Subaru Outback 5th Generation 2015-2019 Review

Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Used Outback 5th Gen

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5th-Generation Outback: What Owners Say

  • Owners enjoy the crossover wagon, and this is confirmed by the Outback's strong sales. Its handling is wallowy and cumbersome for a car, but it is far more wieldy and less top-heavy than an SUV. Although the low-grip tires and comfortable suspension setup won't be a thrill on a mountain pass, it feels a lot more like a car to drive than a traditional SUV.
  • Thanks to efficient engines and a CVT automatic, the Outback's fuel consumption and running costs are closer to that of a car, not an SUV.
  • Owners appreciate that they can get nearly nine inches of ground clearance and some off-road ability without paying a hefty price at the pumps.
  • The Outback has excellent safety credentials, which is imperative for family vehicles. Both its crash scores and standard safety equipment make it a safety class leader.
  • The 175-hp base engine is just adequate, even if you don't have a penchant for speed. Its weak performance combined with a lethargic CVT can be very frustrating.
  • The maximum towing capacity of 2,700 pounds falls well short of what most SUV owners may want. You'd have to buy something more capable for towing heavier rigs.
  • The fifth-generation Outback suffered more niggles than expected of a Subaru and the buggy StarLink infotainment system, cracking windshields, and numerous recalls blotch the Outback's copybook somewhat.

2018 Fifth Generation Subaru Outback BS Facelift

The 5th-generation Subaru Outback received a single facelift in its relatively short life and it was applied to the 2018 model, the second-last model year.

2018-2019 5th Gen Outback Facelift Front Changes

The rather fussy grille with all its chrome slats and slots was simplified and cleaned up. The facelift variant has a thinner chrome border and one thick chrome slat running horizontally through its top third - with the Subaru logo in the middle - and two thin slats below it 1. The bumper treatment is more aggressive, with the black fog light slots reaching up higher into the bumper and toward the headlights. Above these slots, the bumper gains crisp L-shaped creases 2. The headlights are subtly restyled and sharpened up, with the top edge of the headlight now running down to the grille with a pointy edge and no longer a smooth curve 3.

2018-2019 5th Gen Outback Facelift Rear Changes

The rear received fewer changes, retaining the old sheet metal and rear lights. The bumper is new though, with the black rear valance mirroring the front one, reaching up into the bumper on either side of the tailgate and no longer running evenly along the lower edge of the bumper 1. At the front, these slots contain the fog lights and at the rear they contain the upright rear reflectors 2.

2018-2019 5th Gen Outback Facelift Side Changes

Besides the obligatory new wheel designs that accompany a facelift, the profile looks the same, save for the revised bumpers with their new lower valances that can also be seen from the side 1.

2018-2019 5th Gen Outback Facelift Interior Changes

The interior received a freshening that is subtle but noticeable. The most obvious changes are to the center stack. The top half receives a new infotainment interface with a larger screen and revised buttons 1. The lower half is no longer layered in dark and silver plastic, but is uniformly black and contains a completely redesigned climate control interface, with two large round knobs on either side and buttons between them, whereas the previous silver panel had three smaller round knobs 2. The entire center control stack is black and now gains a silver border, also applied around the two center air vents, which are now larger 3.

Engine, Transmission, and Drivetrain

The 5th-gen Subaru Outback had the same two engine options for its entire production run. The base engine is a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated FB25 flat-four with 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, driving all four wheels via Subaru's symmetrical permanent all-wheel-drive system. The 0-60-mph sprint is dispatched in around 9.1 - 9.6 seconds. The other engine option is a far more potent 3.6-liter naturally aspirated EZ36D flat-six with 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, capable of completing the benchmark sprint in around seven seconds. Both engines are exclusively mated to a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

2.5-liter FB25 Naturally Aspirated Flat-Four Gas Engine
175 hp | 174 lb-ft
Horsepower
175 hp
Torque
174 lb-ft
Transmission
Eight-speed CVT automatic

With a curb weight of around 3,600 pounds, the base engine offers lethargic performance but should be adequate around town and for normal family duty. The 2.5-liter FB25 engine has its pistons horizontally opposed in true Subaru tradition and makes use of a maintenance-free chain drive to drive its overhead camshafts. It is generally robust and reliable but has been known to have an appetite for oil. Most other issues have to do with the engine starting to leak oil through its various seals and gaskets as it ages. If the owner checks the oil level frequently and makes sure it's always topped up, this engine should provide years of dependable service and might only need workshop attention if the oil leaks get out of hand.

