2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited Road Test

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Subaru’s Outback is not only just as practical as most mid-size crossover SUVs, but it can out-perform the majority off-road too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru has long provided a nicely balanced lineup of performance-oriented yet practical cars and crossover SUVs, with the Outback not only typifying this ideal, but together with the smaller compact Crosstrek it actually bridges the gap between family wagon and sport utility.

The Outback’s best of both world’s design means that it’s always been a strong seller for Subaru, but I think it would do even better if more mid-size crossover SUV buyers knew just how roomy it is inside. Despite its lower overall height, the Outback’s 1,005 litres (35.5 cubic feet) of dedicated cargo capacity and 2,075 litres (73.3 cubic feet) of space when the rear row is flattened is much more capable of swallowing up gear than Nissan’s Murano and Chevy’s new Blazer, while it’s on par with Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, and even Jeep’s off-road dominating Grand Cherokee.

Subaru could make it even more accommodating if they’d offer a second-row centre pass-through, mind you, or better yet 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks like some premium European brands, but the Outback does include a convenient set of cargo wall-mounted levers for laying its 60/40-split seats flat automatically, while a nice retractable cargo cover and rugged available cargo mat make it a perfect companion for the majority of family hauling duties such as carting four individuals plus their ski/snowboard gear up to the slopes.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
In today’s crossover SUV world, the Outback stands out for being different. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s when you’ll be glad for the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive, and that it’s not just any AWD system. Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD is well respected for providing an even distribution of torque to each wheel and more even weight distribution overall, not to mention a lower centre of gravity due to its lineup of horizontally opposed “boxer” engines. I’ve been test driving Outbacks since I started covering the automotive industry two decades ago, and I even spent a week in a near identical (other than colour) 2018 Outback 3.6R Limited last year, so I’ve experienced how well its AWD system works in tandem with its standard electronic traction and stability control systems to deliver go-near-anywhere capability in almost any weather condition.

Of course, the Outback is capable of climbing out of much deeper snow than the mere wisp of white surrounding our test vehicle, with many of my weeklong tests including stints up the mountain trudging through thickly blanketed snow sport parking lots and a number of trips up country to visit family, where its family of flat four- and six-cylinder engines always provided strong highway performance and enough torque to dig the car out of deep snow banks.

Back to the here and now, Subaru gave the Outback a mid-cycle update for the 2018 model year, while the Japanese brand is smack dab in the middle of launching its fully redesigned 2020 model as this review gets published, so if you decide to drive on down to your local Subie retailer you’ll probably see the latest version parked in their showroom and a smattering of new 2019s outside on the lot, the latter cars no doubt reduced in price to find homes quickly.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
No matter whether choosing the 2019 or 2020, the Outback is a good looking tall wagon. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

CarCostCanada was reporting up to $3,000 in additional incentives for 2019 Outbacks at the time of writing, while you’ll also find trim, package and option prices there, as well as rebate information and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when you sit down to negotiate, therefore you really should consider a 2019 unless you really want the updated version.

Choosing the new replacement Outback or soon to be replaced model shouldn’t solely be up to finances, unless budget limitations demand, but I still don’t see most buyers of the 2020 version sold merely on styling. After all, while they’re obviously different when seen side-by-side, the updated model is no radical departure. In fact, I’d say it’s actually less rugged looking at a time when most car-based crossover SUVs are working overtime to pretend otherwise.

Inside, it gets the mainstream volume sector’s largest centre touchscreen at 11.6 inches, positioned vertically instead of horizontal, as with this 2019 model’s still amply sized 8.0-inch touchscreen. I won’t go into too much detail about the 2020 model, being that I haven’t tested one yet, but suffice to say the new centre display could very well make moving into the latest Outback worthwhile all on its own.

Then again, I could see someone choosing a 2019 Outback just to acquire my test model’s wonderful 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine, which is sadly on its way out of the entire Subaru lineup. It has recently only been available in upper-crust Outbacks and top-tier versions of the brand’s Legacy mid-size sedan, but the advent of Subaru’s new Ascent mid-size three-row crossover SUV last year, and its lack of H6 power, initially signified an uncertain end to six-cylinder performance within blue-oval, silver star products, and now the 2020 Legacy and Outback have confirmed such.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Many of the Outback Limited’s details are very upscale. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Looking back, Subaru’s flat-six came into being as an option for the 1988–1991 XT (Alcyone VX) sports coupe, and was based on the brand’s four-cylinder of the time. It was upgraded for that model’s successor, the 1991–1996 SVX (Alcyone), a car I tested and was thoroughly impressed by way back in ’94. Next came the EZ30, which was a complete engine redesign notably nearly as compact as the EJ25 four-cylinder of the era, the smaller 3.0-litre version being optional in Legacy/Outback models from 2002/2001-2008/2009, and the almost identically sized yet more formidable 3.6-litre EZ36 available optionally for respective 2009 and 2010 models. Both versions of the EZ were used for the new Ascent’s three-row crossover SUV predecessor, incidentally, the 2006-2007 Tribeca integrating the smaller version and 2008-2014 versions using the bigger engine.

As it is, 2019 Outback engines include a base 2.5-litre four-cylinder good for 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, plus the 3.6-litre H6 I’ve already talked about a length, except for output figures that measure up to 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. For 2020, the entry-level 2.5i gets a total overhaul including 90 percent of its components replaced for 6 more horsepower and 2 lb-ft of additional torque, which now equal 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, while the aforementioned Ascent’s new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is optional as is its impressive 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, which equals a small increase of 4 horsepower yet a robust 30 lb-ft of added torque over the old six-cylinder engine.

As you might expect, the updated 2020 engines are more efficient than their predecessors too, with the current 2019 Outback 2.5i achieving an estimated 9.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined compared to 9.0, 7.1 and 8.0 for the new 2020 base engine, which is an obvious gain, while the 2019 Outback 3.6R manages a claimed 12.0 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined rating compared to a much thriftier 10.1, 7.9 and 9.0 respectively for the new turbo-four. While Subaru certainly deserves credit for delivering such major gains in both efficiency and performance, I’ll miss the six-cylinder’s smooth, refined operation and throatier growl at higher revs.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
If you need to haul cargo on the roof, the Outback’s roof rails are heavy duty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The brand’s High-Torque Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) is smooth too, and thanks to its ability to shift through its eight forward “gears” just like a conventional automatic, even via steering wheel paddle shifters, it’s relatively sporty as well. Then again, when revs climb higher it’s not quite as convincing as a sport model, which meant I didn’t end up using those paddles as much as I would normally have.

Either way the Outback 3.6R is no slouch off the line and fully capable of passing slower traffic on the freeway or better yet, a winding two-lane highway, and to that end it’s a pretty good handler too, even when pushed through tight curves at high speeds, but this said it’s no WRX STI. Of course, few vehicles can keep up to Subaru’s most famous performance model, let alone tall wagons primarily designed for comforting their occupants. Its comfort-oriented attitude is why I left the Outback’s super-smooth transmission is Drive and just enjoyed the ride more often than not. Its suspension is wonderfully compliant, making it perfect for managing rough backcountry roads and trips to the ski hill, plus of course overcoming some of the worst trails anywhere, those dreaded inner-city lanes.

