By Steve & Tamami Laser
We’ve been very fortunate to test a wide variety of vehicles over the years. The typical loan from a vehicle manufacturer lasts seven days. When we attend new model previews, the test period is shorter. Sometimes it’s a day or two, or even a couple of hours.
The reason, of course, is that automakers’ press fleets have limited numbers of vehicles. In the Southern California region for example, hundreds of journalists compete for seat time. A week-long loan gives us the chance to drive several hundred miles on different roads, scout locations for photography, and take plenty of notes.
What it doesn’t do is provide an insight into the actual ownership experience. What’s it like to buy or lease this car? How does the dealer treat customers before and after the sale? How much do we have to pay for maintenance? How reliable is the vehicle over the long haul?
So we decided to conduct a long-term test. We would lease a car and pay for it from our own pocket. Once we decided on a model, we would select a dealership, arrive unannounced, choose a vehicle from inventory, negotiate a deal, sign the papers, and drive it home.
We decided to pick a vehicle that we previously tested for a week. The timing was perfect since we recently sold our ten-year-old Toyota Highlander, reducing our personal fleet to one car, our 11-year-old Honda Accord. We wanted something with more cargo space than a sedan, yet we don’t need three rows of seats. We decided to lease a Subaru Outback.
This video highlights the first two weeks of ownership starting at the dealership. Join us as we highlight Outback features inside and out, then take it for a drive on our local country roads.
We searched the web for the closest dealer and headed to Subaru Pacific in Torrance, Calif. We wanted to lease an Outback similar to our previous test car, the 3.6R Limited. The dealer was offering lease specials on 4-cylinder models. We’ve tested Subaru’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Boxer engine before in the Legacy sedan and Forester wagon, so we’re familiar with its character.
We live at 1,200 feet above sea level, so we drive up and down steep hills every day. Our Accord and previous Highlander had V6 engines that handled the climb with ease. We decided to lease the 4-cylinder Outback to stay within our budget of $400 per month max. The majority of Outback sales are 4-cylinder models.
Our salesperson, Jeff, was a good listener and presented a vehicle that we liked. It’s a 2016 Outback 2.5i Limited that just arrived at the dealership. It was parked in the back lot wearing its factory wrapper. With 12 miles on the odometer, it was as fresh as the day it was built at Subaru’s factory in Lafayette, Ind. We liked the Twilight Blue Metallic exterior color and tan leather-trimmed seats.
With a base price of $30,695, the Outback Limited is well equipped. This car has “Option Package 23” adding features like a power moonroof, Navigation Infotainment System, keyless access with push-button start, and Subaru’s EyeSight Driver-Assist System. A Popular Package, rear cargo net and destination brought the bottom line to $35,415. Outback prices start around $24,995 for those who can live without all these extra luxury goodies.
We finalized a 36-month lease deal, signed the papers in the F&I office, and waited while the car was prepped for delivery. The whole process took about four hours. Everyone that we spoke with, including the sales manager, was patient and professional. We also liked the atmosphere of this dealer with its dog-friendly customer lounge.
During delivery, Jeff took extra time to conduct a thorough walkaround of our Outback with us and explain how to operate its features. It was dark when we were ready to roll, so we drove our new Outback home. It handled its first journey up the hill with ease as we enjoyed the fragrant new-car aroma. The next day we woke up without the dreaded buyer’s remorse that often accompanies a new vehicle purchase. It was time to go for a drive.
Outback was treated to a new platform when it was redesigned last year. Styling upgrades include a new front fascia and hexagonal grille. It feels larger inside than its predecessor due to the windshield moved forward two inches at its base plus higher seating hip points.
We like the elevated seating position compared to a regular car. Outback has an amazing 8.7-inches of ground clearance. The rear seat is comfortable and offers good visibility. We checked every nook and cranny of the car inside and out looking for flaws and didn’t find any. The folks at the Subaru plant in Lafayette did an excellent job building this car.
Pardon the pun, but there’s plenty of space out back. With 35.5 cu. ft. behind the rear seats and 73.3 with the seats lowered, the load floor is nearly flat and swallows bulky gear with ease. Access is simple thanks to a power tailgate on our Limited model. It can be opened using a button on the dash, the key fob, or a switch above the license plate pocket.
Our Outback is ready for the great outdoors with roof rails and retractable cross bars, all-weather floor mats (we also received a set of regular carpeted mats), rear seatback protector, splash guards and rear bumper upper cover.
Subaru’s signature horizontally opposed Boxer engine puts out 175 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s teamed with a standard Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission with manual mode and handy paddle “shifters.” We’ve been using them in our daily drives and like the way it replicates “shifts” from the belt-driven CVT.
Although we’ve only travelled briefly on gravel and dirt surfaces during the first month, Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and standard Active Torque Vectoring inspire confidence on- and off-road. We had an unusual downpour one day and made a beeline for the Subaru, leaving our Accord in the garage. The Outback handles wet-weather driving like a world-class athlete.
We’ve tested more than 500 cars in our time, yet this is the first one we’ve actually owned that’s equipped with a factory installed navigation system. The 7-inch touchscreen is bright and easy to read, and offers multi-touch gesture controls, like a smartphone or tablet, plus voice command.
Our car has the Subaru Starlink Multimedia Plus system with Bluetooth hands-free SMS text messaging, dual USB ports, and SiriusXM® All Access Radio plus SiriusXM Travel Link® and Traffic. (The first four months of SiriusXM services are free.)
The forecast looks good, so we opened the sunroof and enjoyed the great sound from our Harman Kardon® 575-watt Surround 12-speaker audio system as we cruised the beach cities.
The center console is large enough to hold an iPad®. There’s a covered storage bin in the front console, while the two USB ports make it possible to listen to music and charge two connected devices.
During the first month, we had to take our new chariot back to the dealer once. We noticed an unusual squealing noise while driving on our local roads. We checked all the fluids, turned the air conditioning on and off, one of us stood outside the car while the other revved the engine, and we couldn’t isolate the source of the noise.
We made an appointment with the Service Department and were greeted by a friendly service advisor. She wrote our description of the noise on a repair order. A technician would investigate and she would give us a call to discuss the results. She kept her promise and called to let us know that the culprit was a faulty external drive belt. They had a replacement in stock and we got our car back in just a couple of hours. She called the next day to follow-up and make sure we were satisfied.
We’ve driven our Outback about 600 miles. We’re happy with the vehicle and customer handling skills from the staff at Subaru Pacific. Yet the real test is yet to come. We’ll be taking notes and posting updates periodically during our remaining 35-month test-drive. We’re ready to load up our dogs and gear and head for the highway. Where will our Outback take us next?
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The Outback test car in this story is privately leased by the editorial staff of CarNichiWa.com.
Story, photos, and videos © 2016 CarNichiWa.com