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Subaru Outback Through The Years

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The Subaru Outback’s generations have always marched to the beat of a different drum. Let’s go back to when Subaru started this path less traveled.

The Subaru Outback generation has always marched to the beat of a different drummer. Today, in the sea of ubiquitous SUVs, the Outback continues to provide a unique and powerful option for the adventurous individual and family. Let’s remember back when Subaru started us on this journey of a path less traveled.

First Generation (1995 – 1999)

1997 Subaru Legacy Outback - carsforsale.com

1997 Subaru Legacy Outback – carsforsale.com  |  Shop Subaru Legacy on Carsforsale.com

The Subaru Legacy wagon was the foundation for the first of the Subaru Outback generations. Designed by Mitsubishi designer Olivier Boulay, the Outback has mostly cosmetic additions to the Legacy wagon. However, Subaru started something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

  • Assembled in Japan and Indiana.
  • The 1st generation Subaru Outback was based on the Subaru Legacy.
  • The differences between the Legacy and Outback were mainly cosmetic.
  • Protective plastic side body cladding was introduced for off-road protection.
  • The “Legacy Outback” name was shortened to “Outback” for the first time in Australia.
  • A raised roof, suspension changes to increase ground clearance, and 155 HP, 2.5-liter engine were added in 1995.
  • The 1995 Outback sales increased substantially with Crocodile Dundee actor Paul Hogan starring in an ad campaign.
  • In 1997, a sedan version called a Sport Utility Sedan (SUS) was launched as an experiment in the New England area and later sold nationwide.

Second Generation (2000 – 2004)

2002 Subaru Outback - carsforsale.com

2002 Subaru Outback – carsforsale.com  |  Shop Subaru Outback on Carsforsale.com

In May of 1999, the second Subaru Outback generation was launched in the United States. The Outback also won its first of many awards, the Automotive Researchers’ and Journalists’ Conference Car of the Year award in Japan.

  • For the 2000 model year, the Subaru Outback SUS became a standard model in the lineup, called the Outback sedan.
  • A new multilink suspension improved the ride.
  • The 2nd generation Outback grew longer and wider.
  • Subaru introduced a 3.0 liter flat six-cylinder engine.
  • A new variable torque distribution drivetrain increased performance on all surfaces by sending power to the wheels with traction.
  • For the first time, the Subaru Outback was co-branded with Maine retailer LL Bean.

Third Generation (2005 – 2009)

2005 Subaru Outback - carsforsale.com
2005 Subaru Outback - carsforsale.com

The third-generation Outback, shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2003, lost the “Legacy” name and was officially named Outback across the world. Subaru used Lance Armstrong as their spokesman, and Cheryl Crow’s song “Long and Winding Road” became the music for brand advertising. Crossovers were becoming the darling of the automotive market, and Subaru offered something different by embracing performance and utility.

  • The Subaru Outback sedan was discontinued in 2007.
  • The 3rd generation Outback grew longer, wider, and lighter.
  • The Subaru Outback XT received a turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four that produced 250 horses and 250 lb-ft of torque taken from the WRX.
  • The 2005 model introduces a PZEV badge for Partial Zero Emission Vehicle certified engines, further cementing Subaru as an eco-friendly brand.
  • Drivers could select sporty or efficient driving engine modes for the first time.
  • More options for monochromatic paint schemes were offered.
  • The LL Bean edition was discontinued.
  • The Outback received a new, more upscale design to compete in a changing market.

Fourth Generation (2010 – 2014)

2011 Subaru Outback - subaru.com
2011 Subaru Outback - subaru.com

With the introduction of a new non-turbo six-cylinder, this new Subaru Outback generation became a more mature and more capable adventure focused crossover. It’s growing, but still, manageable size provided a successful alternative to the growing crossover segment.

