If there is one thing Subaru can never be accused of, it’s trying to fit in with the crowd. The pragmatic Japanese automaker is not interested in gimmicks or fads and seems to know that it doesn’t need to be the next Toyota or Honda to achieve success. Although certainly capable of producing duds (the pug-nosed B9 Tribeca) and cult-classics (the track-favorite WRX and WRX STI), Subaru excels at making exceedingly competent, and often wagon-shaped, cars. And no vehicle serves as a better example of this than the Subaru Outback. Few cars available today combine the reliability, space, comfort and pragmatism of the 4th generation Outback, one of Subaru’s all-time best sellers. Only available on the used market now, this generation of Outback is an adaptable vehicle, able to work with its driver to produce and withstand rugged adventures and produce great experiences. Take a look at the history of the 4th-gen Outback and see if a used Subaru Outback is right for you.
87 months. That’s seven years and 5 months. Starting in November of 2011, the Prince of England had just been married – Prince William that is. The Subaru Rally Team USA had just won its sixth Driver’s Title for Rally America. The presidential primaries were heating up and Mitt Romney looked like an early front-runner to challenge incumbent Barack Obama. Tesla hadn’t yet released its now-prominent Model S but was building hype. The Twilight Saga film series was captivating theater audiences. In November 2011, Subaru experienced a good sales month and year-over-year growth was up. The same thing happened in March 2019. Subaru was having a good streak, for its 87th-straight month.
That Subaru sales streak has gotten some press, but outside of the automotive world this incredible feat has gone largely unnoticed. You can bet that it would be national news if Chevy, Toyota or BMW was on such an unbelievable sales streak. Yet Subaru trudges on, bucking trends and market instability to consistently improve for nearly seven and a half years.
Nothing has been as integral to Subaru’s success as the Outback. The model has surpassed 100,000 units sold every year since 2011 and cleared the 175,000-unit bar in 2016, 2017, and 2018. No other Subaru comes close to the Outback in terms of popularity. If and when the streak ends, many at Subaru will be grateful for the role the Outback played in such a tremendous run.
If one were to look for a point in which the Outback went to a segment leader, they would pinpoint the arrival of the 4th-gen Outback in 2009. Although still based on the Legacy sedan frame, this generation of Outback was much more of an SUV than its predecessor. Ground clearance increased an inch (8.3 inches) and overall height increased over 2 inches (65.7 inches). The wheelbase grew by 3.5 inches (107.9 inches) and the Outback became much wider as well (71.7 inches).
One key element that this generation of Outback retained was the lower side body cladding. In addition to making the Outback look more like an SUV, the plastic body cladding serves a practical purpose in preventing door dings and deflecting dirt and rocks from the less resilient paint. Also retained was the retractable roof luggage rack, perfect for outdoors enthusiasts or road trippers in need of more space.
Under the hood, the Outback became the 9th Subaru to offer a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. Also known as a single-speed transmission, a CVT does not shift up gears like a traditional automatic and allows to engine to consistently achieve its greatest horsepower ratio. A five-speed automatic transmission is also available. The Outback was offered with two engines:
The second year for the 4th-generation is marked by Subaru upsizing its largest vehicle to fit new crossover SUV standards. This helped to them winning the 2010 Motor Trend SUV of the year. The roof-mounted luggage rack now has rails that swing in and out of place for use, reducing drag and wind-noise. The ownership costs went down significantly as the Outback moves to regular fuel – the previous generation required premium petrol. The Outback was also strategically priced – base models went for around $23,000 and the top-of-the-line trims still won’t break the bank, as Outback prices never crossed the $35,000 mark. Now adays you can find these for roughly half that price. These low prices are passed down into the used market and also present a terrific value proposition to buyers. How many cars with premium sound systems, leather seats, and navigation systems sell for under $35,000 when brand new?
Subaru doesn’t compromise on safety or features to keep base model prices on the low end. All Outbacks come equipped with ABS, traction control and a full-suite of airbags. Features-wise, power mirrors and cruise control offer the basic necessities that many competitors skip. Combine all of this and the next time you see a used Subaru Outback for sale it may be worth a look at.
Only a couple years after a full re-design means that not many major updates were made for 2011. Two significant technology updates did occur, however. First, XM radio becomes a standard feature. And secondly the Power Moonroof Package is expanded to include a rear vision camera. Unlike most cameras, which are displayed in the dash, the Outback’s camera is integrated as a 3.3-inch display in the rearview mirror. Foldaway side mirrors also become standard making it easier to protect them on busy streets.
Audiophiles will like the 2012 model. Outback Premium models get a new standard stereo featuring six speakers, a USB port, an auxiliary input jack, iPod control capability and Bluetooth connectivity. Limited models get a nine-speaker Harmon/Kordon system on top of the Premium’s features. The cold weather package and alloy wheel package are tied together on 4-cylinder models.
2013 was a big year for the Outback. It was time for a mid-cycle refresh, which generally makes these used Subaru Outbacks a crowd-pleaser for people looking for SUVs. The engineers at Subaru had to be careful with this one – they had obviously found a formula that worked but also knew that the Outback needed some updates to stay competitive. The key to the re-design was expanding and perfecting the attributes that Outback customers loved. This meant a roomier interior, terrific engine line-up and terrific gas mileage. New front-end styling improves the Outback’s overall profile and the CVT transmission is also significantly upgraded. The highlight of the refresh, however, is the addition of Subaru’s EyeSight System. EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision braking. These advancements can decrease the risk of a rear-end collision by up to 85%. To put into perspective how great this feature is, by 2019, EyeSight was standard on every new Subaru sold.
After a significant refresh in 2013 and an all-new Outback on the horizon, not much changes for 2014. the Outback Premium gains an All-Weather Package with standard heated front seats, mirrors and windshield wipers. By 2014, the base price for a new Outback rose from $23,000 to $24,000 and Premium and Limited models now command over $32,000. The 2014 model goes into the sunset having set new standards for success in the Outback. And up until this point Subaru never saw a dip in sales during the vehicle’s 5-year run, keeping that streak alive.
With 2014 being the end of the 4th generation Subaru was ready to make some major upgrades and a new generation started with the 2015 model year. If a six-year run seems short to you, you’re probably right. Most vehicle will go closer to 8 years between full-redesigns. Two likely culprits emerge as the reasoning behind such a short life span. First, the model the Outback is based on, the Legacy sedan, received a full-redesign and architecture tweaks this model year. Keeping the Outback’s old architecture would have been prohibitively expensive. Second, the cross-over market is extremely competitive and models need to consistently upgrade and improve to stay in the market. Luckily the Outback regularly achieves this and make finding a used Subaru Outback much easier than some other brands.