If I were to claim Subaru’s standard full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive as the best AWD system in the mainstream industry I wouldn’t be alone, especially when factoring in “X-MODE” that controls the engine’s output, the transmission’s shift points, the AWD system’s torque-split, plus the braking and hill descent control systems so as to overachieve when off the beaten path. Obviously the Outback won’t walk away from a Jeep Wrangler on a level 8 or 9 trail (it wouldn’t even make it five feet on a level 8 or 9 trail), but its highly advanced AWD system and better than average 220 mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance give it an advantage over most car-based crossover competitors when the going get tough.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Good looking, highly refined Outback Limited cabin provides most everything a luxury buyer wants and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’m sure you can imagine that I’m intrigued by the new 2020 Outback and want to get behind the wheel, something I’ll be doing next week. Of course, its bigger centre touchscreen will be impressive, and I’m guessing Subaru will make improvements in refinement as well. Nevertheless it’ll need to be particularly good to beat the current model’s near premium details, such as fabric-wrapped A-pillars, soft synthetic dash-top and instrument panel that’s contrast-stitched and continues all the way down each side of the centre stack, padded door uppers, inserts and armrests front to back, and its leather upholstery with contrast stitching in my near top-line Limited tester.

The Outback Limited’s leather-clad steering wheel looks and feels great, the latter thanks to ideally shaped thumb spats. The comprehensive switchgear on the 9 and 3 o’clock spokes are high-quality too, while all of the interior’s buttons, knobs and switches are good, with the audio and two-zone auto HVAC dials on the centre stack especially so.

Some of Subaru’s biggest gains in recent years have been in the electronics department, with this 2019 Outback not as mind-blowing as the 2020 model, but still on par with rivals. Both 2019 and 2020 models utilize relatively conventional primary gauge clusters sporting a circular analogue tachometer and speedometer to the sides of a tall, vertical multi-information display (MID), but the 2020 car waves goodbye to the sportier dual-binnacle motorbike-like gauge design now in use, for a much more conventional look that I find a tad disappointing when focused on base trims, but this said the 2019 model’s 5.0-inch optional MID can now be upgraded to a full 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in the 2020 car.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Complex gauge clusters like this will soon become a thing of the past. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

What this means for those interested in the outgoing 2019 Outback, particularly in Limited and Premier trims, is a gauge cluster that’s hardly more exciting than what you’ll find in more basic 2.5i, Convenience and Touring models, but the base 3.5-inch MID gets replaced by a significantly better colour 5.0-inch version when EyeSight gets added to the mix (I’ll talk about EyeSight shortly), but turn your eyes to the centre stack and it’s a completely different story.

The most basic 2020 Outbacks start off with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is an upgrade from the 2019 model’s 6.5-inch centre monitor, while the top-line 2019 model gets a reasonably large 8.0-inch touchscreen, as noted earlier. I can understand you may have seen something even more impressive if you’ve just stepped out of the updated Outback or something premium from Germany, but my tester’s infotainment interface was still well laid out and plenty attractive due to lots of gloss black surfacing around the touchscreen so that it all blends nicely together as if it’s one oversized display, while the background graphics offer up Subaru’s trademark starlit blue night sky and bright, colourful smartphone/tablet-style candy drop buttons for choosing functions.

The backup camera is very good, helped along by active guidelines, while features include Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration. Of course, the usual AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio sources can be found too, plus satellite and Aha radio, USB and aux ports, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. It all gets funneled through four speakers in lower trims and six speakers in Touring trims and above, while the latter also includes the aforementioned 1.5-inch larger touchscreen and a second USB port.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The 2019 Outback’s infotainment display only looks old when compared to the new 2020 version. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Being that you won’t be able to factory order a 2019 Outback, I won’t delve into all the trim line details, but some as yet mentioned features found in my Limited trimmed test model include 18-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off LED headlights with steering-responsive capability, fog lights, welcome and approach lights, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, brushed aluminum front doorsill protectors, authentic looking matte woodgrain and silver metallic interior accents, auto-dimming side and centre mirrors, a heated steering wheel rim, three-way heatable front seats, a navigation/route guidance system, dynamic cruise control, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with power lumbar and two-way memory, a four-way power front passenger’s seat, a universal garage door opener, a great sounding 12-speaker, 576-watt Harman/Kardon audio system, a power glass sunroof, two-way heated rear outboard seats, a power rear tailgate, plus more.

Those EyeSight advanced driver assistance systems mentioned earlier include pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assistance, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.

My as-tested Limited 3.6R with the EyeSight tester can be had for $41,395 plus freight and fees, which is $1,500 more than the Limited 3.6R with no EyeSight, while that model is also $3,000 more than Limited trim with the four-cylinder powerplant. A base Outback 2.5i can be purchased for just $29,295, incidentally, while additional 2019 trims include the $32,795 Touring 2.5i and $39,295 Premier 2.5i, the latter trim coming standard with EyeSight. You can upgrade Touring trim with the Eyesight package and engine upgrade, but, no-cost colour choices aside, the flat-six is the only available option with Premier trim.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
There’s no shortage of room in the Outback. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2019 Outback’s retail price ranges from $29,295 to $42,295, but take note that up to $3,000 in additional incentives were available at the time of writing, so be sure to check out our 2019 Subaru Outback page for all the details, plus pricing, rebate, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

As I explained when starting this review, the Outback can manage mid-size SUV-levels of cargo, so as you might expect there’s also ample space for adult passengers in both rows of seats. It’s comfortable too, the front seats ideally shaped for optimal support, particularly at the lower lumbar region, while the side bolsters also support well laterally. The rear seating area is amply large as well, particularly with respect to headroom.

Also important, the rear compartment is just as refined as the front. Along with surface treatments and other details finished nicely, a large armrest flips down from the centre position filled with well designed cupholders that actually hold drinks in place when underway thanks to rubber grips (most are nowhere near as useful), while the backside of the front centre console features a covered compartment with two USB chargers plus an auxiliary plug, as well as a set of rocker switches for the previously noted rear seat heaters and the rear HVAC vents. Rear passengers needing overhead light will appreciate the reading lamps above, while each door panel includes a big bottle holder.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Rear seat comfort and roominess is superb. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It seems just about perfect to finish this Subaru Outback review on such a practical subject matter, even after factoring in the premium-like cabin, luxuriously smooth powertrain and equally plush ride. It’s a crossover wagon/SUV that’s actually better than advertised, and that makes it a truly rare commodity. Believe me, you’ll be well served whether you opt for this impressive 2019 Outback or the new 2020 version.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport Road Test

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport Road Test
The Legacy offers up a sporty design that’s even more alluring in as-tested Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new 2020 Legacy is starting to arrive at Subaru dealers across Canada as I write this review, and fans of the current 2019 model should like what they see. The updated mid-size sedan gets renewed styling, revised engines, and a reworked interior, but exterior styling is so muted that most won’t notice the 2019 model leaving and the 2020 ushered in. So why am I covering yesterday’s Legacy when tomorrow’s is nearly hear? Subaru dealers have new 2019 models on their lots, and this very good car is available for very good prices. 

