Subaru Outback 4th Generation 2010 - 2014 (BR) Review

Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Used Outback 4th Gen

Read in this article:

4th Gen Subaru Outback What Owners Say

  • Owners enjoy the generous cabin space and comfortable seats that deliver a superb long-distance cruiser
  • Variants with the 3.6-liter engine are surprisingly quick and fun to drive
  • Owners find that usable ground clearance and standard-fit AWD make the Subaru Outback at least somewhat capable in mild off-road conditions
  • Many regard the Outback's fuel thirst out of proportion to the performance on tap
  • First-generation CVT destroys any semblance of driving pleasure, and is problematic in the long term
  • Owners find that maintenance can become quite expensive around 100,000 miles

Subaru Outback Fourth Generation Facelift

About halfway through its five-year model cycle, the Subaru Outback BR benefitted from a fairly extensive facelift, which upgraded the base powertrain, refreshed its appearance, and improved its cabin appointments. As a result, there's a clear distinction between the 2010-2012 Subaru Outback and the facelifted 2013-2014 model.

2013 - 2014 Outback BR Facelift Front Changes CarBuzz
2013 - 2014 Outback BR Facelift Front Changes

Viewed from the front, the most obvious change wrought by the facelift is the design of the bumper and its plastic cladding1. On pre-facelift cars, the cladding runs in a continuous line which includes the lower air intake's upper edge. In contrast, the facelifted model's lower air intake has a strip of body-color bumper around it, while the corner cladding is more squared-off than before and now houses larger (but still round) foglights in an all-black bezel (where fitted)2.

The facelifted model's headlights, hood, and fenders remain unchanged, but the grille they frame is taller and has thicker slats. The bumper is reshaped to accommodate the new grille, but the hood and front fenders carry over unchanged3.

2013 - 2014 Outback BR Facelift Rear Changes CarBuzz
2013 - 2014 Outback BR Facelift Rear Changes

Unlike the front end, the Subaru Outback's rear view remained almost unchanged through the facelift, without so much as a new badge or a restyled bumper. The only difference can be found in the slightly cleaned-up tailgate detailing where the body-color decorative strip above the number plate niche disappears with the facelift1.

2013 - 2014 Outback BR Facelift Side Changes CarBuzz
2013 - 2014 Outback BR Facelift Side Changes

The profile view of a facelifted Subaru Outback BR is also almost unchanged during the facelift, except that the revised front bumper on facelifted models are visible from the side1. Closer inspection will also reveal that the "Outback" badge on the front doors lose their silver background with the facelift2. The wheel design selection is also updated, depending on the trim level3.

2013 - 2014 Outback BR Facelift Interior Changes CarBuzz
2013 - 2014 Outback BR Facelift Interior Changes

The 2010-2012 Subaru Outback's interior carries over with only minimal changes for the 2013 facelift. The only visible changes are a redesigned steering wheel with a squared-off airbag cover1, an updated base audio system with a larger display screen, and a larger, higher-resolution infotainment screen and EyeSight controls for models where the latter two items are fitted2.

Engine, Transmission and Drivetrain

The 4th-generation Subaru Outback employed three engines over its production run. At the top of the range are the 3.6-liter flat-six and five-speed automatic transmission from the Tribeca, with one of two 2.5-liter flat-fours mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a Lineartronic CVT filling out the more affordable end of the range. All Outbacks employ some version of Subaru's Symmetrical AWD system, depending on the engine and transmission.

The Outback's base engine at launch came from the ancient SOHC EJ family, but this was upgraded to the new-generation FB engine during the facelift. While the new engine does not bring mountains more power, it is more refined and is claimed to be more fuel efficient. Along with the new four-cylinder came a revised, second-generation CVT and revised suspension tuning.

2.5L Flat-Four Gas SOHC EJ253 (2010-2012)
170 hp | 170 lb-ft
Horsepower
170 hp
Torque
170 lb-ft
Transmission
Six-speed manual or CVT
Drivetrain
AWD

When the fourth-generation Subaru Outback arrived in 2010, the venerable Subaru EJ engine family had already served its maker well for more than two decades. It appears here in one of its simpler forms, with SOHC heads and no forced induction. With a rubber-toothed belt used for cam timing, regular belt-, tensioner- and coolant-pump replacements are essential for a long service life, as has always been the case with the EJ.

The only mildly unusual thing about this all-aluminum engine is a variable valve-lift mechanism on the intake valves, but even that is unable to lift its performance anywhere above the realm of adequacy. The EJ engine is usually quite a thirsty beast, but, at least in SOHC, non-turbo form, is quite reliable if maintained properly, save for some potential head-gasket trouble.

