Subaru Outback: The Car Bible (2005-2009)
The third-generation Outback's design has aged well. These are still cool adventuremobiles.
Welcome to the Subaru Outback Car Bible. This focuses specifically on the third-generation Outback, made from 2005 to 2009. As you scroll down, you’ll learn all about this vehicle’s qualities, features, finer points, and shortcomings. If you’re thinking about buying one of these, want some help maintaining or modifying one, or just want to deepen your knowledge for the next round of car trivia, you’ve come to the right place.
This is a living document that’s updated as we learn (and confirm) new valuable information. Got something to add? Drop a comment or send us an email. Don’t be shy; the more dialogue we have the better this Car Bible will get.
–Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles Editor-In-Chief
(Disclaimers, Disclosures: Some Car Bibles will have links to specific forums, groups, brands, shops, or vendors for parts shopping and such. We have no sponsorship deals or official affiliation with any of them unless explicitly stated. We also explicitly state that you should work on your own car and follow our advice at your own risk.)
There’s a lot of information packed into this Bible. If you’re looking for something specific, hit command/control-F, type one of these terms, and your browser should bring you straight in. If you’re on a phone, tap the “share” button near the URL of this page and you’ll find a “search on this page” option there.
- The Short Story
- Fast Facts
- Spotter’s Guide
- Check This Car Out If …
- Important Trim Levels and Options
- Year-To-Year Changes
- General Reliability and Ownership Costs
- Obscure Details
- Red Flags and Known Issues
- Where To Buy Parts
- Aftermarket Support
- Popular Modifications
- Key Technical Details
- Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
- Factory Service Manuals
- Other References and Resources
- Professional Reviews
- Owner Reviews
- What They’re Worth Now
- Where To Find One for Sale
- What To Ask A Seller
- Competitors To Consider
- Photo Galleries
- Pop-Culture References
- Enthusiast Inquiries
- Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
- Comments Disclaimer
The Short Story
In 1994, Subaru of America was desperate to hitch onto the impending SUV craze. Plucky and small, Subaru didn’t have the funding or the sales to develop an all-new, tall-bodied truck for the United States market. It took inventory of what it had and chose to lift the Legacy sedan and wagon, and give it some body cladding. The resulting Legacy Outback was allegedly described as “company saving” by Subaru of America senior vice president Tim Mahoney.
Three generations later, Legacy Outback was shortened to Outback. In 10 years, the Outback grew up and kept Subaru afloat in the U.S. market, arguably solely responsible for the brand’s current foothold. The Outback was then and remains a flagship product for the same automaker that won WRC and made the Subaru Brat.
Marketed as a more efficient and conscious alternative for adventurous people and mild off-roaders, the all-new third-generation Outback lifted itself 8.5 inches off the ground and brought an entirely new suspension, body, and engine architecture that is still used in Subarus to this day. This Outback, shared with the fourth-generation Legacy sedan and wagon, also marked a shift for the brand; towards refinement and ultra-low road noise and generally building a more tightly bound together vehicle than they ever have. In truth, this generation Legacy/Outback feels like no other Subaru of the period, and no other Subaru since. It remains an apex for the brand and a desirable car for many people around the world.
If you’re looking for more images, scroll on down to the Photo Galleries links toward the end of the Car Bible.
It is indeed named for the famed Australian Outback, and Subaru hired Paul Hogan of “Crocodile Dundee” as a primary spokesperson for the debut of the model in 1994.
The fourth-generation Legacy and third-generation Outback debuted in 2003 internationally, marking 50 years of Subaru automobiles.
The third-gen Outback shares its platform and construction completely with the fourth-gen Legacy.
Subaru updated every engine available in the Outback: the EJ253 2.5i non-turbo, the EJ255 2.5XT turbocharged WRX engine, and the EZ30D Phase II 3.0R flat-six.
For the first and last time, Subaru utilized variable valve lift on the exhaust camshafts of the 2.5i and the 3.0R, called i-AVLS (intelligent Active Valve Lift System).
Raising the Outback’s ground clearance to 8.5 inches from 7.8 inches helped classify it as a light truck in the United States, thereby circumventing some fuel-economy regulations. That was probably not a coincidence.
