Drinking the Kool-Aid: Why we bought an Outback

A quick stop at the Mining Museum in Nederland. Yeah, we're aware that we're doing nothing to negate stereotypes about Boulderites.

A quick stop at the Mining Museum in Nederland. Yeah, we’re aware that we’re doing nothing to negate stereotypes about Boulderites.

Amanda and I were not eager to buy a Subaru, especially an Outback. It’s joked to be the official car of Boulder, and here they stand out about as much as a Toyota Camry, Ford F-150, or Honda CR-V in other parts of the country. It’s not terribly fun to drive compared to, say, a BMW 2-Series or a Mini, and not excessively attractive either. And, finally, with a MSRP of $30k plus/minus depending on the trim package, it would be our most expensive purchase since our home in 2012, but with one big difference: the car will depreciate, not appreciate, at nearly 10 percent per year.

Nonetheless, on Monday Amanda and I joined the ranks of happy Subaru owners, and did our part in helping the Outback retain its title as the most popular car in Colorado. Here’s why:

1. Utility

When the rear seats are folded down, the Outback’s cargo area offers 73 cubic feet of storage and will swallow a 190-cm (76 in) pair of skis, or longer by sitting them on the center console. To get this much space, normally you need a truck or a full-size SUV. The Jeep Grand Cherokee actually offers less space (68 cu ft with a 66-in length) and the Ford Explorer is only marginally better, with 80 cubic feet.

The Outback also has AWD and almost 9 inches of ground clearance, which will get us safely and confidently to any ski hill and to most Colorado trailheads.

2. Fuel economy

Over the last decade Subaru has made huge and consistent gains in fuel efficiency. The Outback now gets 33 highway/25 city, which is equal to or better than my 2005 Pontiac Vibe and Amanda’s 2010 Kia Soul (which we traded in), despite the Outback being heavier and more powerful, and having AWD. In comparison, most 4WD trucks and full-size SUV’s are high-10’s/low-20’s, and most AWD crossovers like the Ford Escape are in the mid- and upper-20’s.

My in-laws, Rick and Bonnie, in the backseat before going for a little cruise through the foothills. Rick joined me yesterday to buy the car -- since he was a car salesman for 15 years, I took his lead.

My in-laws, Rick and Bonnie, in the backseat before going for a little cruise through the foothills. Rick joined me yesterday to buy the car — since he was a car salesman for 15 years, I took his lead.

3. Value

Instead of the Outback, I would love to have in my garage a sexy Audi allroad Wagon or a manly Chevy Colorado. But we’re too practical and cost-conscious. With similar interior trims and AWD/4WD, the import wagons and small SUV’s (e.g. BMW X3) are about $10k more. Crossovers cost about the same, but offer less. Small- and mid-size trucks are slightly more, but but since the Outback will primarily be Amanda’s car, we didn’t give them much thought.

New or used?

Our original plan had been to replace my Vibe — which is older and has more miles than Amanda’s Soul — with a used car. But given Subaru’s value retention, we quickly determined that the marginal cost for a new car was worthwhile. And, helped by being DINKS and avid savers, we thankfully had the cash to cover.

Posted in on December 22, 2015


  1. Ric on December 23, 2015 at 3:05 am

    I’m curious Andrew – Did you opt for the extended warranty purchase? I would recommend it. Although we love my wife’s 2001 Forester the wheel bearings went out three times (that should not happen- could just be an anomaly) once under warranty and twice outside (we purchased the 7/70k).

    This is a great link to use when looking for vehicle service bulletins, customer complaints and recalls;


    It will atleast give you a glimpse into the crystal ball as to problems that “may” surface in the future.

    Good luck with your new “Scooby Doo” we love our Forester and I’m in the hunt for Subaru Crosstrek.

    • Andrew Skurka on December 23, 2015 at 8:11 am

      No, we did not go with the extended warranties. My father-in-law (a car salesman for 15 years) said this is the dealership’s biggest profit center, and my brother-in-law (an actuary) said it’s not worth it so long as you have the cash to cover repairs.

      Re the Crosstrek, for us it felt too much like the Vibe. Remarkably similar specs, too. But I have loved my Vibe (lots and lots of road trips and home improvement projects) and would generally recommend it, especially if you already have a larger vehicle.