2.5L Flat-Four Gas DOHC FB25B (2013-2014)
173 hp | 174 lb-ft
Horsepower
173 hp
Torque
174 lb-ft
Transmission
Six-speed manual or CVT
Drivetrain
AWD

At first glance, the new-generation FB25B offers very little advantage over the old EJ, because it produces only a few more horses and a similarly small increase in torque, but that observation misses the point of the new engine. This is not a performance engine, but it is optimized to reduce exhaust emissions and improve fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance in comparison to its predecessor. A slightly fatter torque curve is merely a bonus, really.

Once again, construction is all-aluminum, but this time the cylinder heads each feature two chain-driven camshafts with stepless variable timing on both intake and exhaust valves. There's still no sign of forced induction or direct fuel injection on this version of the FB engine, but these features would eventually appear in future models.

As with the old EJ, the FB engine can be had with either a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT, but the manual will still be the first choice for driving pleasure. The CVT has been revised for use in this application and is said to be less problematic than earlier versions.

3.6L Flat-Six Gas DOHC EZ36D
256 hp | 247 lb-ft
Horsepower
256 hp
Torque
47 lb-ft
Transmission
Five-speed automatic/CVT
Drivetrain
AWD

The new-generation Subaru six-cylinder has its ultimate expression in the BR Subaru Outback, being developed to its maximum size and with the most technology thus far used in its family. Unfortunately, this is as far as it ever went, as this engine family was never treated to direct fuel injection or a turbocharger before being superseded by the higher-output FA turbo engine range.

The chain-driven DOHC cylinder heads again have variable timing for both intake and exhaust valves, and the block and cylinder heads are all made of aluminum. This engine was only paired with a five-speed automatic transmission, with no manual transmission option.

4th Gen Subaru Outback Real MPG

The EPA offers a facility for owners to submit their measured real-world fuel consumption figures, which we can compare with the official numbers. This applies if enough owners submit their figures to get a statistically significant sample, and, seeing as 4th-generation Subaru Outback owners appear to be a conscientious bunch, there is enough data to draw fair conclusions.

It's interesting to note that most of the results show that real-world driving can realize better figures than the official data would suggest. Some of these results may appear to be too good to be true, and may be due to "hypermiling" driving techniques, but the overall trend still shows that most BR Subaru Outback models are capable of doing better in real life than on paper.

EPA mpg (city/highway/combined)Real-world combined mpg*
2.5 flat-four, manual AWD (2010-2012)19/26/2223.7-30
2.5 flat-four, manual AWD (2013-2014)22/28/2423.1-30.9
2.5 flat-four, CVT AWD (2010-2012)21/28/2421.5-30.2
2.5 flat-four, CVT AWD (2013-2014)24/30/2619-31.8
3.6 flat-six, five-speed automatic AWD18/24/2020.2-27.2

* Real-world mpg and MPGe figures are provided by the EPA. Once a car has been on sale for a significant period of time, the EPA gets real-world figures directly from the customer base. These figures are then provided on the EPA website. Real-world figures are not available for certain models due to a lack of sales, or not enough people partaking in this after-sales survey.

Safety

Subaru's solid safety reputation was earned by cars like the 4th-gen Outback, and for good reason. It was released in 2010 with a long list of standard safety features, even though very little was added to the specifications through the years. At launch, the Subaru Outback's standard safety equipment included traction and stability control, power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, six airbags (two frontal, two front side, and two full-length curtain airbags), automatic halogen headlights, child-seat anchors in the rear, daytime running lights, and tire-pressure monitoring.

Moving up to the mid-grade Premium trim added front foglights to this list, but unfortunately, the excellent bi-xenon or LED headlights available in some other world markets didn't make it to North America in the fourth-generation Outback. There was one unique Subaru selling point, though, and that's the available EyeSight driver-assist system, which includes pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. EyeSight became available as an option on the Outback 2.5i Limited and 3.6R Limited during the 2013 facelift, as did a rearview camera system.

When the NHTSA hurled the Subaru Outback against a barrier in 2010, it scored five stars across the board under the old (pre-2011) test protocol. This test was repeated under the 2011 protocol on a 2014 Subaru Outback, and it once again received full marks for occupant protection.

US NHTSA Crash Test Result

2010 Subaru Outback

Overall Frontal Crash Rating:
(5/5)
Frontal Barrier Crash Rating (Driver):
(5/5)
Frontal Barrier Crash Rating (Passenger):
(5/5)
Side Crash Rating (Front):
(5/5)
Side Crash Rating (Rear):
(5/5)
Rollover Rating:
(4/5)

2014 Subaru Outback

Frontal Barrier Crash Rating (Driver):
(5/5)
Frontal Barrier Crash Rating (Passenger):
(5/5)
Side Crash Rating:
(5/5)
Side Crash Rating (Driver):
(5/5)
Side Crash Rating (Passenger):
(5/5)
Rollover Rating:
(4/5)

2010-2014 Subaru Outback Trims

The fourth-generation Subaru Outback launched with three trim levels, with each trim available with either the 2.5-liter or 3.6-liter engine. This total of six trim/engine combinations remained available through the 2012 model year, before being cut down to five trim levels during the facelift in 2013.