As per CarCostCanada, a 2019 Legacy buyer can pocket up to $3,000 in incentives, and that’s before factoring in a personal discount derived from haggling or your trade-in. Follow this CarCostCanada link to learn about 2019 Legacy pricing, including trims, packages and individual options, plus you also need to find out about rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Sport trim adds sill extensions, unique alloy wheels and gloss black trim, the latter used for its diffuser-style rear bumper. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For a bit of background info, the Legacy was refreshed for 2018, which means this 2019 model was unchanged. The version reviewed here is in mid-range $31,695 Sport trim, which hovers above the base $24,995 2.5i CVT, $28,295 Touring, and $29,795 Touring with EyeSight; EyeSight being Subaru-speak for its suite of advanced driver assistance systems including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, rear proximity warning with reverse auto braking, blindspot detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist. Sport trim comes standard with EyeSight, as does top-line $33,795 Limited 2.5i trim and the $36,795 Limited 3.6R. 

As you may have guessed, 2.5i and 3.6R designate the Legacy’s respective standard and optional engines, the latter having been replaced by the higher output 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder introduced in last year’s Ascent mid-size SUV; the 2020 Outback crossover wagon gets this change too. Comparing the two engines shows 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque for the old 3.6R and 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque for the 2.4i, resulting in four more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Sport trim includes LED headlamps, fog lights and special machine-finish 18-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The base 2.5-litre four-cylinder gets updated too, but the 2020 model only gains six horsepower and two lb-ft of torque resulting in 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft compared to 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, but 90 percent of its parts have been upgraded, with straight-line performance improvements secondary to gains in fuel-efficiency. 

This means the 2020 Legacy 2.5i has been designed to achieve an estimated 8.8 L/100km city, 6.7 highway and 7.7 combined Transport Canada rating compared to 9.3 highway, 7.0 city and 8.2 combined, while 2.4i fuel economy improvements from the old 3.6R equal 9.9 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined compared to 11.9 city, 8.3 highway and 10.3 combined. With standard all-wheel drive the Legacy can’t quite measure up to most front-drive rivals in base trims, but it should be noted that even the old 3.6R is more efficient than the Camry’s optional V6. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
These satin-silver mirror caps are standard with Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Instead of diving too deeply into the differences between old and new Legacy models, I’ll only mention some key points as this review continues. As stated at the onset of this road test, styling enhancements appear so insignificant that I would’ve been careful to call it a refresh if I hadn’t already been made clear it’s a full redesign. Strangely, Subaru Canada didn’t even mention styling in its 2020 Legacy press release, but this subtle redesign may help the outgoing sixth-generation model hold resale/residual values higher. I find both generations attractive enough while sportier than most competitors, while Subaru obviously isn’t trying to lure in potential customers by being extroverted, like Toyota is with its latest Camry. 

Then again, the Legacy’s conservative styling may be a good reason its sales are slow. To but it into perspective to the just-noted Toyota, Subaru sold 1,298 Legacys from January 1 to September 31, 2019, which is just slightly more than 11 percent of the 11,579 Camrys delivered during the same three quarters. A more positive viewpoint is its success over the Kia Stinger, Mazda6, Honda Clarity plug-in, Buick Regal, Volkswagen Passat, and VW Arteon, while it came within striking range of the Kia Optima. This has it placing eighth out of 14 competitors, which isn’t too bad at all. Still, the Legacy’s tally pales when compared to Subaru’s own Outback that found 7,756 buyers over the same nine months, the tall mid-size crossover wagon being basically the same vehicle below the skin. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
The Legacy’s cockpit looks totally modern despite on its way out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Success on the sales chart doesn’t always validate a given vehicle’s goodness or badness, however, and to that end the Legacy doesn’t labour from any disadvantages other than being a bit smaller than most mid-size sedan challengers. In fact, Subaru has an impressive record, achieving “Best Overall” brand in Consumer Reports’ most recent 2019 Annual Report on Car Performance, Reliability, Satisfaction and Safety, while it tied with Chrysler in the same publication’s “Best Road Test Score Mainstream” category. The Japanese brand also scored above average in J.D. Power’s latest 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study, but found itself below average in the same company’s 2019 Initial Quality Study. Nevertheless, the 2019 Legacy achieved top-spot amongst “Mid-Size” consumer sedans in Vincentric’s latest “Best Value In Canada” award, as did the Outback in its class. 

After time well spent in this 2019 Legacy, I’m willing to bet that interior quality gave the car a boost upward in these various rating and award programs. Highlights include a premium-level soft composite dash top and instrument panel, the latter stitched across its lower edge in traditional Subaru blue, while the blue stitching theme trimmed the inner portion of the leather-clad sport steering wheel rim as well, plus each armrest and the leatherette-covered seat bolsters, the seats otherwise upholstered in an attractive light grey material. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Great looking analogue gauges surround a nice colour multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additional cabin niceties included genuine-looking high-gloss carbon-fibre inlays on the instrument panel and doors, this conjoined to attractive satin-silver metallic adornment, while glossy black surface treatments combined with matte-finish black composites and even more satin-finish and chromed metal accents for an interior Legacy owners can be proud of. Front and rear door uppers receive the same luxuriously padded soft-touch composite as that on the dash, and Subaru also covers the front “A” pillars in cloth for to reduce noise and add yet more premium-class feel. 

Even with the upcoming 2020 Legacy sporting a renewed interior boasting a gigantic 11.6-inch vertical display (aside from the new base model that only gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen), this 2019 outgoing model still looks very current. In fact, its 8.0-inch touchscreen (improved by an inch and a half over the base 2019 model) looks as good as most anything else in the class due to its big gloss-black surrounding surface area that extends outward from the centre stack as if it’s one massive display. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
The Legacy’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is very advanced. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The actual touchscreen gets a deep blue background that’s detailed out with unique star graphics, this overlaid by colourful tablet-like tiles for selecting its various functions. The dynamic guideline-enhanced rearview camera is very good, while together with standard infotainment features such as Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration system, other features include AM/FM/satellite/Aha radio, a CD player, MP3/WMA compatibility, a USB port and aux plug, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, Bluetooth with streaming audio, and four speakers, while Touring and above trims include the bigger display as standard plus another USB port and two more speakers. 

Those wanting a navigation system, much improved 576-watt, 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio, plus a heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, leather upholstery, 18-inch alloys and more will need to opt for previously noted Limited trim, while items pulled up to the Sport model from lower trims include a 10-way powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support that lined up with the small of my back fairly well, cruise control, and heatable front seats from the base model, two-zone auto HVAC, a powered moonroof, and fog lamps from Touring trim, and proximity keyless access with pushbutton start/stop along with a 5.0-inch LCD multi-information display within the gauge cluster from the Touring model with EyeSight. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Dual-zone automatic climate control is always appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for this Legacy Sport trim, it gets unique 18-inch machine finished alloy wheels with black-painted pockets, LED headlamps with cornering capability, a gloss-black grille surround, satin-silver side mirror caps, chrome adorned side sill extensions, and a diffuser-like rear valance framing two large chromed tailpipes, but be informed this value-packed trim line will not be offered with the 2020 car. The new model’s sportiest trim sources its GT designation from Subaru’s storied history, and due to past GT’s getting engine upgrades will come exclusively with the more powerful 2.4i engine in both a new Premier model and a revised Limited trim. 

