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cars

2013 Subaru Outback: The Semi-Autonomous Subaru

The 2013 Subaru Outback: Yankee. Ingenuity.

$24,995.00
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Introduction

A car that nearly drives itself? Surprise! It's a Subaru.

Subaru has added one of the best dynamic cruise control systems on the market to the 2013 Legacy and Outback. Called EyeSight, it uses cameras mounted next to the rear-view mirror to monitor traffic and apply the brake and throttle accordingly. In other words, you can turn on the cruise control and just steer.

Wait — a high-tech Subaru? While it's true the company has traded on a no-nonsense image, from its spacious wagons and bare-bones rally cars right down to its promotional tie-ins with L.L. Bean, there's still some room for technology on board. Even so, the new Outback is still a Subaru through-and-through.

Tech & Entertainment

EyeSight dynamic cruise control is a standout

We first learned about EyeSight when it debuted at last year's New York Auto Show, and were excited to test it in real-world conditions. Here's how it works: When you're driving on the highway, turn on the EyeSight adaptive cruise control and set the distance you want between your bumper and the car in front of you. The cameras will speed up and slow down the car as needed, even down to a stop. If traffic comes to a complete halt, you'll have to re-engage the system, since it won't speed away from still in case you've stopped for a light or an emergency. Otherwise, driving is just steering.

I've used dozens of other adaptive cruise control systems, mostly in luxury cars, and Subaru's system feels the most natural.

I tried out EyeSight in Boston-area rush-hour traffic on a new Outback, and came away totally impressed. I've used dozens of other adaptive cruise control systems, mostly in luxury cars, and Subaru's system feels the most natural. It only pays attention to the car immediately in front, so it can be a bit unnerving to notice brake lights up ahead before your car starts to slow, but in our tests the car always stopped in time. It even recognized cross-traffic, such as a merging truck or a guy cutting you off. And you'll get cut off often, since the Subie leaves plenty of room for the Holy Ghost between you and the next car.

Even without the cruise control on, EyeSight will slam on the brakes for you in the event of an imminent collision, a task we thankfully didn't have the chance to test. Lane departure warning can also be turned on, but there's no way to monitor blind spots. Thankfully, this wagon has excellent visibility.

Among the other upgrades for 2013, Subaru finally replaced their miserably outdated, tiny TomTom removable nav unit to a much larger, more elegant interface from Fujitsu. We had no problems using it, and it's simple enough for even the crustiest Yankee, even one who swears you can't get theah from heah. Connecting a smartphone as a music player was similarly painless.

In addition, Subaru is planning to add Harman's Aha smartphone link to later versions of the 2013 Outback. Our early-build tester, sadly, was not equipped with the connectivity suite, but we did get the chance to try it out on a Honda Accord. It showed promise, but didn't quite feel ready for prime time.

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Design

You won't mistake the Outback for anything but a Subaru

Inoffensive and anodyne, Subaru's interiors are slightly classier than those from Mazda or Mitsubishi, but not quite as design-forward as what larger manufacturers offer. If you like fads such as fake carbon fiber or oddly-shaped buttons, look elsewhere. Though it's far from innovative, the Subaru's dash is a classic, with large buttons big enough for glove-wearing New Englanders to press in the dead of winter. If you have trouble figuring out the controls on a Outback, you shouldn't be driving.

Seats are comfortable, and there's great legroom in the back, and overall interior space is similar to crossovers with higher centers of gravity. Compared to other Subarus, the Forester is a bit taller but not as long. Outside, minor cosmetic updates distinguish the new Outback from prior models, and all that tough-looking body cladding might as well be replaced with a sign that says, "I am not a station wagon."

Driving Experience

The tester we drove featured the famed Subaru "boxer" four-cylinder engine, so named because the pistons move together horizontally, like boxers' gloves. Boxer engines tend to be smaller and able to sit low in the engine bay, which gives makes boxer engine-equipped cars a low center of gravity (good for driving dynamics) and lighter weight (good for fuel economy and performance).

It has no problem climbing hills and keeping up with traffic.

Even though it only has a four-cylinder engine, the Outback doesn't feel underpowered. It's not a drag racer by any means, but it has no problem climbing hills and keeping up with traffic. Laden with cargo and passengers, the wagon was a bit harsher than other cars we've driven, but most Subarus tend to be a bit unrefined when it comes to noise reduction and engine vibration.

Conclusion

The traditionalists might balk, but EyeSight is impressive

Just because Subaru built their reputation on no-nonsense cars doesn't mean they can't add technological advancements. We're sure that many traditional Subaru buyers will opt out of EyeSight for now, but it's heartening to see the oh-so-traditional company join the active safety revolution.

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