2.5i and 3.6R (Base)
2010-2014
Engine
2.5-liter flat-four or 3.6-liter flat-six
Transmission
Six-speed manual, CVT, or five-speed automatic
Drivetrain
AWD

This was the entry-level trim for the BR Subaru Outback all the way through its production run, and represented as basic an Outback as you could get with either of the two available engines. But, while it wasn't over-endowed with shiny trinkets, the basic 2.5i and 3.6R specifications had enough creature comforts to keep its occupants reasonably happy. 3.6R models feature 17-inch alloy wheels across all trim levels, but the base 2.5i had to make do with 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers.

The base model's standard feature list includes an electronic parking brake with hill-holder function, power windows all round, keyless entry with power door locks, power-adjustable exterior mirrors, a four-speaker audio system with CD player, AUX input, and satellite radio capability, manual tilt-and-telescoping steering-wheel adjustment, cruise control with controls on the steering wheel, manual air-conditioning with interior air filtration, two illuminated vanity mirrors, functional roof rails with fold-away cross bars, silver interior trim pieces, and front reading lights.

Premium
2010-2014
Engine
2.5-liter flat-four or 3.6-liter flat-six
Transmission
Six-speed manual, CVT, or five-speed automatic
Drivetrain
AWD

One step up from the base trim, Premium specification adds niceties like fog lights, body-color side mirror caps, ten-way power adjustable driver seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a six-speaker CD/audio system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Premium trim was available with a 2.5i engine for the entire run, but the 3.6R Premium was discontinued after 2012.

Limited
2010 - 2014
Engine
2.5-liter flat-four or 3.6-liter flat-six
Transmission
CVT or five-speed automatic
Drivetrain
AWD

This is as plush as an Outback could get and was distinguished on the outside by its front underguard, and inside by the full leather upholstery. Its interior features use the Premium trim level as starting point, but adds four-way electric adjustment for the front passenger seat, heated front seats, woodgrain-pattern trim pieces on the doors, dash, and console, dual-zone electronic climate control, and a 440-watt Harman/Kardon audio system with nine speakers. The all-weather package (optional on Premium trim) is standard equipment on the Limited, and includes a windshield wiper de-icer, heated side mirrors, and heated front seats. Premium and Limited trim buyers could specify an electric glass moonroof, but this luxury wasn't allowed for the base specification.

Fourth Generation Outback Features

2.5i and 3.6R (Base)PremiumLimited
ABSSSS
A/CSSS
Auxiliary Audio InputSSS
Back-Up CameraN/AN/AS
Bluetooth ConnectionSSS
Brake AssistSSS
Climate ControlN/AN/AS
Cruise ControlSSS
Driver Air BagSSS
Front Head Air BagSSS
Front Side Air BagSSS
HD RadioN/ASS
Heated Front Seat(s)N/ASS
Keyless EntrySSS
MP3 PlayerSSS
Multi-Zone A/CN/AN/AS
Navigation SystemN/AN/AS
Passenger Air BagSSS
Power Driver SeatN/ASS
Power Mirror(s)SSS
Power Passenger SeatN/AN/AS
Premium Sound SystemN/ASS
Rear A/CN/AN/AS
Rear Head Air BagSSS
Remote Trunk ReleaseSSS
Satellite RadioN/ASS
Smart Device IntegrationN/AOS
Stability ControlSSS
Steering Wheel Audio ControlsSSS
Sun/MoonroofN/ASS
Tire Pressure MonitorSSS
Traction ControlSSS

Interior, Trim And Practicality

Subaru Outback 4th Gen Interior Overview Subaru
2013 - 2014 Outback BR Interior View

The 2010-2014 Subaru Outback's cabin is a nice place to spend time, with good material and build quality evident in the interior. The dashboard is pleasant to behold, with a strong horizontal design emphasis to create an impression of space, and there are plenty of storage cubicles to hide away smaller items. The ergonomics are a bit odd, though, with two digital displays taking care of trip computer-related functions - one in the middle of the dashboard, and the other in the middle of the instrument cluster. It takes some getting used to, but the driver will eventually learn with which display to fiddle to get the desired information.