Subaru’s legendary symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring comes standard as (almost) always, and it makes a considerable difference to how it drives in all conditions. We should remember that Subaru developed its AWD system on track and trail thanks to decades of World Rally Championship competition, and it still builds the awesome WRX that won so many WRC titles. Many don’t realize that Subaru rallied the Legacy as well, although not as successfully. It competed in Group A from ‘89 through ‘93, but its lone race win during its last year of competition was hardly as legend building as the Impreza’s trio of championships. Still, can you name another mid-size family sedan that’s even managed one single WRC win? Didn’t think so. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Attractive black and grey upholstery features stylish blue contrast stitching. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Therefore it makes sense the Legacy is one of the more enjoyable cars in its mid-size class to drive, not particularly for straight-line acceleration (it could really benefit from the WRX STI’s 310-horsepower turbo-four), but more so for its handling. Nevertheless it moves off the line with decent energy, at least when compared to other base powertrains in its segment, while its Lineartronic CVT provides smooth operation at all times. 

Shift paddles provide a more hands-on driving experience, these combining with six stepped gears that make the continuously variable transmission feel closer to a conventional automatic, at least when not trying to extract everything out of the engine, but this said if you’re looking for the type of lightning-quick shifts offered by a dual-clutch gearbox or even a high-end premium-level automatic, this CVT won’t cut it. I sometimes used the paddles for downshifting, this process allowing for a sportier feel plus the benefit of engine braking down steep grades, but that was about it. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Roomy and comfortable, the Legacy’s back seat lives up to mid-size sedan buyers’ needs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru reminded that a CVT’s design can also help smooth out a vehicle’s ride quality, and it’s entirely possible this is one reason its ride quality is so good. Still, the Legacy handles well too, its fully independent MacPherson strut front and unequal length short/long arm double wishbone rear setup managing fast-paced curves with grace and composure, its 225/50R18 Goodyear Eagle LS all-seasons no doubt doing their part as well. It’s a confidence-inspiring car when driving quickly, plus it’s just as good at weaving through congested city traffic or stretching its legs on the highway. 

Speaking of stretching one’s legs, Legacy offers plenty of room in all positions, particularly up front in the driver’s position where I had no trouble getting comfortable. I’m guessing most should fit in well thanks to good adjustability all-round. My long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight body was able to position the seat ideally to reach the top portion of steering wheel rim when the tilt and telescopic steering column was pulled all the way back. This meant the driver’s seat was positioned farther back than most five-foot-eight drivers would need to, but fortunately this didn’t seem to impinge on rear seat legroom at all. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
No shortage of space in the Legacy’s accommodating trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I had almost 12 inches from my knees to the backside of the front seat when positioned directly behind, plus room to totally stretch my legs out with winter boots stuffed below. Additionally, I had loads of room next to the window, plus a wide, comfortable folding armrest with dual cupholders in between, while there were three inches of space over my head, so a six-foot teen should squeeze into the back quite comfortably. As for back seat goodies, two USB charging points are included in upper trims, although bookworms won’t have the benefit of individual reading lights overhead.

There’s more than enough room for all kinds of cargo in the big 425-litre (15 cu-ft) trunk, plus it can be expanded by the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, releasable via a set of handles under the rear shelf. This is where I make my regular request for 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks or at least a centre pass-through, which would allow long items like skis to be placed down the middle while both rear outboard seats can be put to use. Upgraded with rear seat warmers the Legacy would be the best ski shuttle in the class. All said there aren’t many mid-size sedan rivals that offer this level of back row seating/cargo flexibility, but you’d think automakers would be trying to make this more efficient segment as practical as possible instead of forcing those with active lifestyles to opt for an SUV.

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
A centre pass-through or 40/20/40-split rear seat would make the Legacy the ideal ski shuttle. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Minor gripe aside, you’d be well taken care of in a 2019 Legacy. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac this winter will get more snow than average, which means an all-wheel drive vehicle will make your driving life easier and safer. On top of this, fuel isn’t about to get any cheaper, at least not permanently, so an AWD car might be ideal if your lifestyle allows. Only the new Altima, Stinger and Arteon provide standard AWD, but the latter two four-door coupes aren’t as practical as the Legacy and cost quite a bit more, while Buick’s Regal is more expensive and only offers AWD on its pricier trims. Therefore, if you want the added safety and performance of AWD in a regular mid-size sedan it’s a showdown between the Altima and this Legacy. You should try them both.

 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier Road Test

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The new 2019 Subaru Ascent is one great looking mid-size family hauler. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To say the mid-size crossover SUV category is growing would be quite the understatement. In fact, when brands might have once been satisfied with one single entry in either the two- or three-row sectors, now we’re seeing separate models addressing various families’ requirements, and then unique trim levels targeting luxury, sport, and off-road oriented buyers. If you’re a volume manufacturer, or even a niche player, trying to find success without a mid-size SUV in the lineup is like a company selling it wares without using social media. It’s not going to happen. 

Prior to the new 2019 Ascent arrived on the market last autumn, Subaru had been AWOL from this critically important segment since its previous mid-size crossover, the 2005 to 2014 Tribeca, went out of production. That SUV was impressive for a number of reasons, particularly its premium-like refinement, but its styling and third-row spaciousness left would-be buyers searching elsewhere. After five years of contemplation, and no doubt designing and product planning, Subaru is back with a three-row mid-size crossover SUV that won’t disappoint anyone when it comes to size, plus it looks pretty good too. 

Even though two-row crossover SUVs lead the mid-size sector in individual sales, Subaru already does well with its compact five-seat Forester and mid-size Outback crossover wagon, so it made sense for them to target larger families and those requiring more cargo space. They’re not alone, Honda having sold its three-row Pilot for 17 years ahead its new two-row Passport arriving this summer, so possibly we’ll see a bigger five-seat Subaru SUV at some point too. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
What do you think? Does its styling appeal to your senses? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Until that happens, the North American-exclusive Ascent seats eight in standard form or seven with its optional second-row captain’s chairs, the latter configuration being how Subaru equipped my top-tier Premier tester. It’s a sizeable SUV, stretching 4,998 millimetres (196.8 inches) nose to tail with a 2,890-mm (113.8-inch) wheelbase, while its overall height stands 1,819 mm (71.6 inches) tall including its standard roof rails. What’s more, it measures 2,176 mm (85.6 inches) wide with its side mirrors extracted, plus its track spans 1,635 mm (64.4 inches) up front and 1,630 mm (64.2 inches) at the rear. 

Putting this into perspective, the new Ascent is 48 mm (1.9 inches) shorter than the mid-size three-row SUV category’s top-selling Explorer, albeit with a 24-mm (0.9-inch) longer wheelbase, and some might be surprised to learn that the new Subaru SUV also stands 42 mm (1.6 inches) taller than the big Ford. The only Explorer dimension to exceed the Ascent is width that sees Ford’s SUV 119 mm (4.7 inches) wider, with 66 and 71 mm (2.6 and 2.8 inches) more respective front and rear track too. Considering the Explorer is one of the mid-size segment’s biggest crossover SUVs, Subaru now has something equally large so that no one gets left behind. 