This generation of Outback and Legacy use a unique multilink rear suspension not seen on any other Subaru since.
In a company first, Subaru utilized the CAN (Controller Area Network) bus for the electronics on the Outback and Legacy, which is basically a daisy chain of separate modules that talk to each other on the CAN system.
The highest trim possible was the 3.0R L.L. Bean, which featured perforated two-tone leather seats, navigation after 2006, and only the passenger seat was embossed with the L.L. Bean logo, for cost reasons, on the most expensive trim level.
All Outbacks had aluminum hoods and liftgates and electroluminescent gauge clusters.
Spotting a third-generation Outback is pretty easy. It’s the most modern-looking one without being the uglier, blocky early-2010s mess that the fourth generation became. Gentle curves, a taut character line, simple detailing, and a gorgeous-looking “continuous” greenhouse side profile define the exterior. It looks surprisingly modern and gorgeous for a wagon shape. There are two versions from 2005-2007 and 2008-2009.
Telling the various versions of these Outbacks apart is pretty easy. There are key exterior, paint scheme, and interior differences that can differentiate them. The easiest way to tell the pre-facelift and post-facelift cars apart is the taillights: Pre-facelift cars have amber turn signals, and post-facelift have clear signals.
The front end is slightly altered as well. I tell them apart with the shape of their headlights from the side profile. The pre-facelift models curve down from the top, and the post-facelift models curve up from the bottom. Post-facelift cars have a squarer grill and more voluminous front end, and base model 2.5is don’t get fog lights as standard, while all pre-facelift Outbacks get fog lights.
The changes carry on inside. A new steering wheel design greets you along with two redesigned gauge clusters. The new 2.5i cluster gets a similar design to the old 2.5XT cluster without silver rings, and the 2.5XT and 3.0R get new dual full-moon gauge faces with an LCD dot-matrix display capable of showing more detailed information and a blue light representing cold coolant. The gauges actually came on the 2007 2.5XT, and on the 2008 3.0R. Navigation becomes a more common option post facelift as well, while all post-facelift cars get an updated head unit with circular preset buttons instead of square, an AUX input, and SI-Drive on the 2.5XT.
Generally not rare. There are plenty of Outbacks to go around, especially 2.5i models. They get progressively rarer but are still attainable. The 2.5i automatic and manual models are the easiest to find. The 2.5XT manual is the most desirable but still generally attainable yet hard to find in good shape. The 2.5XT automatics are common. The 3.0R L.L. Bean is the easiest 3.0R to find and are about as common as 2.5XTs. The rarest are the 3.0R Limited sedans, which are basically unobtanium, and the 3.0R Limited VDC, which can be found every few months.
Check This Car Out If …
You want a surprisingly capable light off-roader that’s comfortable, quiet, and carlike, and you don’t mind some personality and quirks.
Important Trim Levels and Options
Outbacks are primarily divided by trim level with very few optional extras. Trim variety is limited as well, with only a few options available.
Base-model Outbacks all come with the lowly EJ253 engine, and the trim is called 2.5i. While you can get a 2.5i in a higher trim, base models are only the 2.5i. Base models feature unpainted door handles and side mirror covers, six-spoke wheels, and cloth interiors with soft-plastic buttonless steering wheels. Manual climate control with three knobs is exclusive to the base; all others got the dual-zone climate control with an LCD matrix display. All base models were slick tops and were available with the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
The 2.5XT also technically has a base trim without a sunroof and cloth seats but with all other features, and this was only for 2005. Note that all trims of the 2.5XT have a hood scoop for the top-mounted intercooler. All 2.5XTs base or Limited are also available with the highly desirable five-speed manual drivetrain but are most commonly found with the then-new five-speed automatic. A unique gauge cluster without silver rings lives in the 2.5XT. All other models get a cluster with silver painted rings.
The next trim up is Limited. It’s available in 2.5i, 2.5XT, 3.0R sedan, and 3.0R VDC wagon. The Limited trim itself is nothing special. It comes with the most amenities of any other trim but has five-spoke wheels. The 2.5i gets painted door handles, while side-mirror covers remain unpainted. The 2.5XT and all 3.0Rs get painted mirror covers. All Limited trims get the dual-zone climate control, and leather-wrapped steering wheels of different permutations. The 2.5i gets perforated leather but omits Momo branding, the 2.5XT gets the perforated leather Momo wheel, and all 3.0R get a leather-wrapped wheel with wood at the top of the rim.
