Subaru Outback 2005-2009: engine, AWD system, fuel economy, common problems

Updated: September 16, 2013
2005 Subaru Outback
2005 Subaru Outback. Click for larger photo.

During the increased interest in SUVs in the 90s, Subaru had no SUV in its lineup. Subaru came up with the Outback, which is essentially a modified Subaru Legacy with added ground clearance and more rugged styling. The name "Outback" means Australian backcountry. The 2005-2009 Outback comes with standard full-time all-wheel drive and a horizontally opposed 4- or 6-cylinder "boxer" engine. It offers an upscale, feature-rich interior, competitive handling, fairly smooth ride and good crash test scores.
For 2005, the freshly-redesigned Outback was available as a 5-door wagon or 4-door sedan (only 5-door wagon in Canada). In the US, the Outback sedan didn't sell well and was later discontinued. The Outback was offered in three basic models: 2.5i, 2.5XT, 3.0R and each model was available with different equipment levels. A manual transmission is available only in 4-cylinder models. The Outback wagon's roof rails can be outfitted with one of the accessory mounts to carry your bike, canoe or skis. Subaru all-wheel drive system is one of the best out there.

2005 Subaru Outback Interior
Subaru Outback interior. Click for larger photo
2005 Subaru Outback cargo area
Rear seats fold flat. Click for larger photo
Subaru Outback 2.5-liter Turbo  engine
Subaru Outback 2.5-liter turbo engine
Click for larger image

Engine: The base 2.5-liter non-turbo SOHC engine offers simple design, decent power and reasonable fuel economy. The i-Active Valve Lift System, which was added for 2006, has increased the engine power to 176 hp.
The turbo-charged intercooled 2.5-liter DOHC engine is quick, however, as with any car, the turbo adds more stress on the engine. The turbocharged engine is more expensive to maintain and requires premium gasoline. Both 2.5L 4-cylinder engines have a timing belt that must be replaced at recommended intervals. The advanced 3.0L H6 DOHC engine with Active Valve Control System and Active Valve Lift System is great, but the 3.0R Outbacks are rare.
Read also: Should you buy or avoid a turbocharged car?

AWD system: The Outback uses what Subaru calls Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. See how it works on Subaru website: Subaru Engineering. To distribute the torque between front and rear axles, the Outback models with manual transmission use a viscous-type locking center differential, while the 4-speed automatic models utilize an electronically controlled variable transfer clutch. Models with 5-speed automatic transmission utilize an electronically controlled variable transfer clutch in conjunction with a planetary-type center differential. A limited-slip rear differential is included with each setup.

Interior: The Outback's interior is well designed with excellent fit and finish, and luxury feel. The controls are simple and well laid out. The center stack is tilted toward the driver. The front seats are comfortable, with good support. Large side mirrors and tall windows help with visibility. The fit and finish is very good. Even the base models are well equipped. The split rear seat folds down almost flat, giving the Outback a huge cargo room. On the downside, the rear seat space is tight and the steering telescopic adjustment was only available from 2008.

EPA Fuel Economy: MPG
L/100 km
2005-2009 Outback 2.5L auto 20/26 11.8/9.0
2005-2007 Outback 2.5L manual 20/26 11.8/9.0
2008 Outback 2.5L manual 19/26 12.4/9.0
2009 Outback 2.5L manual 20/27 11.8/8.7
2005-2006 Outback 2.5L turbo, auto, manual 17/23 13.8/10.2
2007-2009 Outback 2.5L turbo, auto, manual 18/24 13.1/9.8
2005, 2007 Outback 3.0L H6 17/23 13.8/10.2
2006, 2008 Outback 3.0L H6 17/24 13.8/9.8

Fuel Economy: The non-turbo 2.5L 4-cylinder Outback is one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles with all-wheel drive. It also can run on regular gasoline. Turbocharged and H6 models are rated for premium gasoline.

Handling and ride: Subaru Outback handles like a tall wagon. The ride is fairly smooth and quiet. The Outback's long-travel suspension absorbs even the large road bumps well, but as a trade-off, the body roll is pronounced during cornering. Overall, the handling is comfortable, and you can appreciate the tight turning radius during city driving and parking.

Safety: Anti-Lock brakes (ABS), side and side curtain airbags are standard. Vehicle stability control is only available on 3.0R VDC models. The 2005-2009 Subaru Outback received 5 stars out of 5 in the NHTSA front and side impact crash tests.

RELATED: Subaru Outback 2010-2014 review: reliability, common problems, maintenance and more.

Pros: Capable AWD system, upscale interior, smooth ride, tight turning radius, crash-test scores, visibility, decent ground clearance, low center of gravity, standard integrated roof rails

Cons: Fuel economy could be better, tight rear seat space, lack of the steering wheel telescopic adjustment in early models, body roll during cornering, handling when fully loaded, engine problems.

Advertisement - Continue reading below

Overall: We recommend a 2.5L non-turbo Outback, as it's easier to maintain can run on regular gasoline. Overall, the Outback is a solidly-built vehicle, although Consumer Reports rates the 4-cylinder engine in 2005-2007 models poorly. For this review, we test drove the 6-year old Outback with 106000 km (66K miles) and it didn't have any mechanical issues. The Outback holds its value well, but with high mileage, repair and maintenance costs could be higher than average, especially for turbocharged models. Read about common problems and what to look for on the next page.

Similar cars: