ALWAYS IN ITS ELEMENT: Subaru offers an SUV alternative with its popular all-purpose, all-wheel-drive Outback 3.6R wagon

Subaru’s best selling vehicle, the Outback, has lured its many satisfied owners by offering an alternative to those increasingly popular SUVs and CUVs.

Its handy size provides a thoroughly carlike driving experience, yet it provides surprising back-country abilities, thanks to its standard all-wheel drive and generous 8.7-inch ground clearance. In town or in the boonies, the Outback always feels right at home.

Even with its moderately jacked-up suspension, there’s no climbing needed to reach the seats of the Subaru. Unlike some compact SUVs, they’re at a convenient height for entrance and egress, making it an excellent choice for the short of stature or more-seasoned, less-dexterous motorists.

Once situated inside, the Outback provides plenty of headroom for all onboard, and there’s a surprising amount of room for passengers relegated to the rear seat. Front or back, everyone has a great view out, thanks to a high seating position, large window-glass area, the body’s low beltlines, and thin window pillars all around.

The Outback’s cargo volume – 36 cubic feet behind the second-row seat – tops that of many of its competitors. Flop that back split bench down flat, and the space soars to a utility-worthy 73 feet.

Our top-ot-the-line, Touring-grade test vehicle came packed with a plethora of near-luxury accouterments, too numerous to mention. But instantly notable are the cabin’s perforated leather-clad seats in a lovely Java Brown highlighted with ivory stitching, heated front and rear. Nice.

Subaru’s much-heralded EyeSight driver assist technology is standard, helping assure that riders reach their destination safely.

Our tester also carried 3.6R badging, indicating a six-cylinder “boxer” engine under the hood. This powerhouse transforms the Outback from its lesser four-cylinder stablemates, thanks to its 256 horsepower (compared to the four’s 175 horsepower). Smooth, quiet and quick, the six elevates the multipurpose wagon to a higher level of desirability. Fuel economy does suffer somewhat, however.

A high-grade interior, a fresh infotainment system (at last!), a choice of powerplants, and Subaru’s focus on safety keep the Outback a highly viable alternative in an SUV-infatuated marketplace.

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