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2010 Subaru Outback

Safety, quality, reliability Add to ...

The basic version of the 2010 Subaru Outback, the 2.5i PZEV ($28,995), is priced competitively for a wagon-y crossover with nice styling, lots of features, tight handling and a decently big interior.

Now if you really want to go up-market with the Outback, there is the six-cylinder 3.6R, which starts at $35,695. But for many, it's overkill.

Whichever one you're interested in, the Outback and its cousin, the Legacy sedan, rate as one of the safest family vehicles, period. Quality and reliability are strong suits, too.

So the rational reasons are in place. This Outback, though, is also intended to trigger an emotional response with buyers.

Still, the Outback is in tough company. Potential rivals include the Toyota Venza; Toyota introduced this wagon to lure multipurpose buyers in search of a multipurpose vehicle - Outback types.

The Outback is also a rival to the Volkswagen Passat wagon, Volvo's XC70 and the Hyundai Santa Fe.

This new Outback dwarfs the Passat and the Volvo and is about the same size as the Santa Fe.

So the 2010 Outback is much larger and better equipped than the 2009 version. It has adult-friendly rear seating, an iPod jack and Bluetooth connectivity, too.

The starter engine is the 170-hp, 2.5-litre, flat-four, while the up-market power plant is the 256-hp, 3.6-litre flat-six. Now you know why models are designated the Outback 2.5i and Outback 3.6R.

There are now three trim levels available with the smaller engine: Base, Sport and Limited. The six-cylinder comes in three flavours: Base and Limited.

Essentially there are five Outbacks from which to choose, with prices topping out at $38,495, plus another $2,300 for the Multimedia option, which gives you voice-activated navigation and Bluetooth mobile phone operation, along with a back-up camera.

The four-cylinder engine can be combined with either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), while the six-cylinder models are equipped only with a five-speed automatic. The CVT helps with fuel economy, yet there is no real evidence of the rubber band-like feeling - motor-boating - common with some other CVTs.

As for size, adults can sit in back comfortably - even the formerly cramped rear. There is more room for luggage in back, too, and the rear seats fold flat.

Most important of all, the Outback is a really great wagon for driving. Both the 2.5i model with the CVT and the 3.6R with a five-speed auto deliver smooth, steady power to all four wheels. Meanwhile, Subaru's Lineartronic CVT is excellent - as good as Nissan's CVT and that's saying something.

Buyers who want a wagon that's safe and entertaining and easy to live with might find the Outback a better choice than taller, lumpier-looking crossovers.

2010 SUBARU OUTBACK 3.6R

Type: Crossover wagon

Base price: $35,695

Engine: 3.6-litre, horizontally opposed or "boxer," six-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 256 hp/247 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.8 city/8.2; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Venza, Volkswagen Passat 4Motion, Hyundai Santa Fe, Volvo XC60, Ford Edge, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano

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