Highlander vs Outback

I am considering a new highlander or a new outback. I live in rural wv and drive in the unplowed snow in the winter, and some very fun curvy roads in the summer. I also routinely have 4 (sometimes 5, but not with the outback) kids in the car (3-11yrs) and a mountain bike and dogs.

Any opinions? any Other suggestions for vehicles? Oh- and I drive 45K a year…

If you want to compare these vehicles “on a level playing field”, then you should wait a month or so until the new 2010 Outback is in the dealer’s showroom. I mention this because the new model is a “clean sheet” design that is considerably roomier than the Outback that has been in production for many years.

If you compare the '09 Outback to the Highlander, you will find that the Highlander has considerably more interior room than the Outback. If you wait a month or so, you will be able to compare vehicles that are more comparable in size.

Also, the new Outback is reputed to have slightly better fuel economy than the present model, and the six cylinder engine is being increased in size from 3 liters to 3.6 liters, with a nice increase in horsepower and torque. All of this argues in favor of waiting for the new model, but on the other hand there are very attractive rebates currently on the '09 Outback–if you can find one that you like.

The remaining supply of '09 Outbacks is very slim, and 6-cylinder models are almost non-existent by this time in the model year. Personally, I would not buy a 4-cylinder Outback, and if you are used to hauling 4 or 5 people + cargo, you would soon find that a 4-cylinder Outback is not powerful enough. The present 240 HP six is very powerful, but the new 3.6 liter six will have even greater power for those mountain roads. And, despite its increase in power, the new 3.6 liter six will run on regular gas, unlike the present six that calls for premium gas.

Wait for the 2010 Outback so that you can make a valid decision when comparing it to the Highlander.

Test drive a Chevy Traverse and see if you like it. You should be able to buy it for invoice price, and then there is a $750 rebate. Seven passenger seating is an option, and OnStar is standard. It’s a great safety system that is not available on the other two SUVs. OnStar might appeal to you on the back roads or WVa.

In a choice between the two, Highlander is hands down the largest and is equally efficient, more reliable I feel. The V6 Rav 4 may be more fun to drive and cost less. The Subaru, handles better and may be the least expensive in base form.
I really like my 4 Runner for winter travel with it’s great ground clearance and multi drive train choices, but a handling champ it isn’t and economy is nothing to brag about. Highlander, Honda Pilot and v6 RAV would be my top three choices.

“In a choice between the two, Highlander is hands down the largest”

That is why I suggested that the OP wait a month or so until the new Outbacks are available.
As it is right now, comparing an '09 Highlander to an '09 Outback is sort of like comparing apples with oranges. The Highlander was enlarged for this model year, and the Outback will be enlarged for the new (2010) model year. If the OP can wait a month or so, he/she will find a new Outback design that has much more interior room, and is more comparable to the Highlander in terms of size.

Only by comparing vehicles on “a level playing field” can you make a valid comparison.

I hear good things too about the upcoming design and size of the new Outback, but I’d never recommend a car with a model change that substantial. If an Outback were the main choice, I’d wait two years to buy. Consumers are often the test beds for new cars…let someone else who can afford it. My two Subarus were excellent cars, but were older model years with proven records. Just my slant. I still give a slight nod to the Highlander/RAV4/Pilot/CRV over any year Subaru in reliability.