Subaru is proud to be different.
As Ted Lalka, Canadian vice-president of product planning and marketing puts it, Subaru is “an attractive alternative to the mainstream brands.”
What makes the Japanese automaker different? For one, all of its models come standard with Subaru’s acclaimed symmetrical all-wheel drive system. And, being a relatively small automaker, Subaru is able to do a lot with a little, spinning several models off the same platform.
An example is the 2013 Subaru Outback and Legacy models, both very successful vehicles with combined sales of about 10,000 units a year (about 70 per cent Outback) in Canada last year.
The mid-size Legacy sedan and the Outback crossover SUV that combines car-like handling and SUV versatility have undergone extensive changes for 2013—the first major facelifts for them since the last full model change in 2010.
Chief among the updates is a more powerful and more fuel-efficient power plant—a 2.5-litre DOHC boxer four-cylinder engine that replaces a SOHC 2.5-litre boxer four-cylinder.
Power jumps to 173 hp from 170 and torque rises to 174 lb/ft from 170. Combined with a new CVT transmission, the Outback now accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 9.6 seconds and the Legacy in 9.3 seconds compared with 10.2 and 9.5 seconds respectively in the outgoing models.
Meanwhile, fuel economy has been improved eight per cent across the board, with the Outback now rated at 8.6/6.5L/100 km city/hwy and the Legacy 8.4/6.0L.100 km city/hwy with the CVT.
The Legacy is also offered with a six-speed manual transmission on the Base and Touring trims, while the top-level Limited gets a five-speed automatic, paired with either the 2.5-litre four banger or a 256 hp 3.6-litre boxer six-cylinder engine.
Prices start at $23,495 for the Base model with manual transmission, down $500 from last year. Add $1,300 for the CVT. At the top end, a Limited-trim Legacy with the EyeSight driver assistance system (more about that later) is priced at $36,195.
The Outback starts at $28,495 for the 2.5i Convenience with six-speed manual or $29,795 for the automatic. At the top trim level, an Outback Limited with the 3.6-litre engine and EyeSight option is priced at $39,995.
On the styling front, the Legacy has a stronger, sharper look while the Outback has a more aggressive appearance. All this results from new headlight, grille and front bumper re-dos. Inside, both models have a higher quality feel with new seat fabric and wood trim elements available.
Drivability of both vehicles has also been improved through increased body stiffness and chassis improvements, resulting in reduced body roll, better handling and ride quality. Subaru says body roll has been reduced 40 per cent on the Outback and ride comfort is now on par with sedans like the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry thanks to suspension tuning and additional body reinforcement. In addition, the Outback has 220 mm of ground clearance if you have a need to do any off-road driving or travel rough cottage trails.
During a brief ride-and-drive, we had an opportunity to take a 2.5i Outback as well as a 3.6R Outback out for short jaunts. The 3.6R was a Limited trim level with the EyeSight option and it was noticeably quieter and peppier than the four-cylinder model with the continuously variable transmission, which exhibited the familiar whine and high rev level that is common with CVTs.
We didn’t venture off city streets or high-speed highways enough to really judge the handling, but testing of the new models by Consumer Reports magazine ranks both the Legacy and Outback at the top of the list with “excellent” ratings in an emergency-handling maneuver.
Subaru says floor vibration tests show the ride quality of the new Outback is now on par with the Legacy sedan. From my brief time in the vehicles, I can say that the ride level certainly was comfortable and the interiors are a step ahead of previous models.
The 2013 Outback also gets a 5 Star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) in the U.S.
Subaru is offering its new EyeSight driver assistance option only on Limited trim models of the Legacy and Outback for 2013. It will be rolled out in other models in the future. Subaru says the system assists the driver in making decisions for more safe and comfortable driving and to reduce driver fatigue.
The EyeSight feature has shown to have a high “take rate” in Japan since its introduction there in 2010 as it now represents more than 90 per cent of total sales in recent months.
In short, the system uses twin stereo cameras mounted on either side of the rearview mirror to provide a suite of driver assist functions including:
• pre-collision braking
• pre-collision brake assist
• pre-collision throttle management
•adaptive cruise control
• lane departure warning
• lane sway warning
• lead vehicle start alert.
The characteristics of the camera views are similar to the human eye in that they recognize objects, while other similar vehicle systems that use radar simply detect them without differentiating between vehicles and pedestrians, for example.
The cameras do have a limited range and cannot detect vehicles coming from, say, cross streets and will not work in poor lighting conditions or at night.
We were given an opportunity to test the EyeSight system in a closed environment and it does work well. For example, when the probability of a rear-end collision is very high, a “beep…beep…beep noise” is sounded and maximum deceleration is automatically applied to avoid a collision or at least reduce the severity.
The system first activates braking and if the driver depresses the brake pedal, EyeSight determines that this is emergency braking and activates braking assist.
In our test we drove toward a barrier at 30 km/h, took our foot off the accelerator at a pre-determined point, steered straight ahead and the let the system do its job. In all cases, it stopped just before the barrier.
Pre-collision throttle control comes into play when an object is detected in front of the vehicle. If the system determines that the accelerator pedal is depressed more than the necessary amount, EyeSight restricts engine output to ensure the start is slow and gradual to allow the driver time to react and brake.
Adaptive speed control maintains a pre-set distance behind the vehicle ahead, while lane departure warns the driver that the vehicle is about to leave the designated lane. A lane sway warning is issued when the system detects the driver is tired, not concentrating on the road or not paying attention to driving by analyzing driving data from the previous several minutes. Lead vehicle start alert lets out a beep when the vehicle ahead pulls away.
The EyeSight driver support system comes with a special information display screen in front of the driver in the meter cluster.
The 2013 Outback is on sale now, the Legacy in August.
Subaru Outback 2013
Body Style: mid-size crossover SUV.
Drive Method: front-engine, all-wheel drive.
Engine: 2.5-litre DOHC boxer four-cylinder (173 hp, 174 lb/ft of torque); 3.6-litre DOHC six-cylinder boxer engine (256 hp, 247 lb/ft of torque).
Fuel Economy: 2.5L four-cylinder 6MT 9.8/7.0L/100 km city/hwy, CVT automatic transmission 8.6/6.5; 3.6L six-cylinder five-speed automatic 11.8/8.2.
Cargo Capacity: 2,019 with 60/40 split folding rear seats down.
Towing Capacity: 1,360 kg (with trailer brakes added).
Price: 2.5i Convenience $28,495; 2.5i Convenience with PZEV option $30,495; 2.5i Touring $31,095; 2.5i Limited $36,295; 3.6R $34,495; 3.6R Limited $38,495; 3.6R Limited with EyeSight $39,995 plus freight and PDI of $1,695.