by the automaker.)

Story, photos and videos © 2015 CarNichiWa.com