Subaru Outback review
Need an estate that can tackle tough terrain? The Subaru Outback may well be worth a look
Subaru arguably invented the estate-shaped-off-roader car 25 years ago with the Legacy Outback. Now, a quarter of a century on, Subaru has created a brand new version of the Outback with tweaked looks and engines, new technology and a plusher interior.
While the Legacy no longer lines up in Subaru’s UK model range, the Outback is essentially the jacked-up 4x4 version of the forthcoming new Legacy estate, due later this year and badged Levorg. It goes head-to-head with the likes of the cars it spawned over the last 25 years – namely the Volvo XC70, Audi’s A4 Allroad (in terms of price) and A6 Allroad (in terms of size), the Volkswagen Alltrack and the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer.
The Outback features Subaru’s much-loved symmetrical all-wheel-drive system which will embarrass some far more expensive and stylish 4x4s when it comes to going off-road, a 200mm ride height and under-body protection panels. There are two engine choices – a 2.5-litre petrol and a 2.0-litre turbodiesel, both are four-cylinder ‘Boxer’ units – and two trim levels (SE and SE Premium), which both offer lots of kit as standard.
Our choice: Outback 2.0D SE manual
It may look similar to the old car but the new Outback’s body is all new. You can blame Subaru’s thousands of Outback owners around the world for the subtle changes - they were happy with the old one's look. Thankfully Subaru has addressed some key areas like the old car’s fussy nose and bland rear end – they’ve been swapped for a posh-looking face and LED rear lights at the back. If anything, Subaru has also taken the fifth-generation Outback as an opportunity to toughen things up a bit, as there is more plastic cladding than before.
There are two trim levels on offer – SE models come with automatic LED headlamps, cruise control, Active Torque Vectoring, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, electrically-adjustable driver’s seat and tinted windows, as well as a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system which packs sat-nav, Bluetooth and a rear view camera. SE Premium models add a sunroof, keyless entry and push-button start, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats and a powered rear tailgate.
Choose an Outback with CVT transmission and it’ll come with Subaru’s ‘EyeSight’ technology. The company believes it’s the most advanced crash-preventing system on the market, and includes two cameras in front of the rear-view mirror that continuously scan the road ahead and also features a lane departure warning system and adaptive cruise control.
This is the department that has changed the most over the old Outback. Subaru has stiffened the suspension and dampers to cure the previous model’s wobbly driving characteristics. It means a slightly harder ride, especially over rough tarmac, but it also means securing handling when you’re pressing-on through country bends.
Both engines never deliver strong performance, particularly when mated to the CVT transmission, but it’s the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel that delivers the best package – it’s somehow quieter than the 163bhp petrol under hard acceleration and has more punch. There’s a choice of a six-speed manual box, which suits the car's rugged character, or the CVT system.
A CVT-equipped car normally spells a droning driving experience, but Subaru has fitted seven ‘steps’ in the transmission to give the impression of the box swapping ratios. It works very well and is probably the best of its type on the market.
When the going gets touch, the Outback can easily mud-plug its way through slushy and craggy routes. There’s also an ‘X-Mode’ function for increased off-road ability as well as a hill-descent option.
The Outback has been awarded a five-star rating by Euro NCAP with strong scores in all areas and maximum ratings in side-impact and 18-month-old dummy crash tests. All versions come fitted with electronic stability control, six airbags, seat belt reminders and ISOFIX mountings for baby seats.
With the car going on sale in April 2015, there are no reliability ratings yet. But, with the fifth-generation car using well-proven mechanicals and Subaru’s reputation for strong and dependable cars, we have no reason to see the car ranking well in the Auto Express Driver Power survey in 2015.
Subaru ranked as 16th in Driver Power 2014 – down five places on the year before, but it still had a strong reader rating of 85.75 per cent.
Given its estate car dimensions, it’s of little surprise the Outback scores strongly in this area. There’s plenty of space inside for five adults, while the large glass area creates a bright and airy atmosphere. A multitude of cubbies, deep door bins and a large glovebox mean there’s a decent amount of storage, while opening the large tailgate reveals a usefully low loading lip (usefully slightly lower than on the previous model) and a generous 512-litre boot.
Fold the rear bench flat – which you can do with a pull of a lever in the boot – and the carrying capacity increases to a van-like 2,000 litres – 400 litres more than the Volvo XC70. And of course, the combination of grippy four-wheel drive and self-leveling rear suspension makes the Outback a first-rate towing vehicle – it can pull a two-tonne caravan, for instance.
Subaru believes 60 per cent of new Outback sales will be the diesel – and it’s hardly surprising. It has relatively impressive figures of 48mpg (petrol, the diesel is 46mpg) on the combined cycle and it emits 159g/km of CO2 – on par with an Audi A4 Allroad, but a Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer and Skoda Octavia Scout are cheaper to run. However, the Subaru is arguably the better car off-road and comes a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.