Subaru Outback 2005 vs 2015, 2012

What difference does ten years make to the Subaru Outback?

We tested the 2015 Outback 3.6R on a family trip over a long weekend, and were accompanied by friends with their 2005 Outback that has done 67,000km.  It made for an interesting comparison.  The older Outback has a 2.5L, 121kW petrol engine and a 4-speed automatic.  It is slower, as you’d expect, but even with a load and three people was more than powerful enough for cruising at speed in the country.  The automatic hunted a little for gears, as older four-speeders are prone to, but got the job done.  Handling was similar to the newer model, but a little less composed and with more understeer (tendency to run wide) although that was something a driver quickly got used to.  In one way the older model drove better, and that was how it felt lighter and more agile. 

What wasn’t so obvious was the safety technology – stability control, more advanced ABS, the Eyesight automatic emergency braking system and the reversing camera.  The 2005 Outback was good for its time, but ten years have seen a lot of safety improvements.
The car was however basically the same.  A big wagon, designed for everyday practical use.

Here’s a few comparison photos:

Smaller wheels and tyres, but amazingly, a slightly taller tailgate.

Like most cars, the Outback has grown over the years.

Comprehensive Car Insurance


Definitely taller and chunkier.


2012 vs 2015 Subaru Outback

We tested a 2012 model back in, well, 2012. This is what it looked like:


It did not go well offroad.  Look at this:


The car is immobilised.  The challenge is that there’s very little traction.   The problem is that the car’s centre diff is open, and it relies only on electronic traction control (ETC) to move in these conditions.  Which is not great, but it does kind of work.  But as soon as the car slips or slides even a little, stability control kicks in and kills momemtum. The problem was that there is no way to have traction on and stability control off.  So we spent a fun afternoon recovering the car very slowly.  This would have been no problem in the 2015 model with X-Mode.

Here’s the dash from the 2012 model.  This had Eyesight, but we’d disabled it here:


And the dash from the 2015.  Much more modern with a nice TFT display.  The colours around the main dials change according to the car’s mode.

Centre dash.  Lots of useful info.  Active cruise control is set at max following distance...
Centre dash. Lots of useful info. Active cruise control is set at max following distance…

Here’s the 2012 interior:


And the 2015.  An improvement, especially around the steering wheel which looks and feels more premium.  Motoring journos like to hack in to Subaru for their interiors, but I think we should stop doing that now. 


And for no reason at all, here’s an Outback in water.


 We will post some more shots of Outbacks doing their thing offroad. If you have any, let us know.  Here’s our Facebook page.


  1. Daniel
    February 24, 2017 at 9:10 pm — Reply

    Few things I believe are very wrong from experience. Both models handle similar the newer one a little better??? HUH? I don’t think so, the older Outbacks were renown for their car like handling, and because of its smaller shape, and lighter chassis it there is no comparing it to the new model. Sure the new model is good, but body roll is more pronounced and it is less confident hitting corners hard.

    Also, the 4th gen Outbacks were brilliant in the gravel and light off-roading, you must have put bricks in the boot and punctured all 4 tyres to get stuck in that tiny mud section. Driven properly they are respectable in almost every condition and will go farther than most softroaders.
    Overall a poor review.

    • February 24, 2017 at 10:54 pm — Reply

      The red Outback was on a significant incline, more so than the photos show. As per the article the electronics either prevented it from moving, or failed to work as brake traction control.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!