The original Legacy Outback was introduced more than 15 years ago, so could be credited with kick-starting the current crossover craze.
Over the years, Subaru has refined its jacked-up family estate recipe, and the latest Outback even features an economical diesel.
Fans of previous models might take some convincing about the latest version, as the Outback now looks more conventional. Its bold styling has been toned down, and only the bottom edges of the extended side sills and bumpers feature a plain plastic finish.
It still looks more basic than the Audi, but its oversized headlights, bold grille and bonnet scoop all ensure it’s instantly recognisable as a Subaru.
Inside, the large windows pay dividends, as the bright and airy cabin feels incredibly spacious. That impression is backed up by the numbers – the Outback boasts 70mm more legroom in the back than the Allroad. The rear seatbacks also recline to provide added comfort, and the Subaru wins the battle for load space. Its boot is longer and wider, and with the seats in place, the 526-litre area is 36 litres larger than the A4’s. Fold them flat, and capacity rises to 1,677 litres, which is 237 litres ahead.
Up front, the cabin isn’t as user-friendly, and ergonomics are a low point. For example, the electric handbrake is poorly sited low on the dash. And while the Audi boasts cutting-edge design and quality, the refreshing simplicity of previous Subaru cabins has been lost, in favour of an over-styled layout with poor-quality fittings. The worst culprit has to be the stereo and sat-nav system, which uses dated graphics and a frustrating user interface.
There’s no doubt the Subaru is on the pace when it comes to diesel technology, though, and its boxer engine is very quiet on the move. There’s little grunt below 2,000rpm, but once the rev counter begins to rise, the 148bhp engine is both refined and willing. It trails the Audi powerplant by 20bhp, although an identical torque output of 35Nm ensures the performance gap feels smaller on the road.
A permanent four-wheel-drive system offers traction whatever the conditions, and there’s plenty of grip, too. However, while the light steering can be a bonus in town, it offers little feedback at higher speeds, and is at odds with the heavy clutch pedal.
Braking performance is even more disappointing. It took seven metres longer to stop than the Audi from 70mph – partly due to the all-weather rubber fitted to our test car.
Its slightly lacklustre showing here is a shame, as the Outback’s strong residuals, impressive kit list and spacious interior mean the Subaru can still teach the Audi a few lessons.
Chart position: 2WHY: Subaru’s reputation in the UK was founded on its robust estate models. The diesel Outback is the culmination of many years of experience.