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

Updated: May 01, 2019
2005 Subaru Outback
2005 Subaru Outback. Click for a 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 the 2005 model year, the 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. In the Outback wagon, the roof rails can be outfitted with one of the accessory mounts to carry a bike, canoe or skis. The Subaru all-wheel drive system is one of the best out there.

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

Engine: The base 2.5-liter non-turbo SOHC engine offers a 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 horsepower.
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 is a good motor, but the 3.0R Outback is rare.
Read also: Pros and cons of buying a car with a turbocharger

AWD system: The Outback uses Subaru 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 use 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 towards the driver. Front seats are comfortable, with good support. Large side mirrors and tall windows offer a good 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 plenty of cargo space. 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: The Outback handles well with a tight turning radius. The long-travel suspension absorbs even the large road bumps well, but as a trade-off, the body roll is pronounced during cornering. The ride is smooth and quiet.

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.

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Overall: The 2.5L non-turbo Outback is 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 66K miles and it didn't have any issues. The Outback holds its value well, but with mileage, repair and maintenance costs could be higher than average, especially for turbocharged models.

Similar cars:

Problems: Torn CV-boots, noisy wheel bearings and rattling exhaust heat shields are common. See YouTube videos on exhaust heat shield repair. Check Engine light issues are fairly common too. There are quite a few complaints, including on the NHTSA website about the rear suspension-related handling issues on icy or rough roads with a full load. This thread looks closely into this issue. Leaking head gaskets and oil consumption complaints are not uncommon at higher mileage. Replacing head gaskets is expensive.

What to look for when buying a used Subaru Outback: Unevenly worn tires may indicate a problem with the wheel alignment. A low oil level may indicate that the engine consumes oil. Watch out for a coolant smell under the hood or low coolant level, as it might point to a coolant leak, possible even from one of the head gaskets. For a manual transmission, check the clutch operation. During the test drive, if you feel that the wheels are "binding" during turns, there is a problem with a 4WD system. Check if the timing belt has been replaced on a 4-cylinder engine. A humming or growling noise coming from one of the wheels could indicate a bad wheel bearing. If you notice a blue smoke from the exhaust at startup, avoid the car. Watch out for the "Check Engine" or any other warning light coming on after the engine is started; this indicates a problem. Read more tips: How to inspect a used car - illustrated guide. Before making a final decision, have the car inspected by a mechanic.

Guides for used car buyers:

Maintenance: To keep your motor in good shape, have your oil changed regularly. A turbocharged engine is more sensitive to the oil quality; use only a good-quality oil. Regularly check the tire pressure. The Outback's handling is sensitive to the problems with the wheel alignment, so it might be a good idea to have the four-wheel alignment done once in a while. Overheating the engine may cause serious damage. Check the coolant level periodically and keep it topped up. The 2008 Subaru Outback's owner's manual recommends using the genuine Subaru coolant. It says: Use of improper coolants may result in corrosion in the cooling system. In the 2.5L engine, the drive belt tension needs to be checked periodically and adjusted if needed. If any of the belts is loose, it will produce a squealing noise at a start-up or when turning the steering wheel to the limit. For repairs take your Subaru to a dealer or a mechanic closely familiar with Subaru products; there are many specifics.

You might also be interested:

Recalls: Safety Recalls - NHTSA or Transport Canada - Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls.
Subaru For Owners - Owner's Manuals and downloads, warranties and more. Subaru of America.

2009 Subaru Outback Specifications

Overall length:
Overall width:
Overall height:

189.0 in (4,800 mm)
69.7 in (1,770 mm)
63.2 in (1,605 mm)
105.1 in (2,670 mm)

Ground clearance:
2.5L Non-turbo:
2.5L Turbo:

8.5 in (215 mm)
8.7 in (220 mm)
8.5 in (215 mm)

Turning circle:

35.4 ft (10.8 m)

Cargo volume: 65.4 cu. ft (1,851L) /with rear seats down/



2.5-liter SOHC aluminum-alloy 16-valve
horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine
with i-Active Valve Lift System.
170 hp @ 6,400 rpm
170 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm

2.5-liter DOHC intercooled, turbocharged
aluminum-alloy 16-valve 4-cylinder
horizontally opposed engine
with Active Valve Control System.
243 hp @ 6,000 rpm
241 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm

3.0-liter DOHC aluminum-alloy 24-valve 6-cylinder
horizontally opposed engine
with Active Valve Control System
and Active Valve Lift System.
245 hp @ 6,600 rpm
215 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm

Recommended Fuel:
2.5i non-turbo:
2.5XT Turbo:

Unleaded gasoline (87 octane)
Premium unleaded gasoline (91 octane) required
Premium unleaded gasoline (91 octane) recommended

Fuel Tank Capacity:

16.9 US gallons (64.0 liters)

Engine oil capacity:

2.5L models:
3.0L models:

4.2 US qt (4.0 liters)
5.8 US qt (5.5 liters)
By Staff