3.6-liter EZ36D Naturally Aspirated Flat-Six Gas Engine
256 hp | 247 lb-ft
Horsepower
256 hp
Torque
247 lb-ft
Transmission
Eight-speed CVT automatic

The 3.6-liter EZ36D engine is similarly tough and offers a lot more power and decent performance for a wagon, at the expense of worse MPG figures. While it doesn't quite have the same oil-consumption reputation as its smaller sibling, it's been known to also start leaking oil through all its gaskets and seals as it ages. The cam chain is durable, but it has the occasional issue with the tensioner, which must be replaced when it plays up. Similarly, the serpentine belt's tensioner may also fail and if this failure snaps the belt, you are stranded next to the road, as it drives all the auxiliaries.

2015-2019 Subaru Outback 5th Generation Real MPG

Luckily, the 5th gen Outback was popular in America and there is plenty of user-submitted data. These figures show one thing clearly: that the 2.5-liter engine never achieves its claims in practice and that the 3.6-liter always beats its claims. It seems that owners are driving the underpowered 2.5 hard to make headway, while the six-cylinder is operating well within the ambit of its abilities more of the time.

EPA mpgReal-World mpg *
2.5-liter flat-four AWD CVT25/32/28 mpg23.7-27.1 combined
3.6-liter flat-six AWD CVT20/27/22 mpg22.8-23.9 combined

* 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

The fifth-generation Subaru Outback BS has had a sound reputation for safety from the day it was launched. The NHTSA awarded the 2015 model an overall rating of five stars, made up of five stars for the frontal and side crash tests and four stars for the rollover test. The Outback received these exact same scores for all five model years. The IIHS awarded the 2015 Outback its top score for all its crash tests, as well as the Top Safety Pick+ award - the agency's highest accolade. Again, the Outback retained these scores for all model years, putting it in the top tier of safest cars on US roads.

Standard safety equipment on the base 2015 Outback includes ABS brakes, stability and traction control, eight airbags, active front headrests, automatic headlights, tire pressure monitoring, and a backup camera. All trims except the base car have access to EyeSight driver-assistance systems, such as pedestrian detection, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, sway warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning. For 2016, lane-keeping assist was added to the EyeSight suite. The 2016 Limited received standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Automatic high beams and automatic reverse emergency braking are added to the EyeSight suite for 2017, as well as a top Touring trim that gets all the safety features as standard. Adaptive LED headlights with high-beam assist became available for the 2018 model. The final 2019 model year saw the biggest safety upgrade, with the previously optional EyeSight driver-assistance suite becoming standard equipment on all trims, with additional equipment - and auto-dimming interior mirror with HomeLink and a compass - added to Premium and Limited trims.

US NHTSA Crash Test Result (2019)

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

5th Generation Subaru Outback Trims

The fifth-gen Outback trims are relatively straightforward, with Base, Premium, and Limited trims for the 2015 four-cylinder models and the 3.6 only available in Limited. The 2017 model year saw the addition of a top Touring trim, available with either engine, and this is how the lineup remained for the rest of the production run. For all years up to 2018, the Base trim lost out not only due to fewer standard features but also because various extras weren't available on it, notably safety features.

