Bottom line: If you aren’t holding on to some cliched notion of “cool,” the Outback makes perfect sense for a family in need of reliable, thoroughly useful (check out the sub-floor rear storage compartment), safe, affordable, everyday and almost everywhere (symmetrical all-wheel drive with 8.7 inches of ground clearance) people-and-stuff hauler. This wagon is a true family friend.
Ride, acceleration and handling: The 2012 Outback gets very good marks in all three, more so in the 3.6R than in the 2.5i version. Power matters.
Head-turning quotient: The Outback is more an attractive marriage than a fancy wedding. In the long run, one means a heck of a lot more than the other.
Body style/layout: All Subaru vehicles sold in the United States are front-engine and all-wheel-drive. The 2012 Outback is a midsize wagon that pretends to be nothing else. It is available in six iterations — base, Premium and Limited in both the 2.5i and 3.6R versions.
Engines/transmissions: The Outback comes with two engines — a 2.5i flat (horizontally opposed cylinders) four generating a maximum 170 horsepower and 170 foot-pounds of torque and a 3.6-liter flat six with a maximum output of 256 horsepower and 247 foot pounds of torque. The 3.6R gets a standard five-speed automatic transmission that can also be shifted manually. The 2.5i gets a standard six-speed manual gearbox.
Capacities: There is comfortable seating for five adults in all versions of the 2012 Subaru Outback. Cargo space is a decent 34.3 cubic feet with the 60-40 split rear seats raised and 71.3 cubic feet with those seats folded. The fuel tank holds 18.5 gallons of gasoline (regular grade is recommended).
Mileage: The 3.6R Premium delivered 25 miles per gallon overall in heavy traffic on both highways and urban streets.
Safety: Standard equipment on the 3.6R Premium includes front and rear ventilated disc brakes, four-wheel anti-lock brake protection, emergency braking assistance, side and head air bags, electronic brake-force distribution; symmetrical all-wheel drive, and electronic stability and traction control.
Prices: Subaru Outback prices for the 2013 model year had not been released at this writing. But prices for the 2012 models range from $23,295 for the base Outback 2.5i to $31,695 for the 3.6R Limited. I expect that Subaru will pretty much hold the line on those prices in 2013. The Japan-based carmakers are in a price war in this country. If you are looking for a genuine passenger wagon, the Outback is hard to beat.