I had a '98 Outback 5MT previously. One thing I didn't like about it and wondered why it was designed as such was the low 5th gear ratio. At 65mph the 2.5 engine was around 3200 rpms. The engine certainly had the power and torque to be running much less. Although it was certainly a different car in several ways, my '92 Legacy 2WD automatic was about 2300 rpm at 65mph. After the '98 Outback I got an '02 Outback with the 4EAT. At 65mph that was around 2600 rpm. I realize overall top gear ratios are typically higher (taller, numerically lower) in an automatic, but 600 rpm is significant in both noise and I would think, fuel economy and possibly engine reliability over time. I drive an '02 Outback 5MT at times, it's geared like the '98. According to the specs on cars101.com they're geared the same way through the 2009 model. My Forester 5MT runs at a reasonable 2750 rpm at 65. If I ever were to consider a pre 2010 Outback I would consider the automatic if I was to use it for a lot of highway driving even though I prefer manual transmissions. I realize the latest automatics return better fuel mileage than manual transmissions in the latest Outbacks. The engine in the current Outback, although still 2.5 liters, is an entirely different engine with different bore and stroke dimensions. The stroke is now longer, the engine is now 'undersquare', the bore being larger than the stroke. Maybe that results in more torque allowing for lower rpms. I've heard under 2K at 65mph with the CVT, and around 2400 for the 6MT. Those both must make for a more relaxing drive. Still, I don't understand why the previous generation's 5MT resulted in such high engine rpm at highway speeds. Maybe it's just me - and I shouldn't be looking at the tach and worrying about it! I've heard both auto and manual transmissions return about the same fuel mileage. In fact the 4EAT is rated by fueleconomy.gov a bit better around town, but you'd think it would be better on the highway with higher gearing!?