THE RIDE: Four-door, five-passenger 2008 Subaru Outback 2.5 XT Limited SUV.
DOWN THE ROAD: It's an SUV all right, but one with car-like qualities. Making the ride more than just acceptable transportation is a blend of the horizontally opposed engine and symmetrically balanced all-wheel-drive system, a trait for which the Subaru car company has become renowned.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: Power comes from a 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder DOHC intercooled turbocharged engine. It produces a healthy 243 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 241 pounds-feet of torque at 3600 rpm, which is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. The SI-Drive system enables the driver to pick a relaxed Intelligent, powerful Sport or a responsive Sport Sharp mode to result in an even faster throttle response. The four-wheel independent suspension is handled quite competently by a front MacPerson-type strut and a rear multilink system. A responsive variable-power rack-and-pinion steering guides the SUV to its destination.
LOOK & FEEL: For 2008, the Outback has received some minor modifications such as a larger opening for its grille, which is adorned with chrome crossbars and Subaru insignia, new four-beam multi-reflector halogen headlights and tail lights, as well as bumper fascias. The aluminum-alloy hood scoop is not just for decoration by the way. It serves to supply air to the intercooler. The cabin is top-notch, thanks to well-bolstered leather seats, eight-way power driver and four-way passenger seats, dual automatic climate control and a three-spoke steering wheel with audio and cruise controls. Adding elegance is superb wood trim on the front and rear doors, instrument panel and dashboard. The standard panoramic tilt/sliding dual power moon roof will be useful in the Sunshine State. Apart from the rear quarter storage pockets with lids, there is an overhead compartment for sunglasses, cargo area tray and hooks, and front-passenger seatback pockets.
SAFETY FIRST: Standard features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes, Vehicle Dynamic Control, front seat active-head restraints, traction control, antiskid system, three-point seatbelts for all, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights and an antitheft alarm and immobilizer.
OUT THE DOOR: $32,195, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges. A touch-screen GPS navigation system is available for $2,000.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, 225/55VR17; wheelbase, 105.1 inches; length, 188.7 inches; weight, 3,320 pounds; fuel capacity, 16.9 gallons; city, 18 mpg; highway, 24 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: Come rain or shine, this is the vehicle you want to head out in to brave the forces of nature. With a robust and trustworthy all-wheel-drive system and solid chassis, the Outback boasts an exceptional ride. Making the trip in this SUV even more appealing is its car-like ride and numerous utilitarian features.