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The History and Evolution of the Subaru Outback

The story of what many consider to be Subaru's most reliable car, the Outback, has roots going back nearly 30 years.  The Subaru automaker took inspiration from the AMC Eagle, which was a four-wheel drive that offered the convenience of passenger and cargo space in one economical and all season vehicle. It was during the 1990s that the company developed its first Outback, named for the Australian desert which at times can be unforgiving.

This gave the world a hint at the ruggedness and capability of this vehicle to handle off road conditions while handling like a dream on the highways. The intention of the design team was to cash in on the sport utility vehicle market that was beginning to become the new trend in the buyer's market. The Subaru Outback would become the flagship vehicle of the company. Through more than two decades, the Outback has evolved in response to the demands of an ever changing demographic of clientele with upgrades and modifications that has kept the model in a high ranking position in the SUV market.

Here is an overview of the evolution of this small road warrior that maintains multiple generations that are still on the road today.

1995-1999 First Generation Subaru Outback

The very first Outback made its debut in 1994 at the New York Auto Show. The 1995 Legacy Outback would be barely recognizable by current owners of the more modernized versions. The original had not yet been modified with the additional ride height that would come with its later models. The firsts generation models of the outback enjoyed a run from 1995 through 1999, and featured the popular two tone Legacy trim features that distinguish them in a crowd.

1995 Subaru Legacy Outback

This mid sized car featured a 2.2 liter 4 cylinder engine that generated 135 horsepower and 140 pound feet of torque with a 103.5 inch wheelbase. There was a choice of the Outback Manual Wagon which achieved 21 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. The Outback Automatic Wagon came in close with 22 city and 28 highway with a fuel tank capacity of 15.9 gallons, offering a decent range per tank of fuel. The car was equipped to handle off road conditions and came equipped with a factory luggage rack. It was during the initial year of service that design engineers and technicians were able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their first generation premiere model and make the necessary adjustments in the upcoming version.

1996 Subaru Legacy Outback

By 1996, some of the kinks found in the original version had already been addressed and smoothed out. The most major change made to the second in the first generation line would be the addition of 7.8 inches of ground clearance. This brought the vehicle closer to the generations that are now tearing up the terrain both on and off the road. The tires were also swapped out for models that would perform better on gravel roads. It was during this time that the automaker added the notable out-sized fog lights that would become an easy recognizable feature of the Outback. One of the best possible moves that Subaru made in their advertising strategy was to employ actor Paul Hogan of the "Crocodile Dundee" film franchise to endorse this product. He would continue to lend his support to the promotion of the Outback for a decade to come. With just two models in the first generation in circulation, Subaru had already established important features and associations that made the Subaru Outback among the most recognizable brands and models in the United States as well as some other countries of the world. The engine was upgraded to a 2.5 liter engine and there was an option for a five speed manual transmission with a 50/50 power split. I you went with the four speed automatic style, you'd get an electronically managed design with a front wheel bias.

The first generation Impreza Outback Sport was also released in 1995 as a hatchback model. The Sport edition offered a higher ride than the original Outback, but was designed under the inspiration off thee larger Legacy wagon but in the early days of production, it was only available in Japan. The sport edition was produced through the end of the third generation in 2011.

Leaving the Legacy family from 2000-2004 with a Second Generation

More changes were coming for the Subaru Outback with the turn of the century. From 2000 through 2004, the Second Generation made its appearance with two major changes. The automaker added a new family member to the line with the Sport Utility Sedan, aka the SUS, dreamed up by Ernie Boch, the man responsible for helping the brand to build its magnificent empire by taking a chance that paid off. He purchased Subaru of New England in the 1970s and it wasn't long before sales began to skyrocket and we saw a number of the brand's autos on the road. Boch had the notion that an emphasis on the rugged appeal by raising the ride height and adding the plastic body cladding would add to its popularity. He convinced Subaru to work with him as he financed the prototype and the automaker produced 300 copies of the prototype as a tests case for Boch to sell. Within a two year period, Subaru followed the trail of profits and rolled out a sedan version of the Outback in cadence with the release of the second generation Outbacks.

2000 Subaru Outback

The second generation of the Subaru Outback came with a break away from the Legacy lineage and quickly became a highlighted feature in Subaru showrooms around thee world. The new line offered noticeable modifications which were definite improvements, including a roomier interior that was not only longer, but also wider than the previous models. The rear suspension system was revised to add extra cargo space that presented a real challenge to competition in the SUV market. Instead of sticking with the 2.5 liter engine of the latter first generation, it was replaced with the in-house 3.0 liter flat six cylinder engine that was complemented with a for speed automatic transmission. The result of this was a generation off 210 horsepower and a nwe electronically controlled All Wheel Drive system that replaced the front to rear 90/10 power split to a distribution of 45/55.