  2. Will Fink on December 23, 2015 at 5:18 am

    Once you go Subie – you never go back!

    I walked into a Subaru dealership in 2008 looking to buy a used Outback. However, for the exact reasons you mentioned, I drove home a shiny new car that day. A Forester instead of the outback (at the time, more roomy and powerful than the Outback model).

    I’ve never regretted the decision once, despite the 33k price tag. She still drives like new, after bouncing over many a nasty trail head approach.

    Congrats, and enjoy!

  3. Stan on December 23, 2015 at 5:56 am

    There’s a reason why it’s such a poplar car in cold climates and steep, hilly areas – the AWD is simply amazing!
    Please pardon my next statement, but sexy cars like the BMW are like (some) sexy women…they are very high maintenance…will cost you $$$ around every corner.
    Good choice, she will love that car.

  4. Joshua Joshua on December 23, 2015 at 6:10 am

    You will not be sorry… Congrats!
    Love the DINKS.

  5. Jeff Monroe on December 23, 2015 at 7:28 am

    Let’s hear back from you again in 5 years! I have a 2000 Outback that I loved and thought it was a good buy – it is the National Vehicle of Maine, where I used to live. Then, after a couple of years, things started to settle and wind noise became a problem. Little issues cropped up. I am on my third clutch (went 200,000 on my previous Toyota with a single clutch). It never gets the gas mileage it claimed. Maybe they make them better in 2015, but I won’t be taking the chance.

  6. Sam on December 23, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Brand name aside (Subaru is popular for a reason – because they are champs) I raised an eyebrow at your choice to buy a new car as opposed to used. A lowish mileage late-model with an EJ22 or EJ25 engine would have been thousands less expensive and you could have directed that “DINK” money into something that was gaining 4 to 6% as opposed to losing 10%. Perhaps there is a certain peace of mind that comes along with new car ownership though. I’ve never bought one so don’t know if such a feeling exists.

    • Andrew Skurka on December 23, 2015 at 9:48 am

      Our initial thought was to buy used, and we felt it made sense we would have. A 2.5L Limited with 40-50k miles will go for $22k-23k or more, and it’s going to be a 2014 or older. So we paid $7k more (before trade-in) for a car with a known history (none), better gas mileage, and better safety features. Plus, consider that if we sell this car in 5 years, it’ll get a higher price than an older car.

  7. Ronald Strickland on December 23, 2015 at 9:48 am

    In 2010 a tree fell on me and Tine while she was driving our 2004 Forester. The car was totaled and the paramedics took her to a hospital. Luckily she was soon released. But that car saved our lives. So we bought a new 2010 Forester. It still has only 40,000 miles on it and is going strong. The result is that I love Subaru for its focus on practicality, safety, and economy.

  8. Michael Seng on December 23, 2015 at 10:46 am

    NOTE: Pittsburg steel born and Detroit automotive bred. Back in 2001/2 I bought my friend’s 1999 Outback (top of the line, twin sunroof, leather, et al) wagon – she was buying another one to outspend her husband’s ex-wife when the woman bought the exact car she had. Other than replacing the power antenna 3x times and the starter once it was great. MPG was not but then nothing was that great back then and nothing had its advanced AWD…as one of the Land Rover’s adds state “Arriving on time to your cancelled flight…” it never let me down. In late 2003 I was hit by a Jeep Grand Cherokee while I was sitting still and it was traveling at an estimated 60 MPH…no skid marks. It was an early example of texting while driving – prior to smart phones using the key pad. Both cars were totaled: mine was obvious but you had to get close to the Jeep to understand what happened to it. He hit us square on from the back. Due to some luck on our part we were not in a position to hit the cars in front of us. The rear end of the wagon imploded and expanded to envelope the from clip of the Jeep. The Jeep’s from bumper stopped 6 inches from my daughter’s head (back seat behind me) because the Jeep’s from wheels hit the Outback’s rear bumper and the compression stopped short of the back seat head rest. The impact pushed us 40 feet forward and up into a snow bank such that only the left rear tire was still on the pavement. I was fine (no airbag since no frontal impact) and my seat collapsed backwards as designed to absorb the energy. My daughter’s only real injury was a cut on her knee where my seat impacted her. My driver’s door opened. The two rear passenger doors would not – I did manage to bend the glass to almost 90 degrees without it breaking trying to get to her. To the advertisement…”They lived” – yes that was certainly us too.
    NOTE: I did not replace it with a Subaru though. I wanted something 4000 pounds and 12 inches taller. If Subaru had something like that I would have bought one. I ended up with a 2002 4Runner I bought off lease (24 months/24000miles) sight unseen. Best purchase I have ever made. Other than gas and oil…I replaced the front break pads at 130k. Never did any of the “maintenance” specified. I am not a fan of dealerships. It currently has almost 270k on it and gets driven relatively infrequently now – WFH.