The 3.0R VDC wagon is the only model with stability and traction control, with a button to the left of the steering column to switch it off. All Limiteds got the panoramic sunroof. Leather seats and upholstery finish the job inside. Auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass is optional. All 3.0R models are exclusively available with the five-speed automatic gearbox and no manual option.
L.L. Bean sits at the top of the heap with the 3.0R L.L. Bean wagon. It features everything from the Limited trim with a few key extras: perforated leather, two-tone seats with L.L. Bean embossed prominently, a standard auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, and graphite-colored five-spoke wheels. They don’t have VDC but have every other box ticked.
These changes reflect the U.S. market.
2005 model year:
- Car debuts
- Available trims: 2.5i, 2.5i Limited, 2.5XT, 2.5XT Limited, 3.0R Limited sedan, 3.0R L.L. Bean, 3.0R Limited VDC wagon
The available colors need their own little section:
- 2.5i Base and Limited: Champagne Gold Opal, Obsidian Black Pearl, Atlantic Blue Pearl over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Brilliant Silver Metallic over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Champagne Gold Opal over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Satin White Pearl over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Willow Green Opal over Moss Green Metallic two-tone
- 2.5XT and 3.0R VDC Limited: Champagne Gold Opal, Garnet Red Pearl, Obsidian Black Pearl, Atlantic Blue Pearl over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Brilliant Silver Metallic over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Satin White Pearl over Granite Gray Opal two-tone
- 3.0R Limited sedan: Atlantic Blue Pearl, Brilliant Silver Metallic, Champagne Gold Opal, Garnet Red Pearl, Obsidian Black Pearl, Satin White Pearl
- 3.0R L.L. Bean: Champagne Gold Opal, Obsidian Black Pearl, Atlantic Blue Pearl over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Brilliant Silver Metallic over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Champagne Gold Opal over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Satin White Pearl over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Willow Green Opal over Moss Green Metallic two-tone
2006 model year:
- Navigation introduced as an option
- Atlantic Blue Pearl over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Champagne Gold Opal over Granite Gray Opal two-tone, Satin White Pearl over Granite Gray Opal two-tone dropped for 2006
- 2.5XT base dropped, 2.5XT Limited only
- 3.0R base wagon and 3.0R L.L. Bean sedan added alongside 3.0R VDC and 3.0R L.L. Bean wagon
- 3.0R Limited sedan dropped
2007 model year:
- 2.5XT gauge cluster updated to new twin full-moon style with MFI display
- SI-Drive added, variable throttle mapping
- 3.0R and 2.5i gauge cluster changed to full black faces without silver rings
- Head unit updated
- 2.5i Limited sedan trim added
- 2.5i Basic trim added
- VDC made standard for all 2.5XT and 3.0R models.
- Diamond Grey Metallic, Newport Blue Pearl, and Newport Blue Pearl over Granite Gray Opal two-tone added
- 2.5XT gets revised EJ255 Version 2 with secondary air injection, revised air-conditioning compressor, revised AVCS oil passages, different MAF sensor, and slightly revised engine block and heads
2008 model year:
- Interior facelift: new steering wheel and new gauges for 2.5i, while updated 2007 gauges and head unit carryover
- Exterior facelift: new clear tail lights, front fascia, and diamond-cut wheels
- Colors added: Quartz Silver Metallic, Harvest Gold Metallic, Deep Bronze Metallic, Deep Bronze Metallic over Harvest Gold Metallic two-tone
- 2.5i L.L. Bean and 2.5i L.L. Bean Limited added
- Fog lights optional for base model
- Homelink made optional with auto-dimming compass mirror
- New blocky key-fob design
- Spin-on transmission oil filter phased out
2009 model year:
- Colors dropped: Newport Blue Pearl, Diamond Grey Metallic dropped
- Colors added: Seacrest Green Metallic added
- 2.5i L.L Bean, 2.5i L.L. Bean Limited, and 3.0R L.L. Bean limited dropped
- 2.5i Special Edition added
- Semi-hexagonal key design
- End of production
General Reliability and Ownership Cost
The third-generation Outback is divisive in the reliability department. The car is a classic case of a bunch of owners having long, happy ownerships with little to no problems, and some owners with absolute nightmare scenarios with engines blowing consistently and grenading transmissions every year or so.
