When you’re heading to Park City, Utah, and a hotel set amongst mountains and ski lifts, you need all-weather traction, ground clearance, and a sense of invincibility. So my own BMW X7 xDrive40i should be perfect. Well, it should be… but getting winter tires in the 22-inch X7 fitment at the end of the winter season proved impossible. However, thanks to our good friends at Tire Rack, MotorTrend‘s long-term Subaru Outback test car was quickly outfitted with a new set of Michelin X-Ice Snows and I was heading northeast toward Park City.
The Outback is very definitely meant for a different audience than the X7 in size, in status, in price, and in luxury. And yet almost immediately I got along with Subaru’s SUV-like wagon perfectly. The ride is a little noisy on the extreme winter tires but could scarcely be more comfortable. The CVT automatic is as objectionable as all CVT gearboxes are (i.e., very) but the turbocharged flat-four delivers plenty of power and just enough character to remind you of its unusual configuration, and more than anything the Outback feels comfortable in its own skin. In a world where heavyweight SUVs are always desperately trying to fool you into thinking they’re sporty, the Outback’s utility, ease of use, and easygoing dynamics are refreshing and compelling. It’s certainly a more immediately intuitive car to gently ease along the highway than the X7.
In the snow it’s even better. In fact, it’s hard to believe quite how much grip and traction the Michelins and the Subaru’s AWD system grant the driver. For normal driving in teeming snow on heavily trafficked routes, that means a real sense of confidence. Later, on some remote tracks and access roads, I had loads of fun with the traction control off and the flat-four working at maximum effort to swing the tail around like an old Impreza WRC car. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the Outback really does thrive in the snow. Hardly the last word in precision and sharpness, it nevertheless remains consistent and lovely and adjustable under power.
As the Outback was my workhorse for a Top Gear America shoot it had to handle quite a few disciplines. The day after the fun in the deep snow it served as the pool car for familiarization laps of Utah Motorsports Campus, near Salt Lake City. The tires—wildly unsuitable for track driving—howled in protest, the engine was pinned at peak power by the CVT, and the stability control would not fully disengage to allow the car to slide fluently, and yet the Outback was a hoot.
I won’t pretend it’s a track car by any means, but the brakes survived and it gamely ate up corner curbing and resisted understeer pretty heroically for a car that probably never saw a racetrack in its entire development cycle. In short, the Subaru Outback did everything I asked of it, no matter how extreme, and felt like it might run for 1,000 years.