Given its positioning as a comfortable family wagon, the BR Subaru Outback has plenty of cabin space all round. The front seats are sublimely comfortable over long time periods, and front head-, leg- and shoulder room of 40.8 inches, 43 inches, and 56.3 inches, respectively allows plenty of space for very tall occupants to stretch out.

For some perspective, the much larger Audi A6 Avant of this era actually had less leg- and headroom on offer. The rear seat is similarly spacious, with 39.3 inches of headroom, 37.8 inches of legroom, and 56.1 inches of shoulder room giving adequate rear-seat space, even with two of the aforementioned supersized humans in front.

Practicality is also excellent, with a generous 34.3 cu.ft. available in the cargo bay, expanding to 71.3 cu.ft. with the split-folding rear seats dropped away. Finally, towing capacity is surprisingly good, with even the Outback 2.5i being capable of towing a maximum of 2,700 lbs, and a fuel tank capacity of 18.5 gallons will allow good range between fill-ups.

2.5i and 3.6R (Base)PremiumLimited
Bucket SeatsSSS
Cloth SeatsSSN/A
Leather SeatsN/AN/AS
Leather Steering WheelN/ASS
Woodgrain Interior TrimN/AN/AS
Warm Ivory, Cloth seat trimSSN/A
Off-Black, Cloth seat trimSSN/A
Ivory Striated, Cloth seat trimSSN/A
Black Striated, Cloth seat trimSSN/A
Ivory, Cloth UpholsterySSN/A
Black, Cloth UpholsterySSN/A
Warm Ivory, Leather seat trimN/AN/AS
Off-Black, Leather seat trimN/AN/AS
Warm Ivory, Perforated Leather-Trimmed UpholsteryN/AN/AS
Saddle Brown, Leather-Trimmed UpholsteryN/AN/AS
Off Black, Perforated Leather-Trimmed UpholsteryN/AN/AS
Saddle Brown, Leather seat trimN/AN/AS

4th Generation Subaru Outback Maintenance and Cost

In naturally aspirated and unstressed form, as used in the 2010-2012 Subaru Outback, the EJ25 engine is a pretty reliable workhorse, provided it is serviced punctually and thoroughly. The 3.6-liter EZ36D and FB25B engines are even less demanding of unscheduled attention, but they all depend on frequent oil changes to keep working at their best. We recommend oil and filter changes every 5,000 miles to keep their sumps and oil passage clear of potential debris buildup.

Owners of vehicles equipped with either of the Lineartronic CVTs would be well-advised to replace their transmission fluid and filter every 30,000 miles to avoid 2010-2014 Subaru CVT problems, while the five-speed automatic in 3.6R variants needs fresh oil and a filter change every 60,000 miles at the latest. The engine's air filter should be good for 30,000 miles, but the cabin's air filter will need replacement every 15,000 miles. If your vehicle operates in dusty or other harsh conditions, you should shorten the filter-replacement interval, however.

Spark plugs should be replaced at 60,000 miles (Subaru recommends 70,000 miles), but it's important to stick to the manufacturer's spark-plug specifications when the time comes for replacement, as incorrect spark plugs in any of these engines could cause a noticeable drop in performance and increase the fuel consumption.

Finally, the cam timing belt, tensioners and belt-driven coolant pump on EJ253-engined Outbacks need to be replaced every 60,000 miles to remain on the safe side, even if some official literature states a replacement interval of 90,000 miles for these items.

2010-2014 Subaru Outback Basic Service

The 2010-2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i has an oil capacity of 4.4 quarts, and its preferred oil type is 5W-30 full-synthetic oil, which will cost between $65 and $100 including a new filter. With its new engine, 2013 and 2014 Outback 2.5i needs 5.1 quarts of 5W-30 full-synthetic oil, which means that a DIY oil change will cost between $75 and $115 for facelifted four-cylinder models. Meanwhile, the EZ36D flat-six needs 6.9 quarts of the same oil, and the replacement oil and a new filter will cost between $90 and $150.

An OEM engine air filter and the cabin air filter for any of the Outback engines will cost approximately $25 each. Spark plugs for any of these engines cost up to $30 each, however, but that steep asking price is offset by the fact that they'll last more than 60,000 miles.

A basic oil and filter change at a Subaru dealership will cost between $250 and $300, depending on the Outback model under consideration, while a private workshop could charge between $100 and $150 for this service. Replacing the air filters and spark plugs could cost between $300 and $450 at the dealership, or between $250 and $350 at a private workshop.