The truth of the matter is that previous ownership matters a lot. A properly owned third-generation Outback will be a faithful companion for many years — with reasonably strict maintenance. Regular and consistent oil changes, transmission and driveline fluid changes, and constant monitoring of the health of the engine and car are the keys to a success with Subarus. Know what noises it should and shouldn’t make, don’t beat the shit out of it without certain modifications, and drive it like an older machine.
In my own experience owning and being around the 2.5XT and the 3.0R, the 3.0R is the more reliable and smooth option of the two, if a bit on the boring side. It is also harder and more expensive to fix compared to the XT and 2.5i, although it can be more reliable. If you care to wrench and tinker, the 2.5XT is the one to have, while the more painless 3.0R is the one for people who want to set and forget.
All of them, even the 3.0R, can and will blow head gaskets. Beware of getting them too warm and make sure to give it a decent load test if you’re looking to buy one.
The EZ30D in the 3.0R models has an extremely specific air-conditioning compressor that looks similar to other Subarus but has key differences with its pulley and front cover. The 3.0R models have a speed sensor that is absolutely required for the car to engage the compressor clutch.
On that same 3.0R model, the EZ30 uses a particularly complex and tedious twin front cover, which prevents easy removal of the heads. There is an easy front cover, but the rear cover requires all timing gear to come off and several O rings to be accounted for. Then the heads can come off. It’s scarier and more tedious than it sounds.
The EZ30D was engineered so well that it’s only one inch longer than the EJ25 but not engineered well enough to not blow its robust multilayer steel head gaskets.
All modern Subarus use the same front-suspension architecture as the Outback and Legacy of this period. This is why a 2015 and newer WRX STI steering rack bolts in with ease.
Red Flags and Known Issues
The primary thing to look out for on any five-speed manual Outback is a grindy, tough to shift, or noisy transmission. Those are all red flags. The five-speed is notoriously fragile and deserves its reputation for being terrible. The gearbox accepts nothing less than an incredibly well-done rebuild, and world-class skill with a clutch pedal and gear lever. Even then, they can wear out and break literally everything. Another issue with the gearbox is center differential failure, usually associated with excessive gear whine or a pulsating whooping sound that gets fast with road speed. If there is no noise, a good way to check on center differential health is to do full lock-to-lock turns in a parking lot in both directions. If you feel any clunking, drivetrain bucking, or grinding, the center differential is going bad.
With 2.5XTs, watch for misfires or hesitations under acceleration or an unusually rough idle. This one is tough because EJ255s have naturally funky idles, but you will know if something is wrong; it will be especially rough. Make sure it enters boost smoothly.
All EJ engines run a little grumbly. They all bounce around and run kinda weird sometimes but generally figure themselves out. If you dip into boost and the engine is still stumbling and misfiring, then there is a real problem. The benefit and curse of 2.5 turbo engines is that issues will present themselves readily. Misfires just happen. They do. Sensors go a little bit bad, and the engine doesn’t know left from right. The MAFs like to go bad and cause the engine to run lean. The O2 sensor also does the same thing.
The big thing to beware of with 2.5s is burnt valves, which happen a fair amount. A lot of misfires and low power are big signs of burnt valves.
Also, beware of the dreaded ringland issue. The 2.5s in particular suffer from weak ringlands, which is where the piston rings live and a lot of cylinder pressure is being applied. Because of the 2.5s hasty bore and stroke job, they are weak from the factory, and brittle cast-aluminum pistons do not help the issue, breaking at the mere suggestion of ignition knock. Lots of misfires and smoke from the exhaust usually predicate the issue, along with a bad compression test.
The 2.5s sometimes spin rod bearings. In my time at Yimisport, a spun bearing 2.5 was as common as breathing air. If you drive the car like a Honda, the short story is that you will blow stuff up. Take it easy, shift smooth, and know how to drive it hard. Don’t lug the engine, let it get into its most efficient boost range, and be nice to the car, please.