  • Subaru made the Outback a standard brand name worldwide.
  • The 2010 Subaru Outback was 2 inches wider and 4 inches taller with shorter width of less than an inch.
  • The wheels were pushed further towards the car’s corners to reduce front and rear overhang and make for a longer wheelbase.
  • The redesigned rear suspension increased the cargo room and gave this new Subaru Outback generation a smoother ride.
  • Turbo assist was dropped from the flat-four and flat-six engine.
  • The normally aspirated six-cylinder engine was increased in size to 3.6 liters with 256 HP and 247 lb-ft of torque.
  • Subaru introduced a new 6-speed manual transmission, but it was the last Subaru Outback generation to offer a manual transmission.

Fifth Generation (2015 – 2019)

2015 Subaru Outback - subaru.com
2015 Subaru Outback - subaru.com

Refinements were made to the 5th Subaru Outback generations with more technology-focused additions. Although not as large on the outside, the Outback had the same interior space as many new crossovers.

  • The continuously variable transmission is now the only choice.
  • The 5th generation Subaru Outback has the latest version of Subaru’s EyeSight advanced safety system.
  • The 5th generation Outback introduced automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-centering steering assist.
  • Subaru focused on improved handling and reduced noise levels.
  • A new 7-inch touchscreen with an infotainment system appears for the first time. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto show up in later models.
  • The Subaru Outback becomes more luxurious with two-position driver’s seat memory settings, power tailgate, air filtration, windshield de-icer, emergency SOS services, and more.
  • Chassis rigidity was improved to increase agility, reduce noise/vibration/harshness, and improve off-road performance.

Sixth Generation (2020 – Present)

2020 Subaru Outback - subaru.com

2020 Subaru Outback – subaru.com  |  Shop Subaru Outback on Carsforsale.com

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What looks like the same crossover as the previous Subaru Outback generation is a totally new car. Subaru reintroduces the turbo engine and offers a complete safety suite.

  • The 2020 Subaru Outback is now based on the Subaru Global Platform.
  • The Outback platform will accept alternative powertrains, such as hybrid or all-electric.
  • Subaru significantly increased EPA-rated fuel economy in the 2020 model to 23/30 mpg city/highway versus the 2019’s 20/27 mpg city/highway.
  • A new Onyx Edition adds a TomTom navigation system, a moonroof, and reverse automatic emergency braking.
  • The new Outback received a redesigned grille, lower front bumper, and taillights.
2020 Subaru Outback interior - subaru.com
2020 Subaru Outback interior - subaru.com
  • Interior design is more modern and refined.
  • Increased interior room in all dimensions.
  • The 6th generation Subaru Outback has a new 11.6-inch multimedia screen.
  • Subaru’s StarLink connected car system and mobile app provide onboard 4G, WiFi, and remote control of many Subaru Outback convenience and safety features.

Future Subaru Outback Generations

2020 Subaru Outback - subaru.com
2020 Subaru Outback - subaru.com

When it began its journey 25 years ago, the Subaru Outback inspired loyalty with the brand image of safety and longevity. Consumer testing has consistently shown that Subaru owners don’t just buy a car; they buy into a lifestyle and an identity.

That identity has been described as love through Subaru’s marketing, and the Outback’s longevity has been shown as a critical component of raising children and protecting families. To the owners of the Subaru Outback, they’re in a club that loves families of all kinds, dogs, and have an amazing sense of adventure.

2021 Subaru Outback - subaru.com

2021 Subaru Outback – subaru.com  |  Shop new Subaru Outback on Carsforsale.com

Subaru has backed up their promise with this station wagon-like practical transportation in a very safe package that’s a more environmentally conscious alternative to large and clumsy SUVs. Love, safety, longevity, family, and dogs. These are what will continue to make every Subaru Outback generation a Subaru in the years to come.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Steve Mitchell

Steve's first car had pedals, and he's been filled with passion for four wheels ever since. He lives and breathes the car life as a technologist, futurist, and writer while keeping up with the whys, hows, and plans of the automotive industry. His automotive journey began with a fully restored Triumph TR3b that he sadly never appreciated until decades later. Ownerships of X-1/9's, BMW's, an SVT and a Dodge Ram Hemi have given way to the house of Audi Sport. You'll also find him as an endurance athlete on the bike in SoCal, but you'll know he's thinking about cars.

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