This week, we're testing Subaru's all-new fourth generation 2010 Outback, featuring a wider exterior design, more interior space and a longer wheelbase. However, not to be misled, Subaru engineers delivered the new Outback in a 1-inch shorter package than last year.

Out initial experience following delivery of the new Outback came when I made a trip to an International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) drag racing event and three IHRA officials caught view of the all-new Outback. (No, we didn't race the Subaru!)

"I haven't seen one of these yet, and it looks a lot better than the Outbacks I've come to know," said one of the officials, who is a South Carolina-bred Subaru Outback enthusiast. I quickly explained it was a media test vehicle and spent the next 10 minutes showing everything about the car to the officials, along with several racers who were also gathering.

All were greatly impressed with Subaru's new "larger yet shorter" design, and the expanded cargo, leg and head room available. One official also pointed out it was nice to see a non-carpeted cargo area, as most times, the rug ends up getting dirty quickly. (Our Subaru had the easy clean, $69 all-weather cargo mat.) In summary, all those who viewed Subaru's new Outback at the IHRA race really liked it, especially the new looks and its spacious 6 percent larger volume interior with leather appointed seats and burled wood trim.

Outside, a more aerodynamic front end accentuates new "hawk eye" headlamps that lead to a crisper side, top and rear design. The result is Outback's most attractive motif to date. There's also a segment first swing-out roof crossbar, a 2.8-inch longer wheelbase, and a two-inch wider design that adds to passenger comfort. Notable, too, is 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a total of four inches of additional rear seat legroom. The lack of front and rear overhangs result in Outback's one-inch shorter stance, making everything easier when maneuvering, especially parallel parking. Well done, Subaru!

Underneath, Outback features a brand new chassis design highlighted by an innovative engine cradle and new double wishbone rear suspension. This rear setup replaces last generation's multi-link design, resulting in a smoother ride, better handling and a stronger body.

Two powertrains are available, including the 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder Boxer engine that produces 170 horses and identical torque at 4,000 rpm, or the more powerful 3.6-liter Boxer 6-cylinder, which generates 256 horses and 247 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. Our tester came with the Boxer 6-cylinder, which replaces last year's 3.0-liter six. Notable, too, is that last year's 3.0 six relied on premium fuel while producing 11 less horsepower, while the new Outback 3.6R uses regular grade fuel and is more powerful.

As for transmissions, 4-cylinder Outback owners have a choice of either a standard 6-speed manual of a Subaru's new Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic. The 6-cylinder consumers will rely on a sophisticated 5-speed automatic, fitted with a manual gate for those who like more control or a fully automatic mode gate. EPA fuel mileage ratings are 18/25 for Boxer 6-cylinder, 19/27 for the six speed 4-cylinder, and 21/27 for the CVT four.

It would be a mistake not to mention Subaru's famous Symmetrical four-wheel drive system, standard on each and every Subaru that comes from the factory, and its excellent air bag safety systems, also standard fare.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 107.9, up to 71.3 cu. ft. of cargo space, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, 18.5 gallon fuel tank, 3,000 lb. tow capacity and 3,658 pound curb weight.

Options and destination pushed our tester's final tally to $35,122 with $695 destination, thanks to a $2,995 Navigation DVD player stereo system with power moonroof package and a few other items. However, as for prices, you can park a 2.5 with a six speed manual in your driveway for just $22,995, so there's a huge price difference between entry-level Outbacks and our fully loaded Limited tester. Of course, dealer discounts are also available, so stop by for an even better deal.

Overall, it's hard not to recommend the new 2010 Outback for a serious look if you're shopping this segment. This Outback is indeed "the real McCoy." It's all grown up, and deserves a 9.0 rating on a scale of 1 to 10.

If my high rating doesn't convince you, maybe this will: the base price of the 2010 3.6R Limited is $3,000 cheaper than a similar 2009 3.0R Limited model, and your dealer will happily explain the details.

Likes: Design, AWD safety, interior, pricing, bigger yet shorter design.

Dislikes: Could use a few more cup holders for second row passengers.


(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist)