Subaru Outback

Latest version builds on the strengths of the original crossover

Here’s a brand that enjoys a loyal following, and it’s not hard to see why. Subaru’s robust four-wheel drive models, boxer engines and turbo rally cars have legions of fans.

Styling has never been high on the firm’s agenda, though, and the latest Outback sticks to that philosophy.

It is based closely on the new Legacy Sports Tourer but its unusual grille, tough-looking wheelarch extensions and raised ride height add little by way of kerb appeal.

Parked next to the sleek Saab, it turns heads for all the wrong reasons.

The Japanese firm applies the same approach to its interiors where, once again, the Outback isn’t blessed with style. Its centre console design and digital readouts all have an early-Nineties feel.

Build quality is first rate, though, and the driving position is superior to the Saab’s, as the steering wheel extends further towards the driver. Clearly, what the Outback lacks in style it makes up for with substance.

Measuring 85mm longer than its rival, it’s more spacious. It provides enough rear legroom for a pair of six-footers, and the 526-litre boot is more than 100 litres bigger than the Saab’s.

Fold the rear seats, and there’s a hefty 346-litre advantage.

Under the bonnet, the Subaru has to play catch-up. Its unique horizontally opposed 2.0-litre diesel engine produces 148bhp – that’s 30bhp less than the 1.9-litre twin-turbo in the 9-3X. And when you start the Outback, it has a distinctive diesel sound.

It becomes quieter once the engine has warmed up, but never seems as lively as its rival on the road. Our performance figures show a 0-60mph time of 9.9 seconds – more than a second slower than the Saab.

However, the Outback doesn’t feel underpowered and its linear delivery makes smooth progress, even without the mid-range overtaking punch of the 9-3X. From behind the wheel, the Subaru’s raised suspension and prominent bonnet air scoop provide a distinctive view.

The tall-riding set-up is obvious under heavy braking, where the nose dives much more than in the Saab. All the same, the firm suspension delivers tidy handling and only large bumps filter into the cabin.

Traction from the four-wheel-drive system is brilliant and, with an additional 52mm of ground clearance, the Outback is much better suited to mud and ruts than the 9-3X. Refinement is on a par with the Saab’s, while the electronic handbrake incorporates a hill-hold function for smooth getaways on steep inclines.

This rough-road talent doesn’t come at the expense of efficiency. In our hands, the Subaru returned 34.9mpg – over 2mpg more than the Saab. The question is whether that’s enough to offset the £1,300 price premium.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: The Outback started the crossover craze, prompting a raft of imitators. Does latest model still head the field?

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