Verdict: 2010 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

Long before taking the keys to our Azurite Blue Pearl 2010 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited (our 2010 Sport/Utility Vehicle of the Year, by the way), we decided to forgo ordering its 3.6R flat-six sibling packing 256 ponies and a traditional five-speed auto. At first, it was a move that had some staffers wishing for more Boxer might.

Once we received the Outback, doubters quickly changed their opinions. Entries praising the crossover's 2.5-liter flat-four and its smooth Lineartronic continuously variable transmission poured into our logbook after only a few days in the fleet. "The four-banger has plenty of grunt," wrote associate online editor Kirill Ougarov. With steering-wheel-mounted paddles allowing drivers to select predetermined gear "ratios," digging for extra highway speed or engine braking rpm was as simple as a quick tug on the left paddle.

 Rated at 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, the engine consistently returned fuel economy in the high 20- to low 30-mpg range, with the computer indicating a 30.8-mpg average during a trip to San Diego and 28.5 mpg over a weekend in Los Angeles. Our average over 28,000 miles was 25.0 mpg -1 mpg above the EPA's combined estimate. Tank ranges of 350-plus miles were the norm.

The mill's major downfall was that it needed to dwell high in the tach range to produce any substantial pull, so "those used to gobs of torque or stirring acceleration at the crack of the gas pedal need to look elsewhere," per executive editor Edward Loh. Senior editor Jonny Lieberman echoed the sentiment and called the powertrain "pokey."

 In Limited trim, our SUBARU OUTBACK felt like a rolling Grand Tourer. Replete with a maximum cargo area of 71.3 cubic feet (rear seats folded) and goodies like leather, 440-watt nine-speaker harman/kardon stereo, iPod/USB inputs, heated front seats, and Bluetooth connectivity, the SUBARU OUTBACK offered plenty from the get-go.

Loaded with $2995 worth of moonroof and navigation package meant the Subaru was one of the most comfortable crossovers in the fleet. The stout build made for a medium-size vehicle that was fun to toss around.


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