Base
2015-2019
Engine
2.5-liter naturally aspirated flat-four gas
Transmission
CVT automatic
Drivetrain
AWD

The 2015 Base Outback is fitted with 17-inch steel rims with plastic covers, roof rails, automatic halogen headlights, power door locks, windows, and mirrors, air-conditioning, cruise control, a manually tilting/telescoping steering column, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, manually adjustable front seats with height adjustment for the driver, eight airbags, stability control, and a backup camera. There is a 6.2-inch Starlink center touchscreen interface that integrates a smartphone with Aha and Pandora audio streaming, as well as HD radio, an iPod/USB audio interface, a CD player, and four speakers. The 2017 model doesn't have the steel wheels anymore, but 17-inch alloys instead. The facelifted 2018 base model gets more comfortable suspension, better sound deadening, and an updated infotainment system with a larger 6.5-inch screen and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 2019 base Outback is the first one ever to get the EyeSight driver-assistance suite as standard, with features such as automatic high beams, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, front-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. A five-inch driver-information display in the gauge cluster is also standard for 2019, as well as two USB ports.

Premium
2015-2019
Engine
2.5-liter naturally aspirated flat-four gas
Transmission
CVT automatic
Drivetrain
AWD

The 2015 Premium has everything the base car has, adding 17-inch alloy wheels, a windshield wiper de-icer, fog lights, heated side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way electrically adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support, heated front seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, a cargo cover, satellite radio, a larger seven-inch infotainment screen, and six speakers. The 2016 Premium and Limited trims' Starlink infotainment has more Starlink Connected services, including a safety and security package that adds features like stolen vehicle recovery and automatic crash notification and for 2017, the screen size went up to seven inches. The facelifted 2018 Premium has all the extra features that the base car received for 2018, but it has an even bigger, eight-inch infotainment screen, one additional front and two additional rear USB ports, and two more speakers for a total of six. The 2019 Premium also has an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with HomeLink and a compass.

Limited
2015-2019
Engine
2.5-liter2.5-liter flat-four / 3.6-liter flat-six naturally aspirated gas
Transmission
CVT automatic
Drivetrain
AWD

The 2015 2.5-liter Limited trim has 18-inch alloy wheels, steering-responsive fog lights that turn with the front wheels, a power tailgate, a front skid plate, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, wood trim, memory settings for the driver's seat, a four-way electrically adjustable passenger seat, leather upholstery, heated rear seats, and a premium nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. The 2015 3.6R Limited additionally adds the six-cylinder engine and xenon headlights. The 2016 Limited's suspension system is tuned to provide better comfort and the 2017 Limited had access to optional reverse automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams, so this could have been fitted to a used car. The 2018 facelift means new wheels for the Limited and a larger eight-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and for 2019, it has a power liftgate.

Touring
2017-2019
Engine
2.5-liter flat-four / 3.6-liter flat-six naturally aspirated gas
Transmission
CVT automatic
Drivetrain
AWD

The luxurious Touring trim was only added as a 2017 model and comes with either the four- or six-cylinder engine. It gets everything included in the Limited trim but adds a distinctive dark-gray radiator grille, as well as model-specific roof rails, lower body cladding, and 18-inch alloy wheels on the outside. Inside, it has a heated steering wheel, unique wood and piano-black trim, automatic high beams, and automatic emergency braking in reverse. It also has the larger eight-inch infotainment screen and adaptive LED headlights as part of the 2018 facelift.

Fifth Generation Outback Features (last model year)

BasePremiumLimitedTouring
Back-Up CameraSSSS
Bluetooth ConnectionSSSS
Leather SeatsaN/AN/ASS
Apple CarPlaySSSS
Keyless EntrySSSS
Keyless StartN/AN/ASS
HD RadioSSSS
Alloy WheelsSSSS
SunroofN/AN/AN/AN/A

Interior, Trim, And Practicality

The interior of the Outback is spacious for a wagon and with more than 38 inches or rear legroom, nearly 39 inches of rear headroom, and a full 35.5 cubic feet of cargo space on offer, it offers lots of room for people and things. It's not as roomy as some proper crossovers, but it has more than enough space for a growing family and everything is screwed together tightly. It's not really upmarket, but it's pleasingly solid. Subaru does its best to make the most of what's on offer by providing leather as standard on both top trims; in fact, the Touring has sumptuous Java Brown leather trim, which does quite a lot to lift the interior and drive Subaru's luxury aspirations home. So too do the satin-silver highlights on the dashboard and steering wheel and welcome touches such as the rear-seat ventilation vents.

