Outback as backroad camp vehicle?

DaveM

Explorer
Looking at upgrading from my 2003 Tacoma (double cab w shell, 175k miles). I’d been thinking I was going to move to a 2-3 year used 4Runner. But now considering a move away from a dedicated truck to a Subaru Outback, modified along the lines of the 4Expedition build.

But I’m concerned about what I’d be losing in performance and capability by going to a “softroader”. Hoping to find some objective input from the forum.

First, here’s how I use my vehicle now:
  • daily commuter 8 miles round trip, plus weekend travel locally.
  • camping base vehicle (storage bins, Dometic 36 qt fridge, bed box, cook kit, RV3 tent etc.).
  • long road trip vehicle (1-2 multi day road trips per year, stopping at motels or camping along the way).
  • occasionally tow sm trailer (1200 labs max)
  • lots of graded dirt/gravel back roads, occasional heavier off road, no rock crawling etc. never needed a locker to stay out of trouble, frequently need high clearance, 4wd and low range.
What I think my priorities are:
  • comfort on the road for family (2 young boys who are outgrowing the rear seat space in the Taco; wife hates the truck suspension feeling, ability to access the cargo area from inside the cabin.
  • MPG (despite age difference 4Runner gets similar mpg to my Taco, Outback is significantly more efficient).
  • reliable off road ability for anything a stock (2” lifted w 31” tires) 2003 Taco could handle.
  • cost, The 4runner is $10k more than the Outbacks I’m finding. Means I can be in the Outback now, versus waiting another year or two for the 4Runner.
My concerns about the Outback:
  • CVT transmission, no low range part-time 4wd system. Will I loose the ability to brute force my way out of minor stuck situations?
  • Unibody vs body on frame. How tough is the Outback? Can it really handle rough roads and ruts or will I be beating it to hell using it like a truck?
  • Articulation. How much less articulation can I expect from the OB, and can it by improved with modifications?
  • Power. I know there’s a 6 cylinder model, but I think I can only afford the 4 cylinder now if I want to have cash on hand for the lift and tires after purchase. That seems ridiculous, a 4 cylinder off road camping vehicle the size of the OB?
  • I plan to add a Taxa Woolly Bear camp trailer in the near future, the OB will need to be able to tow this around backroads etc.
Would love to hear some input on the OB versus the 4Runner for my intended use. I know I’d lose some “last mile” abilities with the OB, but I think I’m ok with that given what a small part of my overall use that is.
 

jacobconroy

Hillbilly of Leisure
I use a 2007 Jeep JK 2-door for my overlanding (car camping) needs and bought a 2016 3.6R Outback with the intention of replacing the Jeep. Though the Outback is a very comfortable rig, I have switched back to the Jeep. Here's why:

Clearance, clearance, clearance. Though a stock JK and current-gen Outback both have 8 inches of clearance on paper...there is no contest between the two. I suspect you will find a similar difference between an Outback and your Taco. The Outback is more or less flat underneath. This means that a 9 inch rock in the road is a problem if you can't go around it. With the Jeep it's just a matter of where you place your tires to overcome a similar obstacle.

A couple of points I've discovered:
  • We have had absolutely no problems with the Outback in three years, but we have only put 25K miles on it. I really like the rig.
  • CVT is fine, even with towing if you follow the owners manual.
  • The 3.6R has x-mode, which does a pretty good job of pretending to be in 4-low and locked. I've only used it a couple of times on sheer ice roads, but it worked. You might want to do some reading about it.
  • An Outback drives more like a small truck than a car. Kinda "floaty" on the highway, but it deals with Forest Service roads very well.
  • Outback articulation is nothing like a truck. If you lift it with a body lift, then you have the same amount of articulation, but gain no real clearance underneath. The body will be less likely to get crunched in a rough situation though. If you life it with King Springs, then you lose a lot of the articulation you have when stock.
  • I don't think you can get x-mode in the 4-cylinder version...but I may be wrong.
  • They have had some big problems with the 4-cylinder engines....like "your going to buy a new engine after your warranty expires at 70K" kinda problems. Buy the 6 cylinder if you can or plan to tow. No internet drama about the 3.6 engine. You will lose 10 MPG with the 3.6 for daily driving. But, you will only lose 5MPG while towing. The 4 banger is said to lose 10 MPG or more while towing. Tough decision overall for MPG.
  • Tow rating for the 3.6R is 2700 lbs. BUT ONLY a 200 lbs. tongue weight. This effectively means that if you want 10% of trailer weight on the tongue (and you do), then you are limited to towing a little less than 2000 lbs. It's said that for comfort you should only tow 2/3 of your capacity...so you might want to keep a trailer around 1400 lbs. or under. We tow a 1900 lbs. camp trailer with our 3.6 and it's comfortable.
  • The Outback has a long nose and rear. Not good for sketchy inclines and dips.
In short, the Outback is great for outdoors and FS roads. I found that I couldn't get into a lot of my favorite camping sites with it though. That last 100 feet would often be too rough. Sometimes there is a deep "burrow pit" on a FS road that takes off to your camping spot, and an Outback won't traverse it without some body dings. It just became too stressful when on rough roads for me. I found that I was watching the FS roads for rocks and holes while driving the Outback instead of the scenery. In the Jeep, I just drive.