Look out for overheating and head-gasket issues, especially on 2.5i and 3.0R models. Make sure to give it a bit of throttle, go up some hills, and let it idle for a good while to see if it will maintain temperature. My own 3.0R blew its head gaskets, and you should be very wary of any excessive overheating.
With that, beware that these cars run warm. The temperature gauge will move a bit while climbing hills. It’s important that the gauge comes right down after some chil driving. If not, there may be a problem.
The third-generation Outback has nine documented recalls on the NHSTA website.
They all suffer from the infamous Takata airbag inflator recall, so if your Outback’s airbag has not been serviced, it should be immediately. Any Subaru dealer should be able to sort that out for you for free if the problem hasn’t been addressed yet.
Where to Buy Parts
For OEM parts and replacement stock parts, your best bet would be to find a Subaru dealership parts counter. Genuine Subaru parts are a bit better than a lot of equivalent replacement parts.
If you’re willing to wait, the best part about Subaru parts is that the Tier 1 OEMs that make the parts for Subaru readily sell their parts online or to higher-quality parts stores such as Napa. For instance, Denso or TKT bearings are OEM Subaru without having the Subaru badge. You can find things online easily with any choice of parts catalog search.
Generally speaking, these are common enough cars that you shouldn’t have to worry about hoarding parts or waiting months for things just yet.
With an Outback 2.5XT, you can effectively piggyback off the aftermarket for the WRX and WRX STI. There will be a lot of option for making power from the WRX engined 2.5XT, and it will be made easy for you. Control arms, coilovers, and other suspension parts can also be piggybacked from the Legacy GT aftermarket.
Otherwise, modifying a 2.5i and the 3.0R Outback will be tough. Not many parts, if any, exist to modify either engine. The primary mods are suspension and chassis mods, available from a select few companies.
Lift kits are available from Rallitek and King Springs. Extreme mods are hard to come by for this platform. Most keep it simple and sweet and enjoy the Outback for what it is: a simple car-based off-roader.
Some modders put an oversized set of off-road tires on their Outback — if they want to actually off-road their wagons. Some actually like to lower their cars and make a budget widebody Legacy, which is kind of cool. The 2.5i and 3.0R don’t get engine mods, but all Outbacks that are off-roaded generally get a King Spring upgrade to up the very soft factory spring rates and some new dampers to handle the load. Lifting the third-gen Outback beyond one inch can be treacherous for the CV axles, so most stick to a 0.5-inch lift and stiffer springs.
The top mod every turbo Subaru should get is a good tune. Despite their popularity, I would recommend you skip off-the-shelf (OTS) tunes from Cobb and similar companies and drop the coin for a good pro tune from a reputable shop such as Yimisport. A good pro tune will smooth the engine out, kill any dumb engine-running weirdness, and add a ton of reliable power with much more safety margin. Short story: Stock Subaru tunes suck.
Another good mod for the 2.5XT is the cylinder 4 cooling mod. This helps the farthest-back cylinder get adequate coolant flow and avoid spot overheating in the back of the engine, extending the life of the head gaskets and preventing ignition knock and inevitable 2.5-liter ring failure.
A Cobb Accessport is the single most valuable modification you can make to your 2.5XT. You don’t have to install a tune to run the Accessport; you can run the stock tune and monitor engine health in real time. Keeping an eye on your knock correction, DAM (Dynamic Advance Multiplier, Subaru term for global ignition advance), misfire counts, and fuel trims will help you get an idea of what’s wrong with your car. Invest in one and use it for diagnostics. The bonus is that most tuners can use the AP as a proxy for tuning and allow you to load multiple maps, for example, keeping the stock tune for emissions in your state — not that we at Car Bibles recommends that you skirt the law.
Key Technical Details
2.5i: EJ253 16-valve, rocker-actuated SOHC flat-four w/ AVLS variable- alve lift, longitudinally mounted. 10.0:1 compression ratio. Electronic ignition. Aluminum intake manifold without tumble-generator valves. Cast-aluminum block with die-cast-aluminum cylinder heads. Hitachi engine management. Timing-belt driven, interval 105,000 miles.