  9. Andy Fox on December 23, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Nice vehicle! I seriously considered a 2015 Outback earlier this year, but I went with a 2015 Honda Accord instead. I always re-evaluate my decision as there were no clear deciding factors in favor of either.

    One of the factors was that some tire and driving experts said that, in the snow, having a set of winter tires (rather than all season) is much more important than having AWD. What is your experience with front wheel drive and snow tires, and do you plan to equip the Outback with snow tires? I’m guessing snow tires are assumed there, but here in Ohio, they’re more optional.

    • Andrew Skurka on December 23, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      No snow tires on any of our cars. May look into it for the Subaru, but at least right now I am not anxious to spend more money on the car. Plus, between AWD and the car weight, the Outback will be a big improvement over what we have been using.

      For my Vibe I have chains, and it is shocking what I can do when they are installed. You cannot go fast but you will not get stuck or slide.

  10. Andy Mytys on December 23, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    Best MPG I got in my 2014 Outback (2015 gets 2 MPG better) was 34.6. My average is 28.6. What I’ve noticed is that when the weather gets cold, the gas mileage really goes down. I’ve gotten as low as 420 miles in a tank, and as high as 620 from full to “I better fill up before the car stalls.” That’s quite a difference. Love the legroom in the back, the MPG, and the amount of gear it can hold.

  11. Dave E on December 24, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Nice! Good call.

  12. Chip W on December 25, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Congrats Andrew!!

    I’m surprising my wife with a 2015 Pre owned certified BMW 3 series today. Its the Subaru Outback of Marin. 🙂

    One perk with the Bimmers is that all maintenance is included for 4 years or 50K miles, and due to it being certified, it gets an extra 1 year /25k miles tacked on the warranty.

    • Andrew Skurka on December 25, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      Hey Chip

      Nice gift, hope she liked it.

  13. Steve Cifka on December 25, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    My first outback went 200,000 without a hitch. I gave it to my son that drove it to 300,000 with the original clutch.

    My current 2001 Forester has 225,000 and going strong. You picked a good car, Andrew.

  14. Lars on December 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Good move buying that Subaru. I just recently donated my 1993 legacy to my local NPR station… it needed repairs I just couldn’t justify. For commuting I got a 2000 Toyota Echo that gets 38 MPG, but I’ll tell you what, this winter Ive really been missing a car that can handle the snow as well as my subaru did. I think I may be in the market for a more recent model Outback. Enjoy yours!

  15. Alex Wallace on December 28, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    I also chose a Subaru for the same reasons you’ve listed. Seven years later and it’s still a great car, but there is an issue with AWD, tires, and snow travel that I wish someone would have filled me in on.

    When I was shopping for a car, AWD or 4WD seemed very important to me because during winter I’m travelling on snowy mountainous roads (just west of Lake Tahoe). The reality is AWD or 4WD is only an advantage IF you have (1) newer (50% or more tread life) all-season tires or (2) a dedicated set of snow tires for winter only. While your AWD Subaru meets winter demands, and most state chain requirements, with all-season tires, those tires are only rated for snow travel when they’re above 50% tread. Below that they’ll be down-right scary, AWD or not, and Subaru recommends NOT using chains/cables due to suspension parts clearance and most importantly the probability of ruining the center differential.