That said, between the two rigs, if I had to drive 300 or more miles (like for a real trip) I'd rather take the Subaru.
 

DaveM

Explorer
Thank you! Thats really great info. I think the newer 2.5i (4 cylinders) all have xmode, but need to verify what years. I do intend to lift, but yeah 2" isn't much and its a main concern of mine. My boat w trailer is maybe 600#, the Taxa is 900# plus whatever I'd load in. So towing I think is ok. But I hadn't heard anything about the motors, that's a concern. I drive Toyota to not have to worry about crap like that! It is sooo tempting though, I really need to get out of my Taco soon and the 2.5i OB is hitting the price point I need now.

It may be worth the purchase now and if it's not what we need long term, I'd be able to sell in a couple of years and move back to the 4Runner (I suspect this is what I'd eventually do even if I found no faults with the OB).
 

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DaveM

Explorer
Any more details re the motor issues?

Looking online I see a lot of head gasket complaints in earlier models 2002 - 2009. I'd only be considering 2016 - 2018. Do these still have similar issues?
 
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jacobconroy

Hillbilly of Leisure
Thank you! Thats really great info. I think the newer 2.5i (4 cylinders) all have xmode, but need to verify what years. I do intend to lift, but yeah 2" isn't much and its a main concern of mine. My boat w trailer is maybe 600#, the Taxa is 900# plus whatever I'd load in. So towing I think is ok. But I hadn't heard anything about the motors, that's a concern. I drive Toyota to not have to worry about crap like that! It is sooo tempting though, I really need to get out of my Taco soon and the 2.5i OB is hitting the price point I need now.

It may be worth the purchase now and if it's not what we need long term, I'd be able to sell in a couple of years and move back to the 4Runner (I suspect this is what I'd eventually do even if I found no faults with the OB).
Welcome. Like I said, we both really like the car (it's the only practical car that we own). Several years ago there were issue with the 4 banger and oil (burning oil I believe)....had a co-worker that had to buy a new engine at under 100K and Subaru would not help him, even with a lawyer. Scary stuff. I would bet that Subaru has straightened those problems out by now.

Couple things I forgot:
  • You can't carry a full-sized spare in an Outback in the factory location. This is a problem if you want one.
  • Outback does not like to have a lot gear in the rear and will get a "saggy butt". Companies make stronger springs now to help with this.
  • Our dealer wouldn't install a 7-pin trailer plug for brakes. Had to do it on my own.
  • Dealer said that anytime they see a 2-inch receiver on an Outback with drivetrain issues (under warranty), they start asking questions about towing. If this happens, LIE. Even if you are following the specs. Dealer said, "Towing voids all engine and powertrain warranty". Just FYI.
  • Dealer said that they would install a lift kit if I provided one, but that it would void our warranty on all parts past the lift, including wheels, bearings, brakes, CV joints, etc.. I chickened out and did not install the lift. Yet. I will when our extended warranty expires in 4 years.).
  • A lift will change the angles of the CV joints (to an out-of-spec angle) and will lead to replacing them more often. Might want to find out what these cost, because the lift kit will probably kill their warranty.
If you are willing to miss a camp site or two due to big rocks it's a great rig.
 

DaveM

Explorer
This is encouraging. Looks like the 2.5i. I know it's a pro driver on a course he probably knows well, but I'm impressed with how it seems to be handling it. Bottoming out seems to be the big concern as well angles, but the xmode seems to really be helping. I suspect I struggle more on some of this in my Taco.

