New Outback model merges luxury, typical Subaru performance

Subaru makes an upscale turn in its versatile 2017 Outback SUV with a new Touring model that includes every feature as standard equipment and adds an expensive-looking interior, so much so that the leather seats with ivory-colored contrast stitching would look at home inside a pricey Range Rover SUV.

The five-passenger Touring model also comes with the newest Subaru safety equipment, like lane-keep assist and reverse automatic braking that can stop the vehicle from backing up if rear sensors detect an obstacle behind.

The Touring model's leather-wrapped steering wheel is heated, as are the front seats with perforated leather, and it's the only Outback where an onboard navigation system and the full suite of Subaru safety features are standard.

The 2017 Outback is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where reliability is predicted to be average. It also earned five out of five stars for occupant protection in frontal and side crash tests from the federal government — the same top score the Outback has had since the 2013 model year.

The five-door SUV has the highest base starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of all 2017 Subarus — $26,520. That gets a buyer all-wheel drive, cloth seats and a 175-horsepower, four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic, as well as useful features such as keyless entry, cruise control and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity..

The top-of-the-line Outback Touring is positioned above the previous top Outback, and carries a lofty MSRP plus destination charge of $36,870 with the 175-horsepower four cylinder. The starting retail price rises to $39,070 with a 256-horsepower, six-cylinder engine that is also mated to a CVT.

While reaching into luxury car territory, such prices still are competitive with many mid-size SUVs that have luxury appointments and all-wheel drive.

For example, an all-wheel drive 2016 Ford Edge SEL, which is about the same length as the Outback and has a similar 73-plus cubic feet of cargo space, is priced at $37,985 with leather seats, a 245-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder, blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert added on. Yet, the 2017 Outback with its naturally aspirated, horizontally opposed, four-cylinder engine and CVT is more fuel efficient than the Edge and many other mid-size SUV — and the 10th best in gasoline mileage among non-hybrid 2017 SUVs.

The federal government estimates the 2017 Outback's fuel mileage at 25 miles a gallon in city driving and 32 mpg on highways with the four cylinder. This is akin to the mileage of a 2017 Hyundai Tucson, which is a smaller SUV. The test Outback Touring model averaged 24 mpg on mostly on city streets for a noteworthy travel range of more than 440 miles on an 18.5-gallon tank.

The Touring model doesn't look dramatically different from other Outbacks despite the cosmetic updates of more outer chrome, new wheels, a dark gray grille insert and lower-profile roof rack. Nothing is changed in the suspension, engines or transmission, either, so the ride on pavement and off-road trails is typical of an Outback.

The Touring has the same 8.7 inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive for travel in inclement conditions, be it snow or tree debris from a rainstorm.

Engine noise intruded in the interior, but only when the 2.5-liter, double overhead cam four-cylinder was pressed hard for power. The CVT behaved as if it was a regular automatic.

The back seat is usable for five adults, and the Outback cargo floor is lower than that in most SUVs, which makes loading items easy.

There have been three U.S. safety recalls involving 2017 Outbacks since May involving steering, brakes and a knee bracket designed to keep a driver properly positioned during a crash.