2.5XT (2005-2007): EJ255 Ver. 1 16-valve, shim-under-bucket flat tappet DOHC flat-four with intake AVCS variable valve timing, longitudinally mounted. 8.4:1 compression ratio. Turbocharged with IHI VF40. Coil-on-plug direct ignition. Composite plastic intake manifold with tumble generator valves. Cast-aluminum engine block with die-cast-aluminum heads. Denso engine management. Timing-belt driven, interval 105,000 miles.
2.5XT (2008-2009): EJ255 Ver. 2 16-valve, shim-under-bucket flat tappet DOHC flat-four cylinder with intake AVCS variable valve timing, longitudinally mounted. 8.4:1 compression ratio. Turbocharged with IHI VF46. Coil-on-plug direct ignition. Composite plastic intake manifold with tumble-generator valves. Cast-aluminum engine block with die-cast-aluminum heads. Secondary air injection. Denso engine management. Timing-belt driven, interval 105,000 miles.
3.0R EZ30D: 24-valve, shimless flat-tappet DOHC flat-six with exhaust AVLS variable valve lift, longitudinally mounted. 10.7:1 compression ratio. Coil-on-plug direct ignition. Composite plastic intake manifold without tumble-generator valves. Cast-aluminum engine block with die-cast-aluminum heads. Denso engine management. Timing-chain driven.
2.5i: Four-speed automatic transaxle with variable torque distribution. all-wheel drive. Five-speed manual split-case constant-mesh transaxle gearbox with viscous center coupling locked in a 50/50 torque split.
2.5XT: Five-speed Jatco automatic transaxle with variable torque distribution. All-wheel drive. Five-speed manual split-case constant-mesh transaxle gearbox with viscous center coupling locked in a 50/50 torque split.
3.0R: Five-speed Jatco automatic transaxle with variable torque distribution. All-wheel drive.
Drivetrain: Front engine, full-time all-wheel drive with viscous limited-slip rear differential. Viscous center differential in manual models, active all-wheel drive for four-speed automatics and VTD active AWD for five-speed automatics. R160 viscous limited-slip differential for 2.5i/2.5XT/3.0R with finned rear cover for automatics and non-finned for manuals.
Front MacPherson strut suspension with stamped-steel control arms.
Rear multilink with cast-steel and stamped-steel controls arms.
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Overall length: 188.7 inches (2005-2007), 189 inches (2008-2009)
2.5i: 3,320/3,365 pounds
2.5i Limited: 3,375/3,420 pounds
2.5 XT Limited :3,500/3,565 pounds
3.0 R: 3,520 pounds (automatic only)
3.0R L.L.Bean Edition: 3,600 pounds (automatic only)
3.0 R VDC Limited: 3,635 pounds (automatic only)
3.0R L.L.Bean Edition: 3,545 pounds (automatic only)
OEM tire sizes:
2.5XT and 3.0R: 225/55R-17
Fluids, Filters, And Capacities
2.5i: 87 octane (regular)
2.5XT: 91 octane (premium)
3.0R: 87 octane (regular) is fine, 91 octane (premium) recommended by Subaru
2.5i/3.0R: 5W-30 oil, five quarts for 2.5i, six quarts for 3.0R
2.5XT: 5W-30 factory recommended, but 5W-40 is better for EJ255, five quarts
Battery size: Group 35
2.5i/2.5XT: OEM part number 15208AA12A, change every 5,000 miles
3.0R: OEM part number 15208AA031, change every 5,000 miles
Air filter: OEM part number 16546AA10A, change every 30,000 miles
Cabin air filter: OEM part number 72880XA00A, change every 30,000 miles or shorter with extreme air quality events such as wildfires
Transmission oils: Manual: 75W-90 GL-4 or GL-5, Motul Gear 300 recommended, interval every 60,000 miles, shared with front and center differential
Transmission filter: Automatic: OEM part number 38325AA032, change every 50,000 miles, phased out in 2008
Rear differential oil: 75W-90 GL-4 or GL-5, Motul Gear 300 recommended, interval 60,000 miles
Coolant: 2005-2007: Green coolant, 50/50 mix
2008-2009: Blue coolant, 50/50 mix
Power steering fluid: Subaru Genuine ATF-HP or any Dexron ATF
Brake fluid: DOT4 brake fluid, Motul RBF600/RBF660 is a great fluid for a sturdy pedal
Clutch fluid: DOT4 brake fluid, Motul RBF600/RBF660 can be used; usually not serviced
2.5i: BKR5EIX-11, pre-gapped
2.5XT: LFR6AIX, pre-gapped
3.0R: LFR6AIX, pre-gapped
Factory Service Manuals
This forum post has every Subaru service manual for every year of car here. Everything you need is in there. The service manual is a great resource to confirm specs, fluid capacities, repair procedures, and even get good diagrams on where parts are and what they look like.