4th Gen Subaru Outback Tires

2.5i
Tire Size:
215/60R16
Wheel Size:
16" x 6.5"
Spare Tire:
T145/80R17
Limited
Tire Size:
225/60R17
Wheel Size:
17" x 7"
Spare Tire:
Compact
Premium
Tire Size:
225/60R17
Wheel Size:
17" x 7"
Spare Tire:
T145/80R17
3.6R
Tire Size:
225/60R17
Wheel Size:
17" x 7"
Spare Tire:
T145/80R17

Check Before You Buy

There were a large number of 2010-2014 Subaru Outback recalls, with the most-prominent ones relating to the ongoing Takata airbag-recall saga:

  • All the 2010-2014 Subaru Outback airbag recalls affect the passenger-side frontal airbag's inflator, which may rupture upon deployment and send metal fragments into the interior. Ensure that these recalls are up to date, as this is a potentially harmful defect.
  • Other fourth-generation Subaru Outback recalls include an electrical problem where a previously-fitted replacement mechanical ignition switch may unexpectedly turn off, leading to a loss of engine power and increasing the risk of a collision. This affects a broad swathe of Subarus built from 2005-2014, and is the main cause of 2010-2014 Subaru Outback ignition switch and starting problems.
  • 2010-2014 Outbacks with a manual transmission have been recalled for potentially defective electronic parking brake actuators, which may cause the cars to roll away if the parking brake isn't actuated as intended.
  • Manual-transmission-equipped 2010-2011 Outbacks have also been recalled for a machining fault in the gearbox casing, which could cause certain components to become starved of transmission fluid, eventually leading to gearbox failure. However, this is the only known fourth-generation Subaru Outback manual transmission problem, and there were no 2010-2014 Subaru Outback clutch problems to note.
  • There is an electrically-related recall which involves the wiper motor. This motor could overheat if its operation is hampered by snow or ice jammed between the motor and its cover, which increases the risk of an engine bay fire.
  • There's another electrical gremlin hiding in the doors of 2010-2011 Outbacks, where the puddle lights could take in water, which may then cause a short circuit and potentially start an electrical fire.
  • The final recall involves the remote engine start accessory on 2010-2012 Outback models, which could be fitted to CVT or automatic-transmission cars. Due to a malfunction of the remote control fob, the engine could continue to repeatedly start up and shut down, until either the remote battery goes flat or the vehicle runs out of fuel. This poses an obvious safety risk, especially with vehicles that are parked in enclosed spaces, where carbon monoxide poisoning becomes a possibility.
  • 2013 Subaru Outbacks are subject to a recall related to the steering column, where the inner- and outer shafts could become disengaged. This will lead to steering loss and increase the risk of a collision. Please ensure that this important safety recall has been carried out.
  • There was a recall for 2011 and 2012 Subaru Outback sunroof problems, where the optional glass moonroof may separate from its retainer and detach from the vehicle, due to insufficient adhesive being applied in the factory. The remedy is simply to refit the glass panel with enough adhesive, or replacing the glass panel altogether.
  • Some 2012 Subaru Outbacks were also recalled due to their brake master cylinders allowing excessively long pedal travel and more force before the brakes started working. The solution, in this case, is replacement of the brake master cylinder so ensure that this safety-critical recall has been performed on any 2012 model Outback.
  • The 2014 Subaru Outback 3.6R was subject to its own recall, due to a fault with the parking rod on the gear selector mechanism. This rod may disengage without warning, either locking the vehicle in Park, or not engaging Park if required, and will either immobilize the car, or potentially cause a vehicle roll away.

When scanning a 2010-2014 Subaru Outback's self-diagnostic system, the following error codes may appear:

  • P0000 indicates that there are no stored fault codes to read.
  • P0014 means that the passenger side exhaust camshaft is more advanced than the specifications allow, P0020 points towards an error with the variable valve timing's electrical solenoid circuit, and P0026 indicates a correlation error between one of the inlet cams and the crankshaft. If there is a problem with the crankshaft position sensor, P0335 will be stored in the diagnostic memory, while a problem with a camshaft position sensor will trigger P0340.
  • On the EJ253 engine, P0028 means that the variable valve-lift adjuster on the driver's side engine bank is malfunctioning.
  • If the engine is running too lean, error code P0171 will be shown, while P0172 shows that the engine is running too rich. P2096 indicates that the engine is running leaner than the engine control compensation can accommodate. P0031 indicates a problem with the power supply voltage for a front oxygen sensor being too low, P0037 means that there's an open circuit in the oxygen sensor's heater, and P0057 shows that the voltage output of the secondary oxygen sensor is too low. P0134 indicates an open or short circuit in the passenger-side primary oxygen sensor, and P0139 shows that the rear oxygen sensor on that bank is too slow to respond. P0340 means that the catalytic converter is operating below its efficiency threshold.
  • If there is a leak in the evaporative emission control (EVAP) system, P0442 , P0455, P0456 or P0457 will be displayed, and if the EVAP system pressure is too high, P0453 will show on a diagnostic scan. If the EVAP drain valve is faulty or clogged, error P1443 will be logged.
  • If there is a problem with the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) control valve's wiring harness, code P1498 will be logged.
  • P0073 means that the ambient air-temperature sensor or its circuit may be defective, and P0114 means the same for the intake-air temperature sensor.
  • P0123 and P0223 show that the throttle-position sensor (TPS) output signal voltage is too high.
  • If the engine's operating temperature remains below what the engine control unit expects, fault P0128 will be stored.
  • Error codes P0209 and P0274 show that there's a problem with a fuel injector's wiring circuit.
  • If the supply voltage on the fuel pump's power circuit is too low, P0231 will be triggered.
  • If the engine's control unit detects misfires, it will store code P030X, where the last digit will indicate the number of the missing cylinder. For example, P0301 indicates a misfire on cylinder number one, P0302 means that number two is misfiring, P0304 indicates a misfire on cylinder number four, and P0306 means that cylinder number six is misfiring.
  • P0327 shows that the knock sensor is not working properly, and P0333 means that the knock sensor's output voltage is too high.
  • P0353 indicates that there is a problem with the ignition-coil wiring on cylinder number three.
  • If there is a problem with the fuel level sensor's output voltage, error code P0463 will be displayed.
  • P0500 indicates a problem with the vehicle speed sensor input to the engine's control unit.
  • P0700 is triggered when the engine control unit detects a malfunction in the automatic transmission, while P0751 means that there is a problem with gearshift solenoid A. P0801 means that there's a problem with the reverse inhibitor switch on the gear selector, while P0841 means that the transmission-fluid pressure is too low or that there is an issue with the electrical circuit to the transmission-fluid pressure sensor. A problem in the data transfer from the traction control module to the engine's control unit will trigger error code P0890. This code could also mean that the automatic transmission's shift solenoids are not getting power or that the gearbox's control-unit relay is not switching on. Error code P0966 is another transmission-related code, which indicates a problem with the pressure control solenoid valve, while P1710 indicates a wiring problem on the turbine speed sensor in the torque converter. A problem in the torque-converter lockup-clutch wiring will show up as error codes P2762 or P2764. An error in the communication line between the transmission- and engine-control units will show error P1603 in a diagnostic scan.
  • A fault in the immobilizer system or its outward communication to the engine or instrument cluster will trigger code P1572 or P1578 in a Subaru Outback, and a communication error in the serial data circuit will trigger code P1573.

2010-2014 Subaru Outback Common Problems

EJ253 Engine Problems

The main issue afflicting this old warhorse of an engine involves its head gaskets, which may fail from 100,000 miles. These 2010-2012 Subaru Outback head-gasket problems are due to the multi-layer steel gasket used by Subaru, which doesn't take kindly to even minor surface imperfections on either the block or the cylinder head.

But the EJ253 head gaskets don't even need surface imperfections to let go, because improper coolant mixtures (an incorrect antifreeze-to-water ratio) could cause corrosion of the gaskets themselves. Add the increased risk of overheating due to water leaks or a failing water pump to the equation, and an EJ253 could quickly find a multitude of ways to kill its head gaskets. There was, however, no head-gasket recall for 2010-2012 Subaru Outbacks, so any failure here would be for the owner's account.

Making this problem even worse is the possibility that antifreeze could mix with the engine oil, which will then attack the bearing surfaces on the crankshaft and cause bearing failure. Oil leaks are also common on aging EJ253 engines, and will most likely originate from the rubber valve-cover seals, which deteriorate with time and will eventually start leaking.

Mileage: Head gaskets often fail around the 100,000-mile mark, and oil leaks will likely manifest around the same mileage.

Cost: Replacing the head gaskets will cost well over $1,000, and this bill will grow during the repair job, as other components on the brink of failure will then also make themselves known. Valve-cover gaskets should cost around $50, but fitting them could take the labor bill up to $400.

How to spot: A blown head gasket could leak to the outside of the engine in severe cases, but is most accurately identified by the engine overheating. Check the coolant and engine oil for cross-contamination, which will make the engine oil milky and the coolant oily or foamy. Oil leaks can be identified by oil puddles under a parked car or underneath the engine sump.

FB25B Engine Problems

In contrast to the old EJ engine, the newer FB family appears to be considerably more robust. It has, however, shown some 2013-2014 Subaru Outback oil leak problems, largely due to the big timing chain cover, but the valve cover gaskets, cam carrier gaskets, and oil pan are also prone to leaking. These leaks are usually more of a hassle than anything else, and only become dangerous if they result in oil dripping on hot engine parts, where they could pose a fire hazard.