INTERIOR TRIMBasePremiumLimitedTouring
Slate Black / Warm Ivory cloth seats (2015-2017)SSN/AN/A
Slate Black / Warm Ivory leather seats (2015-2017)N/AN/ASN/A
Java Brown leather seatsN/AN/AN/AS
Slate Black / Warm Ivory / Titanium Gray cloth seats (2018-2019)SSN/AN/A
Slate Black / Warm Ivory / Titanium Gray leather seats (2018-2019)N/AN/ASN/A

2015-2019 Subaru Outback 5th Gen Maintenance and Cost

The Outback's engines are generally durable and it seems that the days of the EJ engines with their gasket issues and cambelt replacements are gone for good. The FB and EZ engines have chain drives for the valvegear and the gaskets hold up, so no problems there. However, they tend to leak oil as they age and the six-cylinder engine does experience the occasional issue with its cam-chain and serpentine-belt tensioners, while the four-cylinder may have an unhealthy appetite for oil if you drew the short end of the straw. However, Subaru has a reputation for troublesome transmissions, especially the CVT, which is the only one available on all fifth-generation Outbacks. The 2015 models are best avoided, but Subaru did extend the warranty on models with problematic CVTs and most of the issues should have been addressed by now. The CVT should not jerk, shudder, or hesitate.

A lubrication service where the engine oil and filter are replaced and the tires rotated is due every 6,000 miles. The cabin's air filter should be replaced every 12,000 miles, the engine's air filter and the brake fluid every 30,000 miles, the spark plugs every 60,000 miles, and the fuel filter every 72,000 miles. Subaru does not prescribe an interval for the replacement of the CVT's oil and stipulates that it should only be inspected every 30,000 miles. It prescribes transmission oil changes only for severe use, such as towing. There is no dipstick to check the oil level for yourself. Fastidious owners prefer to replace the oil from time to time and every 60,000 miles is a good call. Be sure to use a professional that uses the correct oil and knows how to do the job - or have it done by a Subaru dealership.

Fifth Gen Subaru Outback Basic Service

Engine Oil Change Including Filter (Gas)

2015-2019 2.5-liter naturally aspirated flat-four FB25 gas engine: 4.83L (5.1 quarts)

Recommended type and viscosity: 0W-20 fully synthetic oil, Amsoil OEM part code OEZQT-EA

Oil filter element OEM part number 15208AA15A

Replacement: Every 6,000 miles

Average cost: $9 for filter and $56 for oil

2015-2019 3.6-liter naturally aspirated flat-four EZ36D gas engine: 6.53L (6.9 quarts)

Recommended oil type and viscosity: 5W-30 fully synthetic oil, Amsoil OEM part code OEFQT-EA

Oil filter element OEM part number 15208AA031

Replacement: Every 6,000 miles

Average cost: $8 for filter and $65 for oil

Sparkplugs

2015-2019 2.5-liter naturally aspirated flat-four FB25 gas engine:

Part code: 22401AA781

Replacement: Every 60,000 miles

Average price: $92 for four

2015-2019 3.6-liter naturally aspirated flat-six EZ36D gas engine:

Part code: 22401AA751

Replacement: Every 60,000 miles

Average price: $96 for six

Air Filter

All engines:

OEM part number: 16546AA16A

Replacement: Every 30,000 miles

Average Price: $26

Battery

All engines, all years:

Type: Duralast Gold / Optima AGM Red Top battery, SKU #330109 / #729133

Replacement: Every 3-5 years

Average Price: $190/$240

5th Gen Subaru Outback Tires

2015-2019 Base and Premium
Tire size:
P225/65HR17
All-season tires:
$551-$825 per set
2015-2019 Limited and 2017-2019 Touring
Tire size:
P225/60HR18
All-season tires:
$600-$927 per set

