A Look at the Subaru Outback’s Evolution Throughout the Years

A grey 2023 Subaru Outback is shown driving on a highway.

Looking for a new or used Outback but unsure where to even begin? For those looking for a Subaru dealer in Rhinebeck, look no further than Ruge’s Subaru. We invite you to come visit our dealership and see our impressive selection of new and used Subaru Outbacks up close and personal. While you’re there, you can take a few test drives, compare and contrast features, and find the one best suited for your lifestyle.

The Outback was first born as a trim package for the Subaru Legacy. Considered by some to be one of the first crossover vehicles of its kind, the Outback delivered a durable, practical everyday ride that fit in on both country roads and city streets. The Outback was designed to offer a more rugged ride and power with its Boxer engine, plus more space than a traditional wagon or sedan had previously.

The first Outback was released in the mid-nineties and was a hit with buyers looking for something that combined the power of all-wheel drive with the space of a wagon. Since it was a variant of the Legacy, the two models were very similar from the start. After the Outback continued to gain popularity, it was redesigned and released as just the Outback, with trim packages of its own. Now in its sixth generation, the Outback is considered one of the safest, most reliable cars on the road. With a compact body and all-wheel drive capabilities of an SUV, it’s no wonder the dynamic Outback is the go-everywhere vehicle for drivers. Refreshed in 2020, the sixth generation of Outback was Subaru’s second best-selling car, just behind the Forester in 2021. A smaller alternative to the SUV, the Outback continues to hold its own in an expanding market of SUVs and crossovers.

The First Generation (1994-1999)

First introduced in 1994 at the New York Auto Show, the Outback was sold as the Legacy Outback. It helped Subaru get in on the newly emerging SUV market that was gaining popularity. In the USA, the first generation of Outbacks was offered with all-wheel drive and options for a 4-door sedan or 5-door station wagon. The Outback also offered drivers more power than before with two Boxer engine types, a 2.2L that delivered 135 hp or a 2.5L that produced 155 hp, depending on whether you went with manual or automatic transmission.

The beefy first-generation Outback wagon offered good ground clearance to make minor off-roading excursions possible without sacrificing space or safety. Think less of a rugged mountain trail romp and more casual weekend camping. Split folding rear seats kept the interior of the Outback flexible, making use of the Outback’s max cargo room. The first generation of Outback was a great example of form and function—a nice-looking car that offered drivers the durability they wanted when they needed it the most.

The Second Generation (2000-2004)

The second generation of Outback was big since it was the first time the Outback was officially recognized as a separate model from the Legacy. The new Subaru Outback received a facelift and redesign in 2000 to help it stand out in the market. However, despite setting out on its own, the second generation of Outbacks kept lots of great features that drivers of the previous generation loved, like standard all-wheel drive, responsive handling, reliability, and driver-friendly controls.

The second generation of Outbacks, offered as a sedan or wagon, came standard with a 2.5L Boxer engine with an improved output of 165 hp or an option of a 3.0L engine that produced 212 hp. The second generation offered the base level plus several additional trim levels, with specials like the VCD trim that offered features like Onstar and leather seating, or the sought-after L.L. Bean Edition, which offered a 200 Watt McIntosh stereo system, a six-disc CD changer, and a moonroof.

The Third Generation (2005-2009)

The third generation of Subaru Outbacks for sale arrived on an all-new platform, adding to the crossover’s size and performance capabilities. The Outback’s third-generation facelift saw its exterior redesigned for a more modern look, plus rugged tires and higher-end materials in the cabin. The third generation also released the toughest Subaru yet with the Outback’s turbocharged XT trim package that delivered a 2.5L engine pumping out an impressive 250 hp.

Meanwhile, the popular L.L. Bean trim was discontinued. The overall new styling gave the Outback the look of an upmarket vehicle without an over-the-top price tag. It also began to receive upgrades in modern technology like Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

A white 2012 Subaru Outback is shown from the rear on a snowy path.

The Fourth Generation (2010-2014)

The ever-popular Outback was redesigned both inside and out for the fourth generation. When buyers look at used Outback models from 2010 to 2014, they can expect a wider, taller vehicle, larger headlamps, roomier cabin, increased cargo room, and more ground clearance than previous generations. These changes were calculated to help the Outback continue to compete in the growing SUV market. Subaru introduced its all-new CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), plus a new six-speed manual transmission; however, the fourth generation was the last Outback generation to offer the manual transmission option.

The Fifth Generation (2015-2019)

The fifth generation of Outbacks was again redesigned to be bigger than previous generations. The sleek, simple design of the body made the Outback look fresh but recognizable to drivers. The fifth generation was the most efficient Outback yet, in more ways than one. Not only did it offer a better fuel economy than previous generations, but safety features and technology also took a giant leap forward during this time, with Subaru’s Eyesight Driver Assist Technology becoming standard on all Subaru vehicles.

Drivers thinking about a 2015 to 2019 model Outback can expect more cargo room than previous generations. Upgraded tech was installed to support smartphones and make connecting with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto easier than before. The off-roading capabilities, fuel efficiencies, and higher-end materials make the fifth generation of Outbacks a desirable used car that can be found at a reasonable price.

The Sixth Generation (2020-Present)

Surbaru continues to upgrade and improve the Outback to keep it relevant in a global market. This includes offering hybrid and all-electric options for drivers looking for a more eco-friendly ride from their favorite brand. Minor redesigns were done to the sixth generation, with up-market materials used in the interior to give the Outback a more luxurious feel without compromising power or performance. A large touchscreen with the latest connectivity tech is centered and at the driver’s fingertips. Drivers can choose from the standard 2.5L engine or a 2.4L Turbo Boxer engine.

A close up shows the Subaru badge on the grille of a blue 2021 Subaru Outback.

Considering a Used Outback? Look for These Model Years

With so many great generations under its belt, it could be tough to choose if you’re in the market for a used Subaru Outback. Consider a few of the Outback’s best-selling years. The 2009 Outback was a great blend of everyday utility, comfort, reliability, and performance. This year has high customer scores and feedback, with some saying it’s the best vehicle they’ve ever owned.

Looking for something a bit newer? Consider the 2019 Outback. Again, this Outback comes at the tail end of a generation meaning most mechanical or performance issues have already been addressed, leaving drivers with nothing but the good stuff. Not only that, but drivers can scoop up a real deal, getting some of the latest safety and tech features, plus great efficiency when it comes to fuel economy, all without the heavy price tag of a brand new vehicle.