The FB25B's main problem is, however not related to external oil leaks, because it really prefers to burn its oil rather than simply let it leak out. Excessive oil consumption affects approximately 4-7% of all FB25 engines, and results from oil coming past the pistons and rings in the cylinder bores. Some engines can drink up to three-quarters of a pint of oil in 1,000 miles, and this is generally considered the threshold between acceptable and unacceptable oil consumption. Keep an eye on the FB25B's oil level, because running low on oil is very likely to cause total and very expensive engine failure. Mitigate oil-burning habits by keeping to small throttle openings and avoiding high revs to minimize blow-by until the engine has warmed up properly.

Mileage: Subaru FB engines can start leaking oil from around 100,000 miles, but excessive oil consumption is not linked to an engine's mileage at all, and can start at any time.

Cost: Really big oil-leak repairs can easily cost $3,000 or more, cam carrier gaskets can cost up to $1,500 to repair, and an engine rebuild to cure a 2010-2014 Subaru Outback's oil consumption problems could easily run well past the $10,000 mark.

How to spot: Oil leaks can be identified by visible oil trails on the engine, oil drops or puddles underneath the car, and a burning-oil smell from under the hood. Excessive oil consumption can present as a chronic low engine oil level, misfiring due to oil-fouled spark plugs, and most likely emitting a blue smoke trail from the exhaust pipe.

EZ36D Engine Problems

As with the FB25B and EJ253 engines, the EZ36D engine is prone to leaking oil. The symptoms are the same as those for the FB engine described above, and the oil leaks generally occur in the same areas as well.

There is a bigger issue with the EZ36D engine, though, and that relates to its timing chain tensioners. The timing chains are well up to the task and aren't known to fail, but their tensioners do not share this good reputation. This issue relates to the timing chain tensioners' plastic guide rails, which become brittle with age and due to constant exposure to engine oil, high temperatures and engine vibrations. Should a timing chain tensioner guide disintegrate, the chain could slip teeth and, at worst, cause piston-to-valve interference if driven in this condition. The EZ36D is otherwise a solid engine with no egregious flaws.

On the subject of tensioners, the auxiliary drive belt's tensioner spring can also slacken with age and allow the belt to slip and screech. Worse is that the pulley bearing can seize and if the belt snaps as a result, you will be stranded next to the road, as it also drives the alternator. Have it attended to as soon as symptoms start.

Mileage: Timing chain tensioner guides can fail from 100,000 miles. The tensioners themselves may start to let go sooner, so listen for tell-tale symptoms. Oil leaks typically start to appear from around 40,000-100,000 miles.

Cost: Timing chain replacement kits cost up to $400, with another $300 in labor charges. Some oil leaks cost a few hundred dollars to fix, but invasive oil-leak repairs can top $1,000. Due to difficult access, the replacement of the cam-carrier seals can cost as much as $3,000. An auxiliary drive-belt kit costs around $400 for parts and labor.

How to spot: A rattling noise from the front of the engine upon start-up, growing to a constant rattling noise while driving before tensioner guide failure occurs. Oil leaks leave puddles under the car and an engine wet at leak sites, a low oil level, and puffs of smoke as oil drips on wet engine parts. A failing serpentine-belt tensioner will cause slipping and screeching noises.

Lineartronic CVT Problems

As used in the BR Subaru Outback, the Lineartronic CVT dates from the era when these transmissions proved to be the most troublesome. These issues were mostly resolved by 2015, but by that time, the Outback BR had already gone out of production, flawed early CVT and all. There was no 2010-2014 Subaru Outback automatic-transmission or torque converter recall notice issued, so this accelerated wear pattern in the CVT was deemed acceptable by Subaru, although they did later change tack and extend the warranty for 2010-2014 Subaru Outback CVTs from 60,000 miles to 100,000 miles.

The five-speed automatic transmission in the 3.6R doesn't appear to present many 2010-2014 Subaru Outback automatic transmission problems, but if they do appear, inadequate maintenance is usually to blame.

Mileage: CVT failure could occur from 60,000 miles, although failures have also been reported at lower mileages.

Cost: Basic CVT repairs start around the $1,000 mark, but complete replacement could cost more than $8,000.

How to spot: Shuddering or hesitation when pulling away or coming to a stop, 2010-2014 Subaru Outback engine stalling problems when coming to a halt, grinding noises inside the transmission, failure to transmit any power to the tarmac.

Cooling System Failures

As is the case with most modern cars, many of the Outback's cooling-system components are made of plastic. And, because plastic has a finite life in the face of high temperatures and lots of vibrations, these plastic components become brittle over time, leading to 2010-2014 Subaru Outback overheating problems. Common failure points include the radiator's plastic tanks, engine oil cooler hoses, and even the radiator caps. Other possibilities include 2010-2014 Subaru Outback water pump problems, which should really be replaced every 60,000 miles, and the thermostat's rubber seal.