Check Before You Buy

Technical Service Bulletins according to the NHTSA. Check service book for:

The Outback is generally durable, but the early CVTs proved troublesome, although most of these are covered by an extended warranty. Nothing major goes wrong with the engines, but about four to seven percent of FB25 engines exhibit excessive oil consumption, which is around one in 20. It's more an irritant than a problem and does not affect the performance or normal operation of the engine, but it can spell trouble if it's excessive and the oil level runs dangerously low, which can lead to engine failure. The EZ36D does not seem to suffer from this malady, but a faulty cam-chain tensioner can rear its head and should be attended to before the chain becomes damaged or before it fails completely and causes engine damage. Other than that, it's only really the EZ36D's auxiliary belt drive (again the tensioner) that can cause trouble. If it fails, the alternator stops working, forcing you to stop. This is just as well, because the water pump stops as well and the engine would overheat if you continued driving.

Besides these and a few other more common problems, there are also a few minor problems that do crop up from time to time and do not warrant their own sections in this review; we list them here:

  • Some 2016 and 2017 Subaru Outback problems include a seemingly faulty ignition switch, leading to the key becoming stuck so that it cannot be removed from the ignition. Apparently, the steering column must be replaced in such a case, to the tune of around $470.
  • It's unclear whether an alignment issue is at the root of it, but there was an uptick in Outbacks pulling to the one side while driving and it only really seems to affect the 2018 Outback.
  • Some 2015 and 2016 Subaru Outbacks seem to have a problem with their lifetime fuel-consumption monitor not working properly. This does not seem to be very commonplace and it's not very serious either.
  • While the frequency with which 2015, 2016, and 2017 Subaru Outback driver window problems are mentioned warrants a closer look, it usually does not seem to be serious and usually requires little more than resetting the power-window controller.
  • 2015 and 2016 Subaru Outback wheel bearing problems crop up now and again. Some Outback owners reported the premature failure of wheel bearings at around 35,000 to 50,000 miles, requiring replacement at around $650 a shot.
  • There seem to be several 2015 and 2016 Subaru Outback power liftgate problems, often after a dead battery and the failures appear to be temperature-related too. In many cases, Outbacks experiencing sub-zero temperatures seem to be more prone to the problem of the power liftgate failing to open or only opening partly before closing again.

Common and Serious 2015-2019 Subaru Outback Problems

Excessive Oil Consumption

Stories of excessive oil consumption in Subarus just don't want to go away and the automaker's horizontally opposed engines are often listed on the top-ten lists of oil drinkers. It is one of the relatively common known2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Subaru Outback 2.5i mechanical or engine reliability problems, with later model years being better. Most sources estimate that between four and seven percent of FB25 engines exhibit this tendency and although it doesn't affect performance or the normal operation of the engine, it does require you to check the oil level frequently, while you also run the risk of incurring engine damage if you don't and the oil level falls dangerously low. Oil consumption exceeds 0.75 quarts per 1,000 miles in some cases. There's really nothing you can do about it except top up regularly unless the car is new enough and the problem bad enough for Subaru to assist with repairs under warranty, which usually means a replacement of the piston assembly. Although it doesn't seem to be a problem on the six-cylinder engine, check its oil frequently in the beginning to see whether there is a drop in the oil level. To reduce oil consumption, avoid high loads and large throttle openings while the engine is cold, to minimize piston-ring blow-by in engines with higher clearances.

Mileage: From new

Cost: The cost of top-up oil

How to spot: Low oil level, oil-pressure light, blue smoke from the exhaust

Oil Leaks

Besides the previously mentioned 2015-2019 Subaru Outback oil consumption problems on the certain examples of the four-cylinder engine, oil leaks seem to be commonplace with the advancing age of both the engines. This holds true for both four- and six-cylinder engines. These engines have numerous gaskets and seals through which oil can leak as these seals degrade over time, including that of the massive timing chain cover. Cam carrier oil seals are known to start leaking from as early as 40,000 to 70,000 miles and valve cover gaskets typically start at around 100,000 miles. A major leak can pose a fire risk.

