Off-road-focused Subaru Outback offers a fairly unique spin on the wagon segment plus a well-sorted ride.
With the adoption of Subaru’s all-new Global Platform (as used by the Forester SUV, making it marginally longer and wider), the changing of every exterior panel and a newly designed interior featuring more contemporary digital functions, Subaru is quietly confident that the new Outback will provide it with the impetus to gain more sales in the lifestyle-crossover segment.
At the heart of the new Outback is a heavily reworked version of its predecessor’s naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer petrol engine, making 138kW and 235Nm. It’s mated to a standard CVT and, as tradition dictates, a permanent four-wheel-drive system.
The interior is more spacious than before and has received a marginal increase in load capacity, while an 11.6-inch portrait-oriented infotainment touchscreen heads a long list of technology updates. It’s clearly an improvement on the old Outback, particularly in terms of material quality and overall fit and finish. However, the analogue instruments and switchgear look dated next to some crossover rivals’.
Pricing starts at $39,990 for the entry-level Outback, $44,490 for the mid-level Sport and $47,790 for the flagship Touring. While the Touring brings some nice additions like a nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, leather upholstery and electric sunroof, the mid-spec Sport is well equipped and looks like the goods.
The Subaru Outback is a pleasingly competent alternative to the raft of SUV-style offerings that cram the market. The new boxer engine is certainly responsive and quite willing when worked, although it lacks the overall smoothness and refinement of more conventional inline four-cylinder engines from competitors.
The CVT is set up to mimic the action of a conventional torque-converter automatic, with eight artificial gears, and comes with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. It’s smooth in its action, but the inherent properties of its operation makes the engine pull unnecessarily high revs in certain driving conditions – and with them quite a lot of engine noise at typical freeway cruising speeds.
The Outback’s elevated driving position and large expanse of glass ensure excellent visibility, although the raised ride height and generous ground clearance do contribute to a fair amount of wind buffeting and noise when you’re pushing on.
In other regards, though, the car is well sorted, with a surprisingly high level of chassis sophistication and a pleasing heft to the steering, which is also direct and precise.
The standard four-wheel drive system and its integral torque- vectoring function provide plenty of grip and excellent levels of traction on more demanding roads.
Body roll builds quickly on the entry to corners but is then excellently controlled. The Outback has clearly been much improved in this respect, endowing it with greater driving appeal than at any time since it joined the Subaru line-up in 1994.
The best aspect of the Outback, though, is its improved ride over the fifth generation. The suspension provides fine isolation of bumps and ruts, both at lower speeds around town and at faster ones out on the open road.
A further strong point is the suppression of road noise, which is commendably low by class standards.
With 213mm of ground clearance, improved approach, departure and ramp angles and a reworked X-Mode (effectively off-road cruise control), it has credentials that will prove valuable when finding an unsealed in the bush but with plastic bumpers and an exposed undercarriage, it is best to not to expect it will keep up on a proper four-wheel-drive track.
Towing capacity, meanwhile, is put at 2000kg with a braked trailer and 750kg for an unbraked trailer.
A new platform has brought added chassis sophistication, driving charm and refinement to an already characterful wagon.
If you’ve been considering buying an Outback, now is the time to step in, because the new model is a clear improvement over the old, most notably in its ride and refinement.