Mileage: Cooling-system problems can appear from 60,000 miles.

Cost: A new radiator costs upwards of $320, and an OEM coolant pump will set you back at least $170, depending on the engine type.

How to spot: 2010-2014 Subaru Outback overheating and radiator problems are a sure sign of cooling-system failure, whether due to low coolant levels, a defective coolant pump, or a blown head gasket.

Less Common Problems And Problem-Free Areas

Some owners have reported air-conditioning problems on 2010-2014 Subaru Outbacks, which are usually due to refrigerant leaks or electrical problems with the air-conditioning's control system. Some engines' cooling fans have also been known to crack, resulting in condenser-element problems, and the compressor isn't immune to failure, either. By the same token, some 2010-2014 Subaru Outback blower and heater problems have been reported, but most of those also point towards the air-con's control unit.

Electrical and battery problems on 2010-2014 Subaru Outbacks have been mentioned by owners, and are usually caused by insufficient battery capacity - Subaru specified a battery that's really too small to handle all the electronic systems and complex electrics. Owners also reported some 2010-2014 Subaru Outback headlight problems, because the bulbs seem to blow easily and are difficult to access (through the wheel wells). This is likely due to water ingress causing poor earth connections in the headlight circuits. However, there was no Subaru Outback headlight recall for 2010 to 2014 models.

There was also no recall for the clock spring on 2010-2014 Subaru Outbacks. This is the main electrical connection between the steering wheel and the car itself, and appears to be prone to failure, leaving the driver's airbag and any steering-mounted remote controls out of commission.

Apart from coming loose from its retainer, the optional glass sunroof could also experience problems with its cable mechanism. This fourth-generation Outback's moonroof problem can only be solved by complete replacement of its actuating cables, which has been redesigned and improved since the cars first rolled off the factory floor. 2010-2014 Subaru Outback side-window problems are usually also caused by the cable system, which raises and lowers the glass.

Owners have reported wheel-bearing problems on their Outbacks. While this didn't trigger a recall on any 2010-2014 Subaru Outback for front or rear wheel-bearing problems, it remains a persistent source of concern, and could cost up to $270 plus labor to repair a wheel bearing and hub assembly. At the same time, some owners of 2010 and 2011 Subaru Outbacks mentioned shaking and vibration problems, which can only be fixed by extensive modifications of suspension and steering parts, according to the Subaru Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) about this matter.

Catalytic converters are known to fail at high mileage, but this didn't prompt a 2010-2014 Subaru Outback catalytic converter recall, as it's considered to be operational wear and tear. Metallic rattles may also be the cause of some 2010-2014 Subaru Outback exhaust problems, but these are usually caused by loose heat shields, and can easily be repaired by re-tightening the heat-shield mounting bolts.

The fuel system appears to be robust, with very few owners reporting any kind of 2010-2014 Subaru Outback fuel pump or fuel gauge problems.

Which One To Avoid

Among all the fourth-generation Subaru Outbacks, the least desirable one has to be a 2010 to 2012 model year 2.5i saddled with the CVT. While there is no shame in choosing a base-model Outback, the EJ-engined model with its very early-generation CVT is likely to be the most problem-prone of them all, the least fun to drive, the thirstiest at the gas station, and the least attractive to behold on account of its plastic wheel covers. Add its comparatively bare standard specification to these drawbacks, and it becomes difficult to make a case for any pre-facelift base-model Outback with the CVT and the smallest engine option.

Which One To Buy

While the 2.5-liter Outbacks sold in much greater volumes than the 3.6-liter models, the six-cylinder model is a bit of an unsung hero in the value stakes. Its steep depreciation curve means that a facelifted 3.6R Limited offers the most creature comforts, the nicest interior, and the most power in its family, yet it doesn't cost much more on the used-car market than its lesser siblings. If an automatic transmission isn't to your liking, you may want to consider a 2013 or 2014 Outback 2.5i with the manual transmission instead. You could settle for the base model, or spend a little more and opt for one in Premium trim to get most of the nice features as part of a high-value package.

4th Gen Subaru Outback (BR) Verdict

Subaru's recipe for creating a slightly more butch version of their family wagon has been successful for multiple generations. Look past the slightly elevated ride height and plastic cladding, and there's a sensible, practical wagon with all the safety features and convenience items you need, to get your family where they need to be in comfort. Wise buyers would avoid any pre-facelift version with the Lineartronic CVT, though, and economy-minded buyers would be advised to avoid the EJ253 engine. But if you manage to find a fourth-generation Outback with the optimum specifications, your family will enjoy spacious first-class travel as much as you'll enjoy covering great distances in comfort.

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