Mileage: 40,000 to 100,000 miles on average

Cost: Redoing the sealant of minor leaks may cost only around $250, but $1,000 is more typical for repairing oil leaks on these engines. Because it is difficult to get to the cylinder heads, labor costs tend to balloon when invasive work is done, and replacing cam carrier seals can cost as much as $3,000. Smaller seals may cost between $10 and $50 in parts, but labor will again be the big expense.

How to spot: Oil leaks may leave visible traces on the floor and show a drop in the oil level. Oil sometimes drips on hot engine parts, emitting occasional puffs of oil smoke from under the hood, accompanied by a burnt oil smell. The engine will also be physically wet with oil at the leak sites.

Unintended Acceleration

Currently the subject of a class-action lawsuit and not yet a recall, this may develop further in the future. Subaru owners of several models claim that their vehicles can accelerate spontaneously, despite - or even because of - using the brake pedal. While it cannot be discounted that pedal spacing and pressing on the wrong pedal might have something to do with it - as it did with Audi in the '90s - the jury is still out on this one. Be sure that an Outback responds faithfully to pedal inputs and does not accelerate when you mean to slow down and aren't pressing the accelerator.

Mileage: N/A

Cost: N/A

How to spot: Spontaneous acceleration without pressing the accelerator or when stepping on the brake.

Tensioner Problems

Both the four- and six-cylinder engines employ maintenance-free cam chains, but there are a few six-cylinder 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R engine problems in particular, most notably that it can suffer the occasional failure of the chain tensioner, usually announced by a rattling sound and eventually, poor running, and a Check Engine light. This problem must be attended to before damage can occur and if left even a little too long, the chain sustains damage and will probably have to be replaced as well. If the tensioner fails at high mileage, you can just as well replace the chain as well, to save additional labor costs to replace this item later on.

Coincidentally, the 3.6-liter engine's serpentine belt tensioner also tends to play up and when the pulley's spring starts to deteriorate, the belt is not held tightly enough anymore and may affect the operation of all the auxiliaries that it drives, notably the air-conditioning, alternator, and water pump. It might start slipping and screeching, or the pulley bearing might seize altogether, leaving you stranded next to the road with no electrical power. Keep in mind that some 2015-2019 Subaru Outback air conditioner problems that entail the system not supplying cold enough air might be traced to the serpentine belt slipping due to a dodgy tensioner.

Mileage: Tensioners might be more time- than mileage-sensitive and should be replaced as soon as symptoms start. Alternatively, every 60,000 miles seems to be a good preventative replacement interval.

Cost: A serpentine belt and tensioner kit costs around $150, plus about $250 to fit. A cam chain and tensioner kit is in the region of $400, plus $300 labor.

How to spot: Spontaneous acceleration without pressing the accelerator or when stepping on the brake

CVT Problems

While Subaru's Lineartronic CVT is today quite reliable and pleasant to use, quite a lot of 2015 and 2016 Subaru Outback 2.5i and 3.6R CVT transmission problems have been reported. These also affected the fifth generation Outback and the early years were worse - with 2015 being the worst of all. Subaru extended the warranty on these problem cars to ten years or 100,000 miles and most problematic transmissions should have been repaired under warranty, but check whether this has been done on a 2015 Outback or rather avoid it. The 2016 and 2017 Outbacks seem to have been affected too, albeit to a far lower extent. Symptoms include shudders, jerking, thumping, knocking, and shaking of the CVT while driving, as well as engines stalling because of the transmission problem. Upon pulling away, there may be hesitation or jerking. The car must be sweet-driving and free from all these problems because repairs of the CVT are expensive.

Mileage: From new

Cost: Repairs of the transmission will rarely cost less than $1,000 and may reach $4,000. A complete transmission replacement can be as much as $8,000.

How to spot: Hesitant and inconsistent acceleration, a delayed and/or jerky pull away, shudders, thumping, knocking, vibration, and even stalling.

