Subaru Legacy

Overkill is a big problem in the motor industry. People drive around in sports cars capable of 150mph when the speed limit is only 70mph.

With an attractive price and capable four-wheel-drive system, the Outback puts its design to good use in a practical 'soft-road' package. Great build and a competent chassis mean it is a sensible choice on or off-road. If you can get comfortable and don't want a diesel, it's a fine alternative to more expensive rivals.

Overkill is a big problem in the motor industry. People drive around in sports cars capable of 150mph when the speed limit is only 70mph. Families take the wheel of seven-seat MPVs when they carry only one passenger, and shell out for the toughest off-roaders when all they have to cope with is a rutted driveway.

Now, though, there's a model which aims to deliver the ultimate compromise, Subaru's Outback. Based on the new Legacy, the firm's latest countryman's estate is bigger and more efficient than ever. But does it have the image to attract 'soft-roader' buyers?

With a sharp new look at the front, it's off to a good start, but move round the Outback and some angles at the rear are less attractive. Subaru has opted not to bolt on bulky plastic bumpers to set this model apart from the standard Legacy, but flared wheelarches, a larger grille and twin grooves on the bonnet have been added. Inside, the first thing you will notice is the unburstable build quality - this car really does feel as if it will last forever. There's also loads of room, but the steering column's lack of adjustment makes it difficult to find a comfortable seating position. Along with Subaru's proven four-wheel-drive system, the Outback also has a raised ride height - 10mm more than before - as well as high and low-range gears to let it tackle light off-road work. Yet that doesn't detract from the excellent chassis, which provides a smooth motorway ride and also makes the car capable of fast B-road drives.

Our car had the entry-level 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which has been revised to produce an extra 9bhp - 163bhp in all. On the road, the boxer burble at idle dulls to a refined hum, and performance is brisk, with 0-60mph in 9.4 seconds, although motorway acceleration often requires a downchange.

The upside is that, coupled with a reduction in weight and wind resistance, the Outback is now more economical. The manual 2.5 returns 33.2mpg - 3.5mpg better than before - and emits a competitive 203g/km of CO2.

The price also appeals. This £22,500 SE is £95 cheaper than the previous flagship, and undercuts Audi's Allroad and Volvo's XC70 by over £5,000. The Outback may not be perfect, but it will fulfil most buyers' briefs.

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