Change may have swept over other crossover SUVs in the form of hybrid powertrains or cutting-edge looks, but the 2021 Subaru Outback is content to stay the same. Why not? It’s a winning formula of wagon room, flat-4 power, and an enviable reputation for safety and durability.

With almost no changes to its different versions—Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT and Touring XT—this year, the 2021 Subaru Outback earns a TCC Rating of 6.8 out of 10.

The body’s meant to resemble a hiking boot; the cockpit’s a plusher, quieter rendition of the crossovers of the moment, and some of the recent past. It’s not that the Subaru Outback looks out of date, or overly familiar—it’s that it doesn’t need to look any different. What you see is what you get, and that stands for its tall ride height, its efficiently drawn figure, and a better-finished cockpit that looks worth the $40,000 it can command.

Review continues below

Outbacks tap flat-4 engines for power, and the base 182-horsepower engine’s fine for the frugal thinkers who tend to buy Subarus anyway. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and all-wheel drive ship power to the four corners of the car for supreme traction, no matter the engine, and Subaru’s swell chassis tuning ensures a composed ride, no matter if it’s over crushed stone or old railroad ties or temporary plates that cover potholes. Yes, there’s a 260-hp turbo-4 on the order sheet, but it’s the kind of extravagance we’d save for something lower, sleeker, and less likely to wear a permanent coat of dog hair.

The Outback carries four to five adults with ease, though three big people in the second row will elbow each other for room. The bench seat folds down to flex from more than 30 cubic feet to more than 75 cubic feet of cargo space—which Subaru, of course, lets owners modify with rubber linings, pet fences and crates, and the like. It’s a brand with a built-in dog whistle.

Subaru applies automatic emergency braking to every Outback, along with adaptive cruise and active lane control. Blind-spot monitors can be fitted to most models, too. For $27,845 the base Outback comes with all-wheel drive, cloth seats, power features, and twin touchscreens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Spend a little more to get a Premium, which gains the tall 11.6-inch touchscreen, more USB ports, a power driver seat, and heated front seats, and you’ll spend only about $30,000—a great value by any metric, including the actual metric system.