Cracked Windshields

A cracked windshield plagued the entire fifth generation of Subaru Outback. Windshield cracks would simply appear for no reason and following no impact to the glass, sometimes even while the cars were parked. The problem often manifests itself at low mileages and because there was no recall for it, the replacement windshield will be for your account if the same fate befalls you.

Mileage: 7,500- 25,000 miles on average

Cost: Most quotes for a windshield replacement hover between $560 and $900.

How to spot: Cracked windshield.

Blind-Spot Monitor Not Working Correctly

The EyeSight system's blind-spot monitoring system seems to go on the blink in some 2015 Outbacks, with very few 2016 models affected. If the system does not work properly, it usually needs to be recalibrated by the dealership, which typically fixes the problem.

Mileage: From new

Cost: Around $90 to have the system recalibrated

How to spot: Blind-spot monitoring system inoperative or not working as intended.

Batteries Draining

There seems to be a lot of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Subaru Outback dead battery problems affecting all model years and it has become the subject of a class-action lawsuit, the ruling of which is still to come. Plaintiffs allege Subaru has known about a defect in the electrical system that causes the batteries to drain for several years. Batteries drain quickly, even from new, and especially when the car is used for many short trips. The frequent discharging eventually ruins the battery and the Subaru dealership usually only replaces it with a new one, which doesn't address the root cause. Many 2015-2019 Subaru Outback starting problems can be traced back to a dead battery.

Mileage: From new

Cost: From $150 to over $200 for a new battery

How to spot: Low battery and slow cranking. Eventually, a dead battery, leaving the car stranded.

Starlink Infotainment Problems

There is no shortage of 2015-2019 Subaru Outback radio, infotainment display panel, Bluetooth, and navigation system problems. The Starlink infotainment system is prone to problems, but because these problems always occur from new and rarely later than 25,000 miles, they have mostly been addressed via software updates and under warranty. However, a class-action lawsuit involving the 2018 Outback resulted in a settlement and reimbursement for owners. However, if you weren't part of the class action, you don't qualify for anything. Starlink problems affected the Harman Gen 3 head unit and included the failure of the navigation system's voice control, spontaneous system shutdowns, Bluetooth connectivity issues, an unresponsive touchscreen, and a frozen backup camera. Radio problems include an inoperative radio, a radio not responding to the volume control, an inability to shut off the radio, and a radio starting up at a high volume when starting the vehicle. Carefully test the Starlink system to ensure that it works perfectly and with no software bugs.

Mileage: From new

Cost: There isn't much data about cost available because most problems were resolved under warranty but out-of-warranty costs can vary wildly, from software updates to the replacement of the head unit with a Subaru or aftermarket item.

How to spot: Software bugs, freezing or unresponsive system, problems with the radio's volume control, freezing backup camera display, Bluetooth problems, high radio volume.

Recalls

Here are all the 2015-2019 Subaru Outback recalls:

  • Denso fuel pump recall. More than 364,000 Subarus of various models were recalled for a Denso low-pressure fuel pump that may fail, causing the engine to stall and potentially causing a crash. The 2018 and 2019 Outbacks were affected. Dealers replace the fuel pump.
  • Fuel-gauge recall. The 2018 Subaru Outback gas gauge problems are well-known and there was a recall for them. In nearly 230,000 2018 Subarus, an incorrect fuel-level display may cause the vehicle to unexpectedly run out of fuel without warning and the Outback was affected too. Dealers reprogram the combination meter software to fix the problem.
  • Backup camera recall. In more than 71,000 Subarus, the backup camera image may fail to display when selecting Reverse, possibly leading to a crash. The 2018 Outback was also affected. Dealers reprogram the audio system's display software to solve the problem in an ongoing effort to iron out the Starlink infotainment system's software bugs.
  • Steering failure recall. A total of 48,819 2015-2017 Subaru Legacy and Outback models were recalled for an improperly machined steering column that may separate completely, leading to a total loss of steering and potentially causing a crash. Subaru replaces the entire steering column.
  • ESC recall. Subaru recalled 766 Legacy and Outback models from 2015 for an electronic stability control (ESC) system that may not perform adequately due to moisture in the brake fluid, leading to a loss of vehicle control and potentially a crash. Dealers flush the brake system and replace the brake fluid.
  • Transmission oil leak recall. There was a recall of Subaru Outback transmission problems for fluid leaking out of them. A total of 2,893 2015 and 2016 Legacys and Outbacks were recalled for a propeller shaft yoke with a deformed seal cap that may cause transmission fluid to leak onto the hot exhaust, potentially causing a fire. Dealers replace affected propeller shafts.
  • Inoperative EyeSight collision mitigation braking recall. In another 2015 recall, nearly 72,000 Subarus across five model ranges including the Outback were recalled for a switch that activates the brake lights that might fail, thereby disabling the front pre-collision automatic emergency braking function. Dealers reprogram the EyeSight driver-assistance system to ensure the system always activates when needed.
  • Recall for incorrectly torqued trailer hitch assembly. In yet another 2015 recall, 56 Outbacks were recalled for the nuts of their trailer hitch assemblies having been overtightened during assembly, potentially causing a failure of the hitch mounting studs. Dealers replace all eight hitch mounting nuts.
  • Recall for an airbag control module incompatible with the airbag. Only 46 2016 and 2017 Outbacks were affected by a replacement passenger airbag control module that might have been installed and that is incompatible with the passenger airbag module, causing the airbag to deploy improperly. Dealers replace the airbag module.
  • Recall for the driveshaft that may detach from the differential. Subaru recalled 3,251 2016 Legacys and Outbacks for a driveshaft that may detach from the rear differential, potentially striking the gas tank and rupturing it.
  • Recall for loose bolts affecting braking and handling. No more than 99 2017 Outbacks were recalled for bolts in the left-hand and right-hand-side brake calipers, wheel hubs, and right-hand-side stabilizer clamp that may not have been properly tightened. If these bolts were to loosen and the affected components become detached, it could lead to vehicle instability and reduced braking performance. Dealers inspect all the bolts for torque and replace the affected ones.
  • Recall for improperly applied spot welds. Subaru recalled 2,107 2019 Legacy and Outback models for spot welds on the duct below the lower cowl that may have been applied improperly, leading to reduced strength of the vehicle's body and an increased risk of injury in a crash. Dealers repaired the vehicles or offered to buy them back and then repair them. Either way, they should be perfectly safe if the recall work has been performed.

Which One To Avoid

The 2015 Subaru Outback was by far the worst in terms of problems and although many of these should have been fixed under warranty or recall, we'd avoid it because the first year of a new model is usually the most problematic anyway and production quality improves on later years. Also, keep in mind that pre-facelift models never had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and were sometimes criticized for their stiff ride quality. In terms of the trims, we'd avoid the four-cylinder engine altogether. It is underpowered and in the real world, this means that its fuel-economy advantage is watered down because it has to be driven hard to deliver its best. We'd also avoid the base trim, which is not only worse equipped but has access to fewer upgrades and options as well.

Which One To Buy

If the budget stretched that far, we'd go for a facelift 2018+ Outback with its improved appearance and suspension. The 2019 model with its standard EyeSight driver-assistance suite is best, but this was optional on 2018 models, so a 2018 model so equipped is just as safe. We wouldn't hesitate to go for the six-cylinder either, because, in the real world, its fuel economy is better than the EPA claims and not that far off the four-cylinder's. Yet, it offers a lot more power, as well as a nicer sound and better refinement. The facelift Outback also has smartphone integration as standard.

5th Gen Subaru Outback BS Verdict

With a few persistent issues and too many recalls, the fifth-generation Outback is not the last word in Subaru reliability but if you avoid the 2015 model and opt for a car with a full service history and all its warranty and recall work done, you'll have a solid wagon that can go many places cars cannot, without it handling like a truck. It really does offer an excellent compromise and should last a long time if properly taken care of - just don't skimp on the maintenance and remember that engine work is often expensive because of the inaccessibility of the horizontally opposed engine.

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