Other References and Resources
The third-generation Outback is a car about which I would avoid the forums. Lots of people say many things and have no clue what’s really going on. These little flat-four and flat-six powered weirdo blobs need special love, and your best resources are gonna be at your local Subaru tuner shop.
“Tested: 2005 Subaru Outback 2.5XT Limited” (Car and Driver, July 2004)
Barry Winfield at C/D enjoyed the Outback’s dual-purpose personality and fun dynamics while remaining inoffensive and smooth to most buyers.
“The “symmetrical all-wheel-drive” mechanism—as Subaru calls it—is mostly utterly transparent, but you can sense its variable operation in certain conditions. Because the torque is directed to the axle with the most grip, you can alter the car’s handling characteristics in a corner on a gravel road by adding throttle and having the car transition from understeer to neutral or even mild oversteer simply by staying on the gas. For drivers accustomed to correcting slides, the process can be a little counterintuitive, but you soon become reliant on this useful handling tool… We’re drawn strongly to the idea of a wagon that drives like a good car yet has nearly nine inches of ground clearance (along with pretty respectable approach and departure angles) and a four-wheel-drive system that will scramble up a rock-strewn grade like no leather-lined, quiet, smooth-riding luxury vehicle has a right to. We like that this Subaru is fast and stable on the road without ever suggesting its dual-purpose mechanicals. And we like very much that there is now a turbo Outback. Subarus were always cool. Now more of them are fast, too. That’s progress.”
“2005 Subaru Outback” (Motorweek, Episode 2343)
The staff at Motorweek enjoyed the Outback XT, and John Davis sang us his song about the angry but soft turbocharged Subaru.
“In daily driving, the Outback delivered a solid, refined ride that is closer to a pure luxury car than ever before. Interior noise levels are also lower, adding to the high-end feel. So does the new cabin, which boasts a cleaner look and much improved fit and finish.”
“Our biggest complaint of the previous Outback was the marginal long-distance seat comfort. Our impressions are that it is also vastly improved. Dash materials have gone from a utilitarian to premium look, yet it retains the simple practicality that Subarus have always been known for, and a standard equipment list that in our 2.5 XT includes dual zone climate controls and a CD stereo with six-disc changer as well as safety features such as standard side impact and head curtain airbags.”
Here we’ll share observations and opinions from people who have actually owned these cars.
Chris Rosales, Car Bibles staff, June 2021
2005 Subaru Outback 3.0R L.L. Bean automatic; stock; owned three months (167,000 miles)
Ah, the third-gen Subaru Outback. Why do you continue to break my heart? I bought the flat-six 3.0R model thinking you were immune to head-gasket failure. Alas, you fell victim to the classic Subaru curse. I bought the flat-six thinking it was immune to overheating up steep grades like my turbocharged Spec.B did, but you still got warm. I bought the flat-six thinking you wouldn’t burn oil like an old riffraff EJ25, but nope, you still did.
I loved my Outback. Something I couldn’t quite explain made me absolutely adore the machine. A mechanical honesty existed about the car, for better or worse. Classic hydraulic assist helped your steering inputs get to the road, feeling old school but familiar. The all-wheel-drive system didn’t do anything strange and remained to its true 45/55 split at all times and always guarding over your tractive efforts.
