Quick With the Six

The Outback's base engine Ч a 170-horsepower four-cylinder Ч delivers leisurely acceleration, in large part because of a continuously variable automatic transmission that's in no hurry to respond to your right foot. (A six-speed manual is standard, but we haven't tested it.) Loaded with passengers, the four-cylinder drivetrain requires patience reaching highway speeds, and it strains to keep up under hard acceleration.

That's not the case with the optional 256-hp six-cylinder. It's a muscular drivetrain, in part because it trades the CVT for a responsive five-speed automatic that's not afraid to hold lower gears or kick down on the highway. Even loaded with cargo, our test car had the sort of torque to pull strongly around town, though getting up to highway speeds didn't leave much extra power on tap.

With the six-cylinder, towing capacity tops out at 3,000 pounds. That's 500 pounds less than many competitors, but the four-cylinder Outback has a 2,700-pound rating Ч none too shabby for a four-banger.

The combined EPA gas mileage estimates range from 20 mpg with the six-cylinder and automatic to 24 mpg with the four-cylinder and automatic. Both figures are competitive.

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