Ask average consumers to define key attributes of the Subaru brand, and all-wheel drive most likely will come to mind. A few might mention Subaru's legacy in rally racing.

If Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. continues to launch interiors as user-friendly and well-appointed as that in the all-new Subaru Outback, then “great interiors” soon will top the list.

Among popular-priced cars in this year's competition, the Outback stared down seven rivals from the world's major automotive markets and proved No.1 among new entries.

The interior strikes the proper balance of brushed aluminum, high-grade plastics, supple leather and burled wood trim in proving that quality materials need not be the exclusive province of luxury cars. Our test vehicle stickered at $28,295.

In some respects, the Outback had an unfair advantage because it's so spacious. Compared with the '09 Outback, the new model has more room for hips and shoulders and more interior volume.

The Outback's air-sprung liftgate provides easy access to a cavernous cargo hold thoughtfully lined with a durable rubber mat that easily lifts out so it can be hosed down after hauling bags of topsoil.

For big loads, the rear seats fold nearly flat in a 60/40 split configuration.

A delightful and clever feature places the release lever on the lower part of the seatback, right near the hip.

A keen sense of style makes the Outback unforgettable. The center stack protrudes boldly from the instrument panel, making buttons easier to reach and providing a decidedly regal, upright countenance, like the bolt-straight guards posted at the Buckingham Palace gate.

To complete that artistic statement, designers wrapped the center stack with brushed aluminum, which appears to be pulled tightly around it, anchored by two points near the windshield.