Outback is an all-around activity wagon

The 2017 Subaru Outback is highlighted with a new top trim level. Available in 2.5i and 3.6R models, the new Touring model rests at the top of an Outback lineup that now lists six models, with prices ranging from $25,645 (2.5i) to $38,195 (3.6R Touring).

Exterior cues for the 2017 Outback Touring include a dark gray grille insert and 18-inch wheels; silver colored, low-profile roof rails; and chrome-plated lower cladding and Outback badging. A new brown hue is added to the color chart for 2017 and Touring complements this with model-exclusive, brown-leather-trimmed upholstery and wood-grained trim on the dash and door panels. A heated steering wheel and piano black accents round out the package.

Subaru’s fifth-generation of Outbacks are a little longer, lower and wider than the previous editions, with a reduction in plastic cladding that’s more in tune with the times. Outback’s footprint is well matched to its job description. It’s big enough to hold four to five passengers inside and a fair amount of cargo to boot. Yet, it’s small enough so you don’t need a tugboat to get you to the safe harbor of your parking spot.

Driver visibility has never been a strong spot for SUVs, but Outback’s three-quarter rear blind spots are minimal by SUV standards. A rear-view camera is standard on all trims, as is blind spot monitoring (on mid-level 2.5i Limited on up), so you’ve got belt-and-suspenders security on visibility.

Formerly, the first impression of Outback’s interior suffered, owing to the abundance of hard plastic on the dash and door panels; however, today’s upgraded materials on the current models resolve that issue. The standard touchscreen (6.2-inch on base models, and 7-inch elsewhere) allows use of swipe and scroll techniques for audio and navigation controls.

The $32,035 price tag on my 2.5i Premium test car included $3,490 for Option Package 15. Highlights of the package include a power moonroof and navigation system, as well as Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist System. EyeSight’s bundle of safety-related features includes lane keep assist, lane departure/sway warning, and adaptive cruise control.

, pre-collision braking system, steering responsive fog lights and a pre-collision throttle management system. Also included here is Subaru’s rear vehicle detection system: blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and lane change assist.

Having all these safety alerts active all the time can be “TMI” for the driver. For example, while lane keep assist can be a lifesaver when you’re driving tired, it can grow wearisome when you’re wide awake. Happily, it comes with an “off” button.

Six footers fit in both rows of the Outback’s interior. Cargo capacity ranges from 35.5 to 73.3 cubic feet, depending on how you configure the rear seats. Liftover height in back is low enough for easy loading/unloading. If that’s not enough space to swallow your gear, it can go topside. Subaru offers many dealer-installed options to mount on the roof rails, to suit specific, storage needs.

Outback models pack either a four- or six-cylinder engine under the hood. Both are linked to a continuously variable transmission. The 3.6R Limited and Touring models feature Subaru’s 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine. It posts 256 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft. of torque, and can be equipped to tow up to 2,700 pounds. EPA estimates for fuel economy are 20 city, 27 highway.

All other Outback models are equipped with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder powerplant, which makes 175 hp at 5,800 rpm, 174 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm, and is expected to return 25 mpg city/33 highway (formerly 24/30). Towing capacity with the four is identical to the six: 2,700 pounds. The four runs smoothly and provides adequate power for all normal driving needs. I logged just under 30 miles per gallon during my drive; highly respectable for a small SUV.

While not sporty feeling, Outback corners confidently and offers a comfortable ride. The all-wheel-drive system employs a continuously variable transfer clutch that requires no input from the driver, constantly controlling the distribution of power between front and rear axles, according to driving conditions.

While not outfitted for hard-core off-roading, Outback offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance below, along with hill start assist and hill descent control. So equipped, Outback takes on light-duty trails with ease; that’s also true of snow and slush. To further enhance low-speed grip on rough or slippery terrain, drivers can switch on Subaru’s X mode, which adjusts engine output and CVT ratio positioning, while also increasing AWD engagement and optimizing the Vehicle Dynamic Control system to reduce wheel spin.