There is a sensation with every old Subaru, one of surefootedness, safety, and the pleasant mechanical drag of the all-wheel-drive system honestly delivering its power to all four wheels. It was more capable off-road than it had any business being, and it was more comfortable and quiet than any number of “true” luxury cars I’ve owned, save for my 1998 Lexus LS400. It was fun to toss around, because of its low center of gravity, and it was everything I wanted from a mild off-roader — in principle.
Ultimately, the reality of owning an old Subaru is getting stronger by the year. They have weird failures, strange quirks, and a weird personality you need to live with. The 3.0R tried to hide it to no avail. Even with that, I still want another one.
Take my advice: Buy a manual 2.5XT and embrace the car for what it’s meant to be: a lifted WRX rally car. The old man 3.0R and the anemic 2.5i don’t do this car any justice. As a bonus, when the 2.5XT explodes, you can fix everything at home. My 3.0R took specialist labor thanks to its split-timing-cover design.
This is a great car and a terrible car all in one. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.
Own or owned one of these and want to share your thoughts? Hit us up in the comments.
What They’re Worth Now
The prime example: For a 3.0R or 2.5T, you’re looking at about $6,000-$8,000. This is for a primo color, low miles, one owner, full service history, and no issues whatsoever. For a 2.5i, budget $5,000. This will be the cleanest one you can get.
A very clean driver: For a 2.5XT or 3.0R, budget about $6,000-$7,000. These cars have decent miles but are serviced well, cosmetically 9/10, and well cared for with some road grime. This is what I call the Goldilocks zone, where the car has been driven and sorted but well loved. For a 2.5i, budget $4,500. These things are pretty affordable.
An honest car: For a 2.5XT or 3.0R, budget $4,500-$5,500. These cars will have driver miles, 100,000ish. Service history will be mostly there, and ideally it’ll be a two-owner car. It will still be well-loved and driven. For a similar 2.5i, budget $3,500-$4,000.
The budget option: At $3,500-$4,500 a 2.5XT or 3.0R with more than 150,000 miles will be an option, while still being clean and well maintained. Mods are likely, and be wary of any tuning or bad mods. A budget drivable 2.5i will run you $2,000-$2,500. It will need some love.
A roach: $2,500-$3,500 will get you a beat-up project 2.5XT or 3.0R. Mods everywhere, stuff blown up, all that sort of fun. Around $1,000-$2,000 will get you a similar 2.5i in distress.
Where to Find One for Sale
You’re going to find most Outbacks for sale on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace. The vast majority will be privately owned. Avoid these cars on buy-here-pay-here lots because when they do manage to find their way onto them, it suggests an unloving ownership history. Mine came from one, and I got burned—hard.
What to Ask a Seller
Questions should include:
Any engine misfires, stumbling, or hesitation?
When was the timing belt last done? (2.5XT, 2.5i)
When were the spark plugs last done?
How much oil does it burn? (It will burn oil. All models.)
Has it been modified or tuned? (2.5XT)
Note: Be especially wary of owners of used Subarus. They’re either used to the weirdness and love or want to get rid of it and lie. Seriously, it’s happened to me a lot.
Competitors to Consider
There aren’t many peers to this generation of Outback, which is a big reason for its success during that time. The closest things to it would be an Audi Allroad of the same period or a well-used Volkswagen Tiguan that is approaching bottom-of-the-barrel pricing. But either of those cars is going to be a lot more annoying to look after. If you want a sub-$10,000 adventure wagon, consider an old Volvo or maybe a Mercedes.
Edmunds also has an excellent gallery here.
Pop Culture References
Crocodile Dundee himself was the spokesperson for the original Outback restaurant chain. He was gone by the time the third-generation car was in the mix, but since these are among the all-time greatest car ads from the ’90s we might as well take a peek.
I failed to find anything on the third-gen Outback that isn’t a background car role. Bummer.
Every car has a collection of common questions that pop up in forums and Facebook groups whenever new blood joins in. We hope a lot of those have been answered above, but if we start to see specific questions pop up regularly we’ll revisit them here.
Downloadable Paperback Car Bible (Coming Soon)
If you’re old school and like to keep reference notes on paper, or you’re just a completionist and want a free accessory for your Subaru Outback, we’ll have one for you soon.
Think of it like an owner’s manual supplement. Keep it in your car, and your days of waiting for slow internet on your phone at the auto parts store are over.
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