 

jacobconroy

Hillbilly of Leisure
This is encouraging. Looks like the 2.5i. I know it's a pro driver on a course he probably knows well, but I'm impressed with how it seems to be handling it. Bottoming out seems to be the big concern as well angles, but the xmode seems to really be helping. I suspect I struggle more on some of this in my Taco.

I agree. For some reason this is just cool looking to me. Lifted and all that. Someday.
512647
 

billiebob

Well-known member
First, here’s how I use my vehicle now:
  • daily commuter 8 miles round trip, plus weekend travel locally.
  • camping base vehicle (storage bins, Dometic 36 qt fridge, bed box, cook kit, RV3 tent etc.).
  • long road trip vehicle (1-2 multi day road trips per year, stopping at motels or camping along the way).
  • occasionally tow sm trailer (1200 labs max)
  • lots of graded dirt/gravel back roads, occasional heavier off road, no rock crawling etc. never needed a locker to stay out of trouble, frequently need high clearance, 4wd and low range.
All that says you'll love the Outback.
Subaru AWD is the best out there. But quite right, if you really need LoRange, you won't get there with a Subaru. You just need to balance that against all the other uses/priorities.

We've had 4 Subarus. Loved everyone of them. But my camping is done with a TJR and a tear drop.
 

chet6.7

Explorer
When you used the term softroader I thought of this channel.
 

perterra

Adventurer
Welcome. Like I said, we both really like the car (it's the only practical car that we own). Several years ago there were issue with the 4 banger and oil (burning oil I believe)....had a co-worker that had to buy a new engine at under 100K and Subaru would not help him, even with a lawyer. Scary stuff. I would bet that Subaru has straightened those problems out by now.

Couple things I forgot:
  • You can't carry a full-sized spare in an Outback in the factory location. This is a problem if you want one.
  • Outback does not like to have a lot gear in the rear and will get a "saggy butt". Companies make stronger springs now to help with this.
  • Our dealer wouldn't install a 7-pin trailer plug for brakes. Had to do it on my own.
  • Dealer said that anytime they see a 2-inch receiver on an Outback with drivetrain issues (under warranty), they start asking questions about towing. If this happens, LIE. Even if you are following the specs. Dealer said, "Towing voids all engine and powertrain warranty". Just FYI.
  • Dealer said that they would install a lift kit if I provided one, but that it would void our warranty on all parts past the lift, including wheels, bearings, brakes, CV joints, etc.. I chickened out and did not install the lift. Yet. I will when our extended warranty expires in 4 years.).
  • A lift will change the angles of the CV joints (to an out-of-spec angle) and will lead to replacing them more often. Might want to find out what these cost, because the lift kit will probably kill their warranty.
If you are willing to miss a camp site or two due to big rocks it's a great rig.

I would change dealers. Ours installed a 2" hitch for us when we bought it. Asked how much our camper weighed, told him between 1500 and 1800 depending on how it's loaded. He said you are good to go. Ours is a 16 4 cyl CVT with X-mode.
 

Ihatecrashing

New member
This probably won’t help much, but I just dipped my toe in the Outback pool. 2019 2.5i premium in Abyss blue, picked it up Tuesday. I’m planning on a lift, wheels and tires to get started. I was camping out of a 1992 Land Cruiser and have only gone to one place that I don’t think the outback could go. One place I thought would be a “true 4wheel drive only” place had a stock outback sitting there...

The wife drives a 2010 Legacy that we have had since new, 2.5 motor with no problems over the last 225,000 miles. She loves 4runners, but every time the weather turns south, she swears she’ll only drive Subaru. They are solid cars! Hope you find what you are looking for!
 

WhatTheZo

Member
The only big issues I've had with my lifted 2.5i OB is long rutted uphill climbs. You have to relearn how to off-road compared to other 4wd vehicles; momentum is your friend and you'll learn when your CVT needs a rear. More driver skill is involved because you can't really power through thingsfrom a dead stop. Best way I can describe to other drivers with 4wd is is take lines like you only have 4Hi. X-mode makes decents suuuuuper easy.

I love the thing for all it's room, creature comforts and especially the subaru offroad community.

Sent from my Pixel 2 using Tapatalk
 

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4xpedition

Member
Hey all, Scott checking in here from 4XPEDITION. Just thought I would throw in my 2 cents.

