2010 Subaru Outback Limited — Review

© 2014 Peter Free



18 May 2014



This updates a review originally written on 31 January 2012.


After about 77,000 miles, this is not as good a car as I first thought


My May 2014 update to this review dings the Outback for its maintenance costs and poor repair design in some instances.



From a performance perspective, the 2010 Subaru Outback remains an excellent car for snow, ice, and heavy rain country



Subarus have a reputation for being tops for economically sensible utility and reliability under difficult climatic conditions.



I listed the brand’s general virtues in my review of the 2003 Forester, here.






I have owned more than 40 cars and trucks over the years and driven many more.



The 2010 Outback retains most of the performance pluses that I attributed to the 2003 Forester.  It adds very much improved comfort, at a noticeable decrease in rally-like handling.




The “new” body design (in 2010) is larger than Subaru’s previous small station wagon look



Subaru increased the size and height of the Forester and Outback in 2010.



As a result of its redesign, the 2010 Outback, especially, is much more comfortable than the previous smaller versions.   Two of our tallest friends (one a long-time fan of Chevrolet’s Tahoe and Suburban) enthusiastically volunteered how impressed they were at the Outback’s comfort level, even in the back seat.



On the negative side, the higher center of gravity and softened suspension in the Outback contributes noticeably increased body roll.  Subjectively, this gives me a lessened sense of precision in driving.



Whether the car is actually inferior to the 2003 Forester in handling, I don’t know.  But, even after four years with it, I don’t have the rally-quick handling confidence in it that I did in the older car.




Speaking of “Americanized” — the Outback compared to 2010 Chevy Equinox



I had my wife look at Chevrolet’s Equinox.  After driving it, we agreed the Chevy is a really nice car.



But there was not a single area in which the 2010 Equinox equaled the Subaru for her purposes.  The Outback’s handling, fit and finish, and overall quality feel were subtly, but noticeably, superior.



Since the Chevrolet cost more in our comparison, she bought the American-built Outback.  She has had no regrets.







Continuous all-wheel drive



The Outback’s all-time all-wheel drive handles any kind of normally encountered driving conditions in snow and ice country (Colorado, Wyoming, and Oklahoma) with confidence.



It has been driven in snow, extreme winds, white-outs, fog, black ice, and torrential rains without a glitch.



Most impressive is Subaru’s ability to handle ice at melting temperature, even on hills.  When we lived in Oklahoma, the state’s notorious ice storms frequently laid 10 centimeters (4 inches) of ice on our uphill driveway.  The ice would get so slick that it was literally impossible to walk up it, without descending to all fours.  The Outback (and the Forester before it) both breezed up the icy incline, even when it was at its most slippery.



Fuel economy ─ 27 to 29 mpg in all around driving



With the four-cylinder engine, fuel economy over the two years that we’ve owned the Outback has averaged 27.4 to 29.4 miles per gallon, even at altitude in the Rocky Mountain West.



Pure highway driving returns about 31 to 33 mpg, depending on the speed limit.



Reliability – here is where I ding the car after 77,000 miles


There were no problems at 44,000 miles, other than the 2 recalls discussed below.


But by 76,600 miles, we had paid through the nose for:


30,000 mile maintenance — $290


60,000 mile maintenance — $802


fixing a defective fog light wiring harness — $115




were about to replace both front suspension struts because they were leaking and the car was noticeably less firm on bumps — $853 estimate


In addition to these costs, silly repair design bugs me.


For example, I had to replace a headlight lowbeam bulb — during a snow storm and kneeling in freezing water — by going in through the right front wheel well and working in a crush zone enclosure designed by people with apparently the sole intent of making the job ridiculously difficult.  The Subaru service advisor admitted that this is an annoying job, even for their mechanics.




For the mechanically inclined, the lowbeam bulb is replaced by partially removing the plastic wheel well liner, which is attached with 2-piece pronged plastic clips.  About 50 percent of them break during the process.


By way of forewarning, Subaru likes to use about three different kinds of these on its vehicles’ front and rear panel assemblies.  This means that most of us will not be able to prepare for the job by buying new clips.  We will need to remove them first to see which type they are.  That drags out the repair process.



In the old days, we did all this with reusable screws and bolts, which were also easier to remove and get back in.


Once the well liner is open, you have to fold it back on itself, using the tire as a stop.  The bulb assembly is located between the braces of the car’s crush zone.  It has a difficult to remove rear cap that you cannot see while you are working on it.  Once the water cap is off, you have to remove the bulb carrier and its wiring by feel — again without being able to see anything.


The replacement process is harder because you have to do all this still blind and without touching the new bulb.


In fairness to Subaru, I suspect that most manufacturers approach these engineering problems the same way.  It makes the Service Department very profitable, so there is no down side to design stupidity.





Subarus consistently do well in safety considerations.



This one arguably saved my wife’s life.  A large deer  jumped in front of her from the grassy median.  At the last instant, the animal leaped up, impacting the upper left windshield at about 60 mph.



Its body passed along the left side of the vehicle, shattering all the glass on that side.  The windshield, however, remained intact.



Though the Outback suffered about $4,000 worth of damage, neither car occupant was significantly injured.



I mention this because fatalities under circumstances of this kind are not unusual, when the animals make it through the windshield and into the passenger compartment.







Less than perfect initial assembly quality



This car was built at Subaru’s American plant.  It came with two defects.  Half the plastic clips that hold the rear bumper molding cover in place had not been installed, leading to a thrumming sound at 70 mph.  And the retractor on the middle seatbelt in the back was not working properly.



Two minor recalls



The car has been subject to 2 minor recalls.  One for the apparently unlikely possibility that the wiper motor would overheat.  And the other for the possibility that the wiring in the steering column would crack and stop working.  Both were fixed, while we waited at the dealership.




Things to be aware of — CVT characteristics in relation to mountain driving



The Outback uses a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).  This boosts gasoline mileage over the conventional automatic in the older Forester.  But for people accustomed to ordinary automatics, it can be disconcerting how little the car decelerates in rolling up to stop lights or down mountain hills.



Consequently, one has to brake much sooner than with non-variable transmissions, even when those are equipped with overdrives.



For that reason, the transmission incorporates a parallel “manual” shifting system.  You access this function by moving the console shift lever to its left-side “M” detent.  The transmission then allows the driver to shift up and down, using paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.  Control in mountain driving is excellent.




Overall ─ good performing car for snow country, but arguably more expensive to maintain to be considered a great value



Although I liked the rally car (skateboard-like) persona of the 2003 Forester better, the larger much more comfortable 2010 Outback is a more attractive choice for most Americans.  Changing the tires on the Outback — from its stock Continentals to Michelin Defenders — made a favorable difference in handling.



On the other hand, our sample of the Outback has been a bit too expensive to maintain to impress me.  And I don’t like (a) the foolish design that impedes easy headlamp replacement or (b) the working with the breakable clips that hold panel assemblies together.



In fairness, these qualities probably characterize most cars manufactured today. Manufacturers are rewarded for poor design by increased servicing profits.