Subaru Outback review
Need an estate that can tackle tough terrain? The Subaru Outback may well be worth a look
Subaru claims to have pioneered the crossover 25 years ago with the original Legacy Outback. The segment has changed somewhat over the last quarter of a century with the introduction of models like the Nissan Qashqai and Toyota RAV4, but the Japanese brand still insists there is a market for a beefed-up 4x4 estate car.
A new version of the Legacy was revealed in 2014, and went on sale in April – and to all intents and purposes is the best incarnation yet. It gets tweaked engines, new technology and a plusher interior, while also being better to drive and cheaper to run.
While the Legacy is no longer available in the UK, the Outback shares many of its parts and is essential a jacked-up version of the practical family car. As a result, it goes head-to-head with the likes of 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
The Subaru Outback has plenty of off-road presence, even if it doesn’t blend this with sleeker design cues. The newcomer boasts plenty of dark plastic body trim around the bottom of the bumpers and side sills to reinforce its 4x4 credentials, and with its jacked-up ride height the added styling features give the car plenty of visual impact.
The headlamps are sharp, with an interesting LED running light design, and the big, gaping grille works with the Outback’s chunky lines. Subaru’s designers have tried to finesse the car’s shape to improve the look and, complemented by bold rails, the roofline arcs back nicely to the rear, with a strong crease on the sides running into the tail-lights. However, there are still some awkward details, and at the back it’s quite bland and blocky, with a flat boot and simple rear lamps.
At first glance the interior is a vast improvement on the old Outback’s, but beneath the surface there are a few annoying quirks. While the touchscreen infotainment system is relatively easy to use, the glossy screen shows up fingerprint smudges and reflects light badly, making it difficult to see.
There’s a mix of materials on the dash and centre console, too. The top of the dashboard is covered in soft-touch plastic, but lower down things are harder and feel cheap. We’ve no complaints about the Subaru’s standard kit list, though – it includes cruise control, a reversing camera, heated leather seats, keyless go, sat-nav and Bluetooth. With the central touchscreen controlling many of the functions, the basic layout of the Outback’s centre console is clean. The dash has been decluttered and doesn’t look as busy as before, but it still feels dated.
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.
Subaru has worked hard to transform the way the Outback drives, and in many areas has succeeded. Stiffened the suspension and dampers have been installed to cure the previous model’s wobbly driving characteristics. This means a slightly harder ride, especially over rough tarmac, but it also means securing handling when you’re pressing-on through country bends.
Neither engine delivers particularly strong performance, 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, thanks to the 350Nm of torque available from low revs. There’s a choice of a six-speed manual box, which suits the car's rugged character, or a CVT automatic.
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 only going on sale this year, 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 next Auto Express Driver Power survey.
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.
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 for obstacles and pedestrians. It also features a lane departure warning system and adaptive cruise control, while Subaru claims it can actively prevent an accident at speeds of up to 31mph.
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 on the combined cycle and it emits just 145g/km of CO2 – not bad for a ‘gas-guzzling’ 4x4. Those figures put it on a par with an Audi A4 Allroad, comparing favourably with more conventional SUV rivals too. Smaller hatchback-based crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai are the real winners here, though, managing figures closer to 70mpg in mixed motoring.
However, the Subaru is arguably the better car off-road and comes a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty, which should alleviate any reliability concerns over the life of the car.