When comparing the new Ascent to other sales leaders, it’s longer, wider and taller than the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento (albeit shorter than the new Kia Telluride, with a shorter wheelbase and less width), longer and taller than the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe XL (which is currently in its final days, but take note it’s slightly longer than the new Hyundai Palisade too, but its wheelbase isn’t, nor its width), wider and taller than the Nissan Pathfinder, merely wider than the Dodge Durango, and only taller than the Volkswagen Atlas. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The finer details in Premier trim are very impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That was only a partial list of the Ascent’s three-row mid-size crossover SUV challengers, incidentally, the full list (from top-selling to poorest faring during the first three quarters of 2018) being the Explorer, Sorento, Highlander, Atlas, Pilot, Durango, Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Flex, while the just-mentioned Palisade and Telluride are too new to categorize by sales numbers. 

While exterior size is one thing, passenger volume and cargo space is another, and much more important for making decisions. The Ascent provides 4,347 litres (153.5 cubic feet) of passenger volume and 2,449 litres (86.5 cu ft) for cargo when both rear rows are folded down. Those numbers are just for the most basic of Ascent trims, incidentally, which also measures 1,345 litres (47.5 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split second row and 504 litres (17.8 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split third row, while all other trims are half a litre less commodious at 2,435 litres (86.0 cu ft) behind the first row, 1,331 litres (47.0 cu ft) aft of the second row, and 498 litres (17.6 cu ft) in the very back. 

These numbers compare well against key rivals, with the Ascent’s passenger volume even greater than the Explorer’s, and its standard eight-occupant seating layout a rarity in the class, while the big Subaru’s max cargo volume makes it one of the segment’s largest too. Also helpful, rear passengers gain easier access due to back doors that open up to 75 degrees. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent even looks good covered in mud, and performs well off-road too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As with most Subaru models, the Ascent comes standard with full-time Symmetrical AWD, which has long proven to be amongst the more capable of all-wheel drive systems available. Its first advantage is more evenly balanced weight distribution thanks to a longitudinally mounted engine and transmission, compared to the AWD designs of competitors that mostly derive them from FWD chassis architectures incorporating transverse-mounted engines. Subaru’s horizontally opposed flat “boxer” engine also let the designers place it lower in the chassis resulting in a lower centre of gravity, which aids packaging and handling. 

The Symmetrical AWD design automatically applies additional torque to the wheels with the most grip, and it’s done in such a way that traction not only improves when taking off from standstill in slippery conditions, but it also benefits overall control at higher speeds. This means the Ascent is very capable on all types of roads and trail surfaces, while its standard X-mode off-road system, together with hill descent control, as well as a sizeable 220 millimetres (8.66 inches) of ground clearance for overcoming rocks and stumps, snow banks, etcetera, makes it better for tackling tough terrain than most other crossover SUVs. 

Of course I had to off-road it, and when facing the mud and muck I pressed the X-Mode button on the lower console and let it do the rest while I pointed it where I wanted to go. Amazingly it responded almost as well as the bull low gearing range of a truck-based 4×4, although the sound of all the electronic systems, such as traction and stability control, working away in the background as it climbed some very steep, ultra slippery, deeply rutted and just plain yucky sections of trail I would have normally only tried when at the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, or something more dedicated to mucking it up, was out of the ordinary. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Premier trim’s three-tone black, ivory and brown interior colour theme looks amazing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fortunately the Ascent took care of my backside thanks to one of the nicer rides in the mid-size class, but I wouldn’t say it’s the sportiest feeling or best handling in this three-row category. It’s fully capable of being pushed hard through a twisting back road at a fast clip, but keep in mind this Subie was clearly designed for comfort before speed. 

It rides on the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP) architecture, which combines a strong yet lightweight unibody construction with a fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension, improved further with a stabilizer bar mounted directly to the body at the rear and an electric rack and pinion steering setup in front. It all rolls on 18-inch silver five-spoke alloys shod with 245/60 all-seasons in the Ascent’s two lower trims, and 20-inch machine-finished high-gloss split-spoke rims on 245/50 rubber for the two upper trims, my test model benefiting from the latter. 

High-speed stability is important with an SUV that moves off the line as quickly as the Ascent. Its horizontally opposed 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the latter from 2,000 to 4,800 rpm, but I enjoyed it best when not pushing too hard, which bought out the powertrain’s wonderfully smooth character and minimized fuel usage. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Most Subaru buyers probably won’t care that a fully digital gauge cluster isn’t on the menu. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru estimates a Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy rating of 11.6 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.4 combined for the Ascent, compared to 12.0 city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined for the larger 3.6-litre H-6 in the much smaller Outback. The new four actually makes 4 more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque than the flat-six, by the way, so we’ll probably be seeing this smaller, more efficient turbocharged motor in a future Outback too. 

Now that we’re making fuel economy comparisons, the Ascent looks good when put up against the base Explorer’s 2.3-litre turbocharged four that can only manage a claimed 13.1 L/100km in the city, 9.2 on the highway and 11.4 combined, but it should be said the blue-oval SUV makes a lot more power, whereas the thriftiest Toyota Highlander V6 AWD actually does quite well against both the Ford and Subaru SUVs at 11.7 city, 8.8 highway and 10.4 combined. All in all, the Ascent can hold its own at the pump. 

Helping the Ascent achieve its impressive efficiency is Subaru’s High-torque Lineartronic CVT, continuously variable transmissions not only economical but also ideal for this type of large family-oriented vehicle thanks to its smooth, linear power delivery. Subaru includes standard steering wheel paddles to enhance driver engagement, along with a faux eight-speed manual shift mode that does a decent job of faking a regular automatic transmission’s gear changes while providing reasonably sporty driving characteristics, while standard Active Torque Vectoring increases high-speed traction. This advanced CVT was first introduced with Subaru’s WRX sport sedan, and while not optimized to swap cogs as quickly as in the World Rally Championship-bred performance car, it nevertheless combines positive, smooth operation while minimizing running costs. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
This multi-information display sits atop the dash. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Compared to most of the Ascent’s mid-size competitors that come standard with FWD, AWD is standard and there’s only one powertrain on offer, from the base model to top-of-the-line. Trims in mind, the 2019 Ascent is available in Convenience, Touring, Limited and Premier grades, with its standard Convenience features including auto on/off halogen headlamps, LED daytime running lights (DRL), roof rails, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, tri-zone auto HVAC, a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, a backup camera, a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, three-way heatable front seats, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, USB ports for the second row, 19 cup and bottle holders, plus more for only $35,995 plus destination. 

Also impressive, all 2019 Ascent trims includes standard Subaru EyeSight driver assist technologies like adaptive cruise control with lead vehicle start assist, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist, while all the expected active and passive safety features come standard as well. 