2000 Subaru Outback Sedan

The sedan version took its inspiration from the RS which was the GT sedan that we see in the second generation of the Outback lineage. It was made available in automatic transmission only and full leather as a special edition from 1993 through 1998. These features transferred to the Outback Sedan variants from 2000 through 2004.

2005 -2009: The inclusion of Turbo Power

In the ongoing evolution of the Subaru Outback, the next generation would find the model still absent of the Legacy badge, although it was still heavily tied in with the wagon and the sedan. It gained a new platform. The crossover was becoming a huge sensation but the addition of the Outback XT featuring a 2.5 liter turbocharged four cylinder motor gave the vehicle a significant boost in performance. The new platform gave it a 250 horse power kick which was a steal from the Subaru WRX STI, and it became an automatic only offered new Outback sporting a 100 hp advantage over the other new base model which were naturally aspirated 2.5 liter engine editions of the Outback.

A few drawbacks for some Outback fans was the lack of a clutch pedal with the Outback XT, but the crossover brought with it a choice of four or five speed designs for its first year out in 2005. This third generation was larger and roomier, but in what may have seemed like a contradiction, it was lighter than its predecessor. In addition, improvements to the handling and ride quality were notable changes that helped to make up for the missing clutch. This was all thanks to revisions in the suspension layout, but this generation saw the end of the SUS four doors which made an exit in the American market at the close of 2007.

2010-2014: Another step in the Outback Evolution

During this phase of the Outback evolution, there were significant changes taking place. The Legacy wagon made its exit from the American market along with the XT turbocharged engine, but what remained was thee 2.5 liter four and the introduction of a brand new 3. liter horizontally opposed six cylinder. This new member of the club granted the all grown up Outback 256 horse power for a new gait that advanced from a trot to a gallop. There was no real sacrifice made by the exit of the turbo and this was according to the grand design of the automaker. The additional new option of the six speed manual transmission and the continuously variable auto tranny for the four cylinder drive train were realities for the more mature Outback. New styling off the crossover challenged the wits of the competition makers with their plus sized SUVs, with Outback's additional cargo space, a little over an inch more in ground clearance and a roomier interior.

2015 Subaru Outback

2016 Subaru Outback

2017 Subaru Outback

2018 Subaru Outback

2019 Subaru Outback

The Subaru Outback was revised for 2015. It came out with a less dramatic overhaul than the 2010 model. It did retain thee same interior footprint of the current crossovers, but the presentation was much bigger than its original version that debuted in 1995. From 2015 to current, what we're seeing in the later model Outbacks is the addition in more technology and gear.

Beneath the hood, there aren't a lot of changes other than the establishment off the continuously variable automatic as a standard in each example produced. The interior materials received an enhancement with a higher grade ordered in all new models. The infotainment system which had long been a source of complaining was addressed with updates into more advanced user friendly versions that sported state of the art components for enhanced sound and performance.

New safety gear was added through EyeSight technology. The most recent generation of the Subaru outback have improved over the first run by leaps and bounds, and production of the Outback continues with a new offering for 2019 about to make its grand entrance into the world.

What we know about the 2019 Subaru Outback so far

Although there has not yet been an official unveiling off the new Outback for 2019, we've been privy to secret information obtained through the usual networks or spies and enthusiasts who have to discover all they can in advance of the official presentation of a new auto. Here is what we know so far.

Rumored changes

According to our sources, the new Outback will feature a more robust guard and front sash that will cover more of the grille, which in itself will be larger and lower. Expect to see changes in the headlights with a new bolder styling. Chrome wings will reach outwards from the logo, which is a minor detail in aesthetics, but nonetheless, exciting. We're told that the taillights will also have a bolder look to match. There will be limited trim with a different wheel design which has not yet been fully disclosed.

It's been reported that there won't be much in the way of change with regard to the power train. There will be a choice of a 2.5 liter level four engine conjuring 175 in horsepower and 174 pound feet of torque, or a 3.6 liter level six that churns out 256 horses with 247 pound feet of torque and automatic transmissions.

A total of four evaluations will be offered including base, premium, limited and touring. There will be a remapping off the electrically assisted power steering which will add a more direct reaction. The ride is made smoother through a re-tuning of the suspension dampers.

Also expect to see a new look in the shape off the side mirrors, front door windows featuring new protected glass and thicker rear wheel liners. The designers are going for a harder look on the outside with a more luxurious interior along with more gear and tech. Expect a newer version of Starlink sight and sound with a new infotainment setup featuring an 8.0 inch touch screen, Bluetooth, USB and assistant sources of info. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto similarity are also features you can expect to see. You'll also find two USB ports, over the air refreshes for using WiFi and Tom Tom Route.

Final thoughts

The Subaru Outback began its journey in the 1990s with a new and unique take on a rugged SUV type vehicle that was different than anything the public had ever seen. It's made an impressive evolution over the decades and the continuous improvement has only added to the success of the brand in America as well as other parts of the world. The Outback remains the flagship of the brand, contributing significantly to its overall success.

Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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