A super-sized Subaru, stuffed for the holiday

2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited (Subaru)
By Warren Brown
Sunday, December 6, 2009

CORNWALL, N.Y. The road was clogged with cars, trucks and law enforcement vehicles winding in and out of the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets mall near here. It was a miserable end to an otherwise pleasant drive up the Palisades Interstate Parkway to the New York State Thruway to Interstate 87 North, where, somewhere near Exit 14, life became an interminable crawl, a holiday turned to entrapment among sale-crazed consumers heading toward the checkout counters in the sprawling shopping complex.

It was madness we had hoped to avoid, planned carefully to escape.

Thanksgiving dinner at our oldest daughter's house in Cornwall, a few miles above the Woodbury shopping center, was happiness filled with family, friends and fine food.

Dinner started and ended late. But that was okay. Transportation was in the driveway, including this week's subject mobile, the 2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited.

We ate, talked and drank (tea for me, the designated driver) until our hearts and bellies were content. We had spied the Woodbury shopping forces building in and around Interstate 87 as early as 5:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. But we weren't worried. They were heading north. We would be driving south after dinner, returning our guests to their homes in Manhattan and Brooklyn. We thought the shoppers would be gone by the time we returned to Cornwall in the wee hours Friday morning.

It was a fantasy aided by the longer, wider, more accommodating version of the Subaru Outback in our possession -- an all-wheel-drive wagon morphing toward sport-utility-vehicle status.

We'd earlier debated the wisdom of Subaru's adoption of the bigger-is-better approach, which the ever-so-practical Japanese automobile manufacturer had long eschewed. But with five well-fed adult passengers and their luggage in tow, the larger dimensions of the new Outback proved a good fit -- good enough for one of our guests to fall comfortably asleep until we parked in front of her Brooklyn home. We were at peace. All was right with the world.

The return drive from Brooklyn to Cornwall was pleasant enough in the beginning. By now, we had put nearly 800 miles on the Outback 3.6R Limited, driving from Northern Virginia to Cornwall, and driving to and from New York City. We liked the new wagon. Its ride and overall passenger comfort were much improved over that of its 2009-model siblings, one of which our family owns. There discernibly was more space. There also appeared to be more attention to detail in the new wagon in the matter of interior fit and finish.

The 256-horsepower, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine in the tested Outback 3.6R Limited was more fun to drive than the 170-horsepower, flat 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine in the 2009 Outback we own.

But at 25 miles per gallon on the highway in the 3.6 R Limited, compared with 26 mpg for the four-cylinder version, fuel-economy in the larger Outback remained decent.

And so we were happy -- with the Outback 3.6R Limited and with the way we had spent our holiday weekend -- until we reached the vicinity of Exit 14 on I-87 North, returning from Brooklyn.

There we were, caught in a trap of metal, rubber and tailpipe exhaust. Unbelievable! We're talking a 1:30 a.m. traffic jam the morning after Thanksgiving -- a stoppage that surpassed anything on the Capital Beltway at home or on California's Pacific Coast Highway.

We crawled from Exit 14 to Exit 16 for three hours. We returned to Cornwall convinced that the Almighty had played a joke on us. That morning after Thanksgiving, we were the turkeys.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company