Moving up through the line, second-rung Touring trim starts at $40,995 in its eight-passenger configuration or $41,495 when the second-row captain’s chairs are added, the latter reducing the total number of seats to seven. The Touring model also includes the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system that features blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, plus this trim also includes a special set of machine-finished five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and approach lights, LED fog lights, a sportier looking rear bumper design featuring integrated tailpipe cutouts, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, front door courtesy lamps, chromed inner door handles, a universal garage door opener, a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-dimming centre and sideview mirrors, a leather-clad steering wheel and shift knob, a bigger 8.0-inch centre touchscreen, more upscale fabric upholstery, a power panoramic sunroof, magazine pockets on the front seatbacks, climate controls for the second row passengers, reading lights for third row passengers, a retractable cargo cover, a power-operated tailgate, a transmission oil cooler, trailer stability control, and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch that increases towing capability to 2,270 kilos (5,000 lbs). 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
You’ll likely be impressed with the infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Next on the Ascent’s trim menu is the Limited, which starts at $46,495 in its standard eight-passenger configuration or $46,995 when set up for seven passengers, and adds the larger 20-inch alloy wheels noted before, plus steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlamps with auto high beams, black and ivory soft-touch interior surfaces, a heated steering wheel rim, a nicer looking primary gauge package with chrome bezels and blue needles (instead of red), plus a 6.3-inch colour multifunction display on top of the centre dash that shows the time, temperature and dynamic functions including an inclinometer, while a navigation system gets added to the infotainment display, as does SiriusXM Traffic. Additional Limited trim features include 14-speaker 792-watt Harman/Kardon audio, a 10-way powered driver’s seat enhanced with powered lumbar support and lower cushion length adjustability, driver’s seat and side-mirror memory, a four-way powered front passenger seat, leather upholstery, two-way heated second-row seats, integrated rear door sunshades, third-row USB ports, plus more. 

My tester’s Premier trim is top of the line yet at $49,995 it’s still very affordable, especially within a class that often exceeds the $50k threshold before adding options. The Ascent Premier comes fully equipped as is, including a special high-gloss black grille insert, satin-finish side mirror housings, chromed exterior door handles, rain-sensing windshield wipers, ambient interior lighting, a front-view camera, a Smart Rearview Mirror with an integrated rearview camera, woodgrain inlays, brown perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, standard captain’s chairs for the second row, a 120-volt power outlet on the rear centre console, plus more. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Comfort is king in the Ascent’s accommodating driver’s seat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By the way, all 2019 Subaru Ascent prices were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new car, truck, van and crossover SUV sold in Canada, plus rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Along with all the right features is a really nicely finished cabin that’s large and comfortable from front to back. Some noteworthy details include a leather-like soft-touch dash top enhanced with attractive stitching ahead of the front passenger, while just below is a useful shelf unpinned by a really nice bolster covered in more stitched leatherette, albeit ivory coloured for a truly distinct look. This wraps around lower portion of the instrument panel before matching up to more ivory bolstering on the door panels, although Subaru goes a step further by introducing a dark brown for the armrests that matches the previously noted brown leather seat upholstery. Premier trim also features matte-finish faux wood trim, but honestly it doesn’t come close to looking or feeling real. Last but not least, Subaru takes care of everyone’s elbows with soft padded synthetic door uppers front to back, but doesn’t go so far as to wrap any of the roof pillars in cloth like some others in the class. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Second-row roominess is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of not measuring up to the best this class has to offer, I was surprised to learn this top-line model doesn’t come with a fully digital gauge cluster, this advanced feature showing up on many of the Ascent’s recently redesigned or new competitors, like Volkswagen’s Atlas and Hyundai Palisade. Still, the dials’ blue needles were a nice addition instead of the usual red found in lower trims, while the vertical TFT multi-information display features a cool graphic of the SUV’s backside with taillights that light up when pressing the brake. It’s fun to watch, but even better this display notifies drivers via visual alert and audio chime that they may have left something, a young child, or possibly a pet in the back seat. 

The bigger multi-information display on top of the dash is used more for Subaru’s EyeSight advanced driver assistance systems, with attractive, detailed graphics, while this display also provides speed limit information, navigation system info, an inclinometer and other off-road features, plus more. 

Just underneath, Subaru’s impressive new high-resolution 3D-like infotainment touchscreen really wows the eyes as it provides a bevy of useful functions. It includes all the features and apps noted earlier, plus it responds to inputs quickly and reliably. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Even the third row is roomy enough for adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fast responses in mind, the heatable steering wheel warms up quickly and remains hot as well, as do the heated front and rear seats, which I appreciate more than those that slowly cool off after a few minutes of maximum strength. I often use heated seats for therapeutic reasons, soothing an aching lower back, and the last thing I want is to keep fiddling with a temperature control switch. Speaking of switches, the button for heated steering wheel is smartly positioned just below the right-side spoke where it’s easy to locate, while the adaptive cruise control system, actuated via a set of buttons just above, worked ideally during high-speed and stop-and-go driving. Likewise, the lane departure system held the Ascent in place when cruising down the freeway, but rather than maintain the centre of a given lane it bounced off the lines when I purposely didn’t pay attention in order to test its capability. 

A really impressive technology is the Ascent Premier’s auto-dimming centre mirror that does double-duty as a backup camera when activated. Also helpful is the Ascent’s sunglasses holder that doubles as a rear conversation mirror. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
There’s plenty of space for cargo with all the seats folded down. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Ascent’s driver’s seat was ultra-comfortable and quite wide, so it should be ideally shaped for big people, but it fit my five-foot-eight medium-build body type well too. When that front seat was positioned for my long-legged, short-torso frame, which means I had it pushed farther rearward than someone my height normally would, a far reaching telescopic steering wheel allowed for a comfortable driving position that left me in complete control. What’s more, when the seat was set up this way I still had plenty of room just behind in the second row seat, with approximately 10 inches of available space ahead of my knees and ample for me feet, plus loads for my hips and shoulders as well as more than enough over my head. 

I was even more impressive with the third row. Just for fun I slid the second row as far back as possible and then climbed rearward, via a walkway that provided more than enough room. When seated in the very back my knees were rubbing up against the second-row seatbacks, but moving those seats forward a touch remedied the situation to the point that I had plenty of space in both rear rows. Really, there were three-plus inches above my head in the very back, which means average-size adults should fit in no problem, even while larger adults are seated just ahead. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The retractable cargo cover neatly stows away under the cargo floor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As I mentioned before, the Ascent provides a full load of cargo space behind the third row. In fact, it’s similar that found in a full-size sedan’s trunk, while below that load floor is a hidden compartment for storing smaller items plus the retractable cargo cover when not being used. Lowering the 60/40-split third row is slightly awkward, first needing the headrests to be manually pushed down into the seatbacks, and then requiring a tug on a strap hanging off the top of the seats, before pushing those seats down. Pulling them back up merely needs a tug on a longer strap attached to the cargo floor/seatback. As for the second row, it lays down by first unlatching it, so you can slide it forward, and then unlatching a second release at which point you can slide them back if you want to line up each side. There’s plenty of space for luggage and/or building sheets, but I must say the captain’s chairs don’t result in a particularly flat loading area. I imagine the standard bench seat would work better, so you may want to purchase one of the Ascent’s lower trims if you’re planning to do a lot of load hauling. 