    So here’s the scenario: your expensive premium all-season tires are going strong all the way through fall with half of their serviceable life still on them, but come winter and you either have to buy new ones or accept risky travel and what’s more, be worse off than a FWD vehicle with chains. Me? I ended up springing for a dedicated set for winter tires/rims (tirerack.com is your friend) to swap on November through April. The dedicated snow tires with AWD give me unparalleled performance, safety, convenience, etc. in snow. Come spring time I swap the all-season tires back on to preserve the life of the winter set till next year.

    I recommend you start shopping for a set of dedicated winter tires/rims.

    • Andrew Skurka on December 28, 2015 at 3:21 pm

      Good to know, thanks.

      It sounds like you have four extra rims in addition to four snow tires, right? Did you run a cost analysis on that, versus using the same rims and swapping tires twice per year?

      • Alex Wallace on December 29, 2015 at 11:07 am

        You’re welcome.

        Yes, I have four extra “beater” steal rims with the snow tires mounted. For my setup, swapping tires isn’t possible because I’m using a smaller diameter rim (16″ vs. 17″ summer) with a higher profile winter tire to keep the same overall wheel diameter. This was recommended to me to keep tire price down (16″ are cheaper than 17″) and with a taller profile tire (sidewall height), I have more give should I need to drop a few PSI out of the tires for additional grip on especially slippery grades. If you go to tirerack.com, you can easily configure a dedicated winter set w/ rims for your car. I think rims were about an extra $180.

        I found a local shop that’s willing to store the winter set and mount/dismount, all for free, as long as I continue to use them for oil changes. You might be able to strike a similar deal.

    • Adam on January 13, 2016 at 7:53 am

      I can vouch for the effectiveness of snow tires, even on my RWD Explorer. I lived in Telluride last winter with all-seasons and frequently almost got stuck on mild slopes, and did get stuck once in Montana.

      This winter for skiing at Monarch I sprung for 4 studded winter tires and it’s like an entirely different car. Feels very secure in snow and ice. Winter tire rubber is formulated to remain sticky in cold. I store my other tires in my normal storage space where I keep my other stuff.

  16. Ray H. on January 7, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Good choice. And of course I’m saying that because I just happen to work at Subaru of Indiana Automotive in Lafayette, IN where your new car was built! 🙂

    Enjoy the Outback!

  17. Rick H on February 1, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Good luck with your Subaru. I have a 2003 Forester 5 speed and my wife hates it. It’s very noisy (air from closed windows), expensive parts, and our insurance is higher on this vehicle than any other car we have. I love it because it’s a poor man’s answer to a gas guzzling 4wd jeep. I can’t speak for the Outback, but the Forester of the time was known for blown head gaskets, and I had that issue around 100K. Also, take heed. Never ever just change one tire on a Subaru. The local Firestone would not fix a flat for me because I had plugged the tire first, so my only option was to replace the tire. Firestone never said a word about this being detrimental to AWD transmissions, and this was my first AWD. We now have a bad center differential. I’ll drive it till it just won’t go any more. Would I buy another Subie, my wife says h…ll no! I on the other hand probably would. They are one of very few true AWD vehicles, and they have a good price. I just wish the auto insurance wouldn’t be so high. Subaru’s are just now catching on in Georgia, so as more folks buy them maybe parts and labor will come down in price.

    • Andrew Skurka on February 1, 2016 at 9:41 am

      My mom has a 2008 Forester, and my sister has both a 2006 Impreza and a 2013 Forester. The changes to our 2016 Outback are enormous, in terms of gas mileage, road noise, and interior polish. I’m hopeful that they have mixed some of the issues that you mentioned, although some of them are inherently applicable (e.g. tires).

  18. EJ on August 14, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    Hi, would like to know how its working out a few years later, was it all you hope it would be? Thanks

    • Andrew Skurka on August 14, 2018 at 2:34 pm

      It’s become my wife’s car, and she likes it a lot. Feels safe in it at all times of year, and plenty of room for people and stuff. My only criticism is that it’s a boring car: it’s a big boat with an unfulfilling driving experience. We countered the Subaru by also getting a used Audi A4 wagon, which is less practical in every way (cost, reliability, fuel economy, size) but multiples more fun.

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