2009 Subaru Outback Review – the car that loves the outdoors, no matter the conditions!

Expert Reviews Subaru

2009 Subaru Outback
By Holly R.


  • Really decent acceleration in “sport” and “sport sharp” mode
  • Lots of room in the seats and back of the car
  • Drives great in off-road type conditions (grass, gravel, dirt), and handled a terribly stormy day (wind and sideways rain) with aplomb
  • Tinted windows were a nice touch both for security and curb appeal


  • No built-in Bluetooth®
  • Tinted windows limit outward vision


I’d rented an Outback on an out of town trip before, but that was before I started writing car reviews! I was curious about how it would stand up to a real test, and knew that if the weather sucked, the car would certainly not let me down. It was like the weather knew too… So I was able to test this car in some pretty crappy conditions. Excellent!

Fuel Economy:

Advertised: 17 in the city, and 24 highway (or 20.5 combined).
Actual: 23.1 mpg. I really didn’t have to drive in a lot of stop and go traffic, but there were a few times I had to. And I was also messing around with the driving modes a lot, and spent the bulk of my time in the middle (sport) mode (see below for an explanation).

Driving Impressions:

The Outback drove like a car. Not a truck. Not a wagon. But a car. The cabin was super comfortable, seats five very well and not a lot of fidgeting (to get comfortable) was required. I even took it into a dirt and gravel lot and tried to force it into a spin and was unable. It just floated around the corner, as one would expect an AWD to do.

I initially noticed some sluggish acceleration. But then I read the manual and found out a bit more about the 3 “driving modes” of this Outback model:

  • When in the “intelligent mode”, this appears to be the “economy mode”. In other words: you’ll get your best mileage if you stay in this mode, but don’t expect anything for performance.
  • Once I put it into “sport” mode, I found the Outback to be significantly more responsive. I did expect that dinged my mileage a bit, but found that it was easy to swap modes while in motion.
  • Finally, there was “Sport Sharp or Sport #” mode. This is the “holy-crap-hang-onto-your-butt” mode that would literally flatten your head against the back of the headrest when stomping on the accelerator. Decidedly the least mpg was to be had in Sport #.
2009 Subaru Outback - Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE) 2009 Subaru Outback - Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE)

Brilliant design such that one would be able to get the most mileage possible on long trips, but a quick flick of the mode button would enable a crisp acceleration, or ability to climb a hill without totally bogging down. Then you could quickly put it back into intelligent mode to get good mileage again.

I found the Outback really easy to park, and easy to drive. I never encountered an  emergency braking scenario, but a few quick taps of the brakes slowed me whenever necessary and a gentle press of the accelerator brought me right back up to speed.


The Outback felt well put-together. The doors weren’t overly heavy, but closed easily. The seats felt solid and snapped back into place soundly. The glovebox and all the little interior storage areas and covers were solid and well-built. Not a single rattle the entire time I had the car. Even the moonroof and windows slid open and closed smoothly. Nothing to complain about here: move along please.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics:

The good:
The seats were excellent.  I cannot say enough about seat comfort, long rides and my ability to function at either end of the car ride. The Outback did not let me down. Not only were the seats excellent, but the heaters heated adequately and rather quickly.

The 440-watt Harman Kardon premium audio system with 9 speakers was super nice.

The instrument panel was easy to see, especially at night. This does not include the steering wheel controls (see “Bad” below). Instrument panel, nav system, etc, basically anything on the dash was lit up well and placement was excellent.

2009 Subaru Outback - Leather-trimmed upholstery2009 Subaru Outback - 440-watt 9-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system2009 Subaru Outback - instrument cluster

The removable cargo liner is great. You could slop plants, messy dog, messy bike, scuba gear, etc., into the back and not worry about dirtying up the interior. Just remove it and hose it off. I also really liked all the netting/cargo holders. They helped keep things in place, as opposed to having it roll all around the cargo area, which is bad for the items, and annoying for the driver!

As always, the dual-zone climate controls are appreciated, especially when one person always runs hot – the other is always cold!

There was a ton of room inside. I cannot emphasize this enough. I even sat in the back seat for awhile while trying to figure some stuff out about the car, and there was a bunch of room back there. We got 2 bikes and all of our gear stacked up in there too, and neither of us felt cramped or like we had to jam everything in. Plenty of room, as shown (2 bikes, wheels, packs, stationary trainer, food items and 2 bike racers):

The back of the Outback, loaded

The back of the Outback, loaded

The bad:
No Bluetooth®! No option from the manufacturer either.

The touch-screen GPS navigation system was a little clunky. I was able to get it programmed, but it seemed pretty BASIC, and wasn’t so quick to figure out an alternate route. Some nav-systems figure it out and re-route you, but this one kept telling me to turn here and go back. Turn at the next street and go back. After about 5 or 6 times, it would re-route you. And, if you have a bored passenger who can’t keep their hands to themselves, the nav-system is easy to mess up and it can “lose” your original destination. It ended up trying to send us to a destination that I assume was in its memory. It was not a location I’d set. The other ding is that the nav-system is mostly controlled on the screen, and that means: lots of greasy little fingerprints. The screen would be best as a more porous material – one that would partially withstand all the touching.

I wasn’t super thrilled with the lights on the steering wheel controls. They were hard to see at night, mostly due to the orange/red coloring. Yes, it looks nice, but white lighting here is better and easier to see.  Brightening them didn’t help.

Finally, the rear seats weren’t so easy to fold down. The release button was just a “button”. No way to push the button in and then use it to pull the seat forward. One has to climb part way into the car, push the button to release the seat, then use the other hand to pull the seat forward. Pretty inconvenient, and seems to be a pretty easy fix. Just incorporate the release with a ledge, or a recessed release button.

(Continued on page 2)

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