Purchasing in mind, you should feel safe buying an Ascent, even though it hasn’t been around very long. Subaru has a good track record for reliability and longevity, and after a week with this example I believe the automaker has done a very good job engineering and assembling its first-ever near full-size SUV. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS Road Test

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Last year’s WRX updates made an already great looking sport sedan look even better, and it even look more aggressively stylish in Sport-tech RS trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Can a non-price-related case be made for someone actually choosing to purchase the regular WRX over a WRX STI? After a week with the 2019 WRX Sport-tech RS I say yes, and I wasn’t even driving the automatic. 

That last point is a clear differentiator between regular WRX and STI, being that the latter can only be had with a six-speed manual gearbox. Therefore, anyone using their WRX as a daily driver, who wants more convenience and relaxation during their commutes, along with the usual high level of performance the WRX has become legendary for, whether blasting up circuitous backcountry roads during weekend road trips or just pushing Gs around freeway cloverleaves on their way to work, can pay a mere $1,300 more to do so with any one of the regular WRX trims, except this particular WRX Sport-tech RS that can only be had with a manual. 

To be clear, the WRX Sport-tech can be optioned out with the autobox, but you’ll need to replace the RS suffix from its trim designation with EyeSight. This won’t provide an identical model with different transmissions, but the similarities between the two should be close enough for those seeking a compromise between all-out performance and everyday ease. 

Before delving into those similarities and differences, not to mention itemizing features available with the other WRX trims, I wanted to touch on a few details of this very Sport-tech RS tester being reviewed. First off, I was delighted with its coat of World Rally Blue Pearl exterior paint, which while the same as the near identical Sport-tech RS I tested last year, remains a personal favourite colour thanks to its vibrant blue hue and its historical motorsport significance as the base livery of Subaru’s World Rally Championship winning glory years. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
While the Sport-tech RS model’s rear deck lid spoiler is discreet, its diffuser-style bumper cap and quad of tailpipes looks anything but. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All good and well, but why would Subaru give me a seemingly identical WRX test car within a given year? As I have learned, the company has updated the 2019 WRX infotainment system; the centre-mounted display now becoming one of the most important features in any new vehicle. The first improvement I noticed was the completely redesigned graphic interface, which is much more attractive and now in line with other updated models across the Subaru lineup (new 2020 Outback and Legacy aside). It’s highlighted by colourful smartphone/tablet-style circular candy drop digital buttons surrounded by squarish floating tiles on a star-speckled night sky-like deep blue 3D background, an attractive image for sure, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone integration are now part of both the base and top-tier systems. 

Our tester comes standard with the latter, the touchscreen still measuring 7.0 inches diagonally for a half-inch gain over the base display, and once again getting touch-sensitive quick access buttons down each side, which include Home, Map and Apps to the left and Info just above two sets of track seeking arrows on the right. The system also includes near-field communication (NFC) for faster phone connectivity (if your smartphone offers it), a Micro SD card slot, HD radio, new glossy black topped audio knobs, navigation mapping and routing, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, plus more. I find this new interface much easier to use, while the display’s clarity and depth of colour is excellent, easily matching the best in the mainstream business, and surpassing many. 

As for the rest of this WRX Sport-tech RS and its non-STI compatriots, they remain unchanged for 2019, meaning this model still features last year’s extensive styling updates, chassis improvements, and other refinements, not to mention the a safety feature. Let me go into more detail. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX looks especially attractive when digging into the details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Regarding styling, Subaru reworked the WRX front grille and bumper design for 2018, as well as the door trim inside, while a new electroluminescent primary gauge cluster boasting a really attractive high-resolution colour TFT centre display was added too. Additionally, the 5.9-inch colour multi-information dash-top display received new graphics that look fabulous. This sporty interface, which pays homage to the secondary ancillary turbo, temp and oil pressure analogue gauges of past performance cars in both its placement and functionality within, is also completely unique in this class, adding that special custom allure to the WRX that’s missing from many rivals. 

What’s more, rear passengers continue to benefit from last year’s new fold-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders, while all occupants can now enjoy easier conversations thanks to better insulation and other refinements that result in reduced noise, vibration and harshness levels, plus an improved ride from a retuned suspension setup, and lastly the car is made better overall from a stronger battery. 

While all of the above are obvious improvements, I personally really like the new grille design too, especially its blackened borders and black mesh insert, plus the racing-spec-style multi-component lower front fascia with its matte black centre vent looks menacingly intimidating, just like a formidable sport sedan should, as do the larger, squarer matte black fog lamp bezels. Lastly, this Sport-tech RS model’s twinned five-spoke gunmetal grey-painted cast aluminum alloys on 245/40 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT performance tires framing red brake calipers look superb—base and Sport models come fitted with grey 15-spoke 17-inch alloys on the same tires measuring 235/45. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Gotta love the dark-grey alloy wheels under swollen fenders with integrated rear venting. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All of the above, combined with everything else upgraded last year, like the massive hood scoop, redesign headlamps, and race-inspired matte black rear diffuser with quad chromed tailpipes, plus everything that appears to mostly be pulled forward from the 2015 through 2017 version, such as the coke-bottle fenders with integrated engine vents bearing chromed “WRX” appliques, subtle rear deck lid spoiler (that I like much more than the STI’s gigantic wing—the smaller lip spoiler can be had with the STI too), etcetera, look fabulous. 

Also carryover (but who’s complaining), non-STI WRX variants once again include Subaru’s brilliant 2.0-litre direct-injection twin-scroll turbocharged boxer four, making a healthy 268-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s getting pretty close to the STI’s 310 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque, and considering you can get into the former for just $29,995 plus freight and fees, or $38,995 as tested, which is much more affordable than the latter model’s $41,995 base price, or the more comparable $47,295 STI with its Sport-tech package, the regular WRX starts to look like a very smart choice. Then factor in that most of its similarly priced challengers don’t measure up with respect to performance, while also not offering Subaru’s standard Symmetrical-AWD (or any AWD at the WRX’ price point), and it makes a sound case to Canadian performance enthusiasts. 

As noted, connecting engine to driveline is a standard as-tested six-speed manual, but many are not aware that the optional automatic is actually a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the bane of gearheads everywhere. This said, CVTs have come a long way in recent years, and Subaru’s Sport Lineartronic design is quite impressive thanks to quick-shifting steering wheel paddles that prod both six- and eight-speed manual modes, plus the benefit of Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE). I know, it’s difficult to hear the words WRX and CVT being used in the same sentence, let alone learn they’re being incorporated into the same car, but after testing one in 2017 I was positively surprised. This doesn’t mean I’d opt for one if my personal money was on the line, but I certainly wouldn’t criticize anyone for choosing to. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Here’s a close-up of the diffuser-style bumper cap, and one set of the twinned exhaust system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

More importantly to WRX purists, the manual gearbox I tested received a new shift lever along with improved shifter and clutch feel as part of last year’s redesign, and the former remains as wonderfully smooth and accurate as last year’s update made it, while clutch weight is ideal and take-up more responsive without being grabby. 

As you may have guessed, there’s no change in straight-line acceleration from the identically powered 2018 model, with the manual still good for a claimed zero to 100km/h run of 5.4 seconds, and the CVT capable of achieving the same feat in a respectable 5.9 seconds. Neither time is the stuff of legend, of course, but I can’t see many driving enthusiasts being underwhelmed with the regular WRX’ off-the-line performance, while those that opt for the CVT will surprisingly own bragging rights to the fastest top speed specs, the autobox adding 8 km/h to the manual’s terminal velocity with a nice round total of 240 km/h compared to 232. 