Clearance is an issue. I have taken my outback on some trails that I had previously taken my Rubicons on in the remote mountains of Colorado. Last summer took it over Engineer's Pass (watch the video at
and jump to 46:00 for the time. On the way down we took trail#18 along the Uncompahgre River down to the Million Dollar Highway just above Ouray, CO and there were several areas we had to build up rocks for the Subaru to descend. Skid plates are a must. I lost the front nose plate on that trip. Also, the computer system got a little wonky on that trip. Maybe because it was a pretty rough road. A couple of times the engine wouldn't even rev if I put on the gas in the drive. The car wouldn't move. But it resolved eventually every time.

The tail end sag is an issue if you don't install rear springs... especially if you add a rear tire carrier with a spare. I removed the spare tire from inside the car which opens up a lot of nice long-term storage for things like tow straps. You can't (or shouldn't) install front springs.

The 3.6R is a must if you are going to throw some KO2s on and then load it up. Always travel with a set of MaxTrax since a winch isn't really an option without custom fab. The Outback handles well offroad. You can pretty much hall ass and not have a problem on Forest Roads... even fairly rough ones. However, be prepared to hit the breaks when you get to a dip or rut.

This weekend I took a short overnighter down a forest road with ruts and dips. My front skid and bull bar scraped on the front of a dip on entry and my high-clearance hitch gate solo rear tire carrier scraped on exit. No biggie. Just take your time and change your entry and departure angle.

Gas mileage is not an issue. Even fully loaded with all aftermarket upgrades AT tires and an i-Kamper 4-person rooftop tent, rear tire carrier, and all gear loaded I still get 20MPG.

The nice part about an outback is the ability to sleep on the roof and still have room inside for two adults to sleep. And, I am able to pack all my gear in the rear and still use the two back seats. You have to be smart about your gear and packing but it is possible. In fact, the episode I am working on this week from this past weekend's adventure goes through my packing system.

I have had three lifted Rubicons. I bought the Outback and converted it because I wanted one vehicle for backcountry travel and still be able to use it as a commuter. And, my plan has been to build a 170 4x4 Sprinter... (see attached photo from RoamBuilt) which can't really do much more than the outback offroad. Now, however, I am no longer commuting as my home is close to my work. I am considering switching to a Gladiator and building a Way Out concept style (see attached image) for bugout style adventures and still building the Sprinter. Not sure yet if I will keep the Outback, but it has been a great vehicle so far for my needs.

Jacob Conroy made some great points. I agree that there are certain places the Outback just can't go. So, it comes down to your personal needs. On Trail #18 mentioned above, there was an old Mine we wanted to go to off that trail but we had to park the Outback and take a lifted Xterra up there.

I haven't had any trouble with CV joints yet. 32,000 miles with lift.

Plus this past weekend I took a short trip to the forest above Sedona off TR535 toward Edge of the World. 90 percent of the driving was highway where a Jeep would be exceedingly exhausting... the Outback was a dream as usual. The 10% offroad with ruts (putting together a new episode on that now) really wasn't a problem. Only a couple of places where I had to take it slow... and I was alone. The image attached shows a foot deep rut and the underside of the Outback shot this past weekend.
 

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DaveM

Explorer
Hi Scott, thanks for adding more details. I've been going over your videos looking for insights. Great work.

Based on what I see and am reading I think the Outback (w lift and BFG AT KOs, plus roof rack and armor etc.) would handle the majority of what I use my Tacoma for now. The trade off between last mile travel and trail/road comfort for the family is one I'm willing to make. I suspect the Outback will actually mean we go more places since long distance driving in an old truck can be exhausting for the wife and kids (and driver!). I'd handle extra camp storage with a platform rack and bins (or eventually a small camp trailer).

I have a couple of questions:

1) Assuming I use a lift like the LP Adventure kit. What rear springs would I be looking for to add a little extra support for camping loads? Most non OEM springs I'm finding are described as 1" - 1.25" lift, but I'm not sure I want extra lift, just more resistance?

2) I've been reading a lot about a transmission wobble that drivers get after doing the 2" lifts. There's a transmission spacer out there that seems to remedy the issue. Do you have any experience with the wobble or the spacer?

3) lots of chatter online about bad Subaru engines, head gasket issues, oil loss and early motor burn out. This may have been pre 2009 cars and only the 4 cylinders, but I'm not sure. I'm probably looking for 2015-2017 and 3.6r only. Are there any known motor issues (that you are aware of) with those years?

Incidentally, Sedona (my wife's hometown) would probably be our first trip in the Outback if I can make it happen before June. Thanks again!

edited to add: scratch question 1, I found RalliTEK 0" overload sprigs. Assume that's what you'd add to the standard 2" lift to help with load but not over do the lift.
 
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