As I said last year, most modifications were about refinement, and included improved steering feel and a more compliant ride that doesn’t compromise at-the-edge handling. Being that my aging body appreciates having a bit more comfort now than when younger, as is the case for many WRX owners, this friendlier suspension setup is a very good thing. It was during regular errand runs around town that I most appreciated the improvements, yet when opportunity provided an empty lane on a winding rural road the new WRX’ firmly damped fully independent suspension remained as resolute to pavement as it’s always been, especially over broken and uneven tarmac that didn’t unsettle the chassis one iota. 

While WRX performance is commendable, those seeking out a four-cylinder compact model for fuel-efficiency can only take a modicum of solace in a Transport Canada rating that’s only better than the STI’s 14.3 L/100km city, 10.7 highway and 12.7 combined rating, because with a claimed rating of 12.6 L/100km city, 9.6 highway and 11.2 combined when mated to its standard manual gearbox, or 11.3, 8.5 and 10.0 respectively with the CVT, it’s not exactly the thriftiest sport model in its compact class. In fact, plenty of more powerful alternatives deliver much better economy, yet fortunately for Subaru this is hardly the priority of most WRX buyers. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The Sport-tech RS gets these superb leather and microsuede covered Recaro seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that we’re talking practicalities, the WRX remains a pragmatist’s sports car. It’s capable of seating four to five in comfort, plus houses plenty of life’s gear in its 340-litre (12-cubic-foot) trunk, plus more when expanding its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. Also, a trunk provides a great deal more security than available to the WRX’ hot hatch competitors that are more susceptible to break and entry crime. 

I was once again impressed by the WRX’ interior quality too. For instance, its instrument panel is wholly formed from premium soft-touch synthetic, across the very top of the dash and all the way down to the halfway point of the centre stack, while the door uppers are comfortably pliable from front and back as well, plus filled with cushion-backed leather-like inserts and padded armrests, that were all stitched in red no less. 

Red in mind, I like that Subaru took the tasteful route when highlighting the WRX interior, unlike some of its less experienced rivals that look as if their red embellishments were smeared on by a tweenager over-applying rouge and lip gloss (Civic Type R, I’m talking to you). The WRX Sport-tech RS model’s just noted red stitching also covers the door inserts, steering wheel rim, shifter boot, and bolsters of the seats that are also emblazoned with a thick strip of red leather, which is a nice contrast to the black leather and microsuede material found elsewhere. Lastly, a stylish circle of red piping wraps around the centre of the seat like a frame for the white embroidered “RECARO” logo, this nicely matching the red piping around the headrest just above. The interior’s finishing touch is a splash of carbon-fibre style trim across the dash. 

Most of what I’ve just described is specific to the Sport-tech RS as noted, which incidentally was new last year, but keep in mind there are plenty of other WRX trims worth investigating. Along with the sub-$30k base model and $39,095 Sport-tech EyeSight already mentioned, Subaru offers $33,195 Sport trim and a Sport-tech without the $2,300 RS upgrade for $36,495. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX gets a sporty cockpit, with a flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel, metal pedals, and plenty of other stylish details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additionally, a special $40,995 雷雨 Raiu Edition was added for 2019, featuring one really attractive exclusive Cool Grey Khaki colour. It adds a number of STI-style exterior details such as a sharper front lip spoiler, extended side skirts and a much larger rear wing spoiler, plus big 19-inch alloys encircling the STI’s yellow-painted Brembo six-pot front and two-pot rear brake calipers over ventilated and cross-drilled rotors. Some additional 雷雨 Raiu Edition features include the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD) that incorporates blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, plus it also gets a powered moonroof, a 10-way powered driver’s seat including lumbar, the same ultrasuede-enhanced sport seats as in the RS, plus red seatbelts. 

Incidentally, all 2019 WRX trim, package and option prices were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find important info on manufacturer rebate programs and otherwise hard to find dealer invoice pricing that could actually save you thousands of dollars. Make sure to check this out thoroughly before you buy. 

Specific to the WRX Sport-tech RS tested here, a set of uprated Jurid brake pads clamp down on a standard set of 316 mm front and 286 mm rear rotors via the red brake calipers noted earlier, while the cabin features the luxurious black and red partial-leather/ultrasuede upholstery also mentioned before (ad nauseum), while the driver’s seat is downgraded from 10-way power to just eight adjustments due to the much more inherently supportive Recaro sport seats that my backside happened to love. 

On top of this, my tester’s Sport-tech RS trim added proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, the larger 7.0-inch centre touchscreen filled with the updated system graphics noted earlier, plus Subaru’s StarLink app, additional apps such as Yelp, Best Parking, Glympse, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link with weather, sports and stock market info, and a 320-watt nine-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system that sounded awesome, plus two USB ports. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The top multi-information display was updated last year and looks great, while the lower touchscreen is totally revised for 2019, and is a major improvement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Items pulled up from Sport trim include wiper-integrated automatic LED headlights with new steering-responsive cornering, LED fog lamps, LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, welcome lighting, a tastefully discreet rear deck lid spoiler, plus the aforementioned powered glass sunroof and SRVD blindspot safety upgrade. 

Lastly, base model features pulled up to Sport-tech RS trim include a quad-tipped high-performance exhaust, integrated roof rack brackets, a windshield wiper de-icer, a well-designed leather-wrapped and red-stitched multifunction flat-bottom sport steering wheel, single-zone automatic climate control, heatable front seats, StarLink smartphone integration (including Aha radio), a backup camera, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, aux and USB ports, voice activation, and more. 

While Sport-tech RS trim doesn’t come standard with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistive systems, I need to mention exactly what this is just in case you want your WRX with as much active safety and convenience as possible. As noted, you can upgrade the WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight, and when you do it becomes one of the most technologically forward-thinking cars in its class, thanks to automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, reverse automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist. 

So equipped the WRX earns a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating, the “+” rather hard to get in the small car class and only shared with three other brands, none of which compete directly with the WRX. Even more impressive, Subaru has four models that can be equipped to meet this high grade of advanced safety, more than any other automaker in the small car segment. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Most sports cars don’t offer a comfortable, accommodating rear seat, but the WRX is not like most sports cars. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Even better, Subaru has more IIHS Top Safety Pick + rated vehicles than any other mainstream volume manufacturer, including more mid-size models with the coveted safety rating, and the same status for every vehicle it produces other than the Toyota co-designed/built BRZ, for a total of eight models. No other brand even comes close, with Toyota only elevating two of its models to this rarified height, Honda just one, and Nissan with none. This, when combined with the extra all-weather safety provided by these models’ standard Symmetrical all-wheel drive, is as good as it gets. 

So while the WRX isn’t exactly a leader in fuel-efficiency, it’s ahead of the pack in almost every other way, and makes a strong case for itself when compared to its key performance-focused competitors as well as when put up against the pricier STI. If money were no object my choice would be the latter, but I can totally understand why someone might feel compelled to choose a regular WRX, especially when it’s as nicely equipped as this Sport-tech RS. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay