THE EXTERNAL CHANGES MAY BE MINOR, BUT SUBARU'S OUTBACK CROSSOVER WAGON HAS HAD AN EQUIPMENT UPGRADE AND A 'LIGHT DUSTING' TO KEEP IT FRESH AND COMPETITIVE FOR 2016.
The most noteworthy is the extended availability of Subaru’s EyeSight active safety suite, which is now standard on every automatic-equipped Outback model - including the diesel auto. It missed out on the potentially life-saving technology when the current Outback was launched last year.
That’s been rectified, and high-grade variants now gain even more safety gear in the form of blind-spot monitoring, lane change assist, highbeam assist and rear cross-traffic alert.
The rest of the package is largely the same, bar a new grille on upper-spec petrol models, slight equipment improvements for the lower-grade petrol and diesel grades and complimentary map data upgrades for the top-spec petrol and diesel Premium models and the six-cylinder 3.6R.
To reacquaint ourselves with Subaru’s roomy crossover, we flew to Mt Gambier on South Australia’s rugged and picturesque South-Eastern coast to take it for a spin both off and on the road.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $35,990 (Outback 2.5i CVT) to $48,990 (Outback 3.6R), plus on-road costs.
The Outback has been selling up a storm since the present generation arrived in late 2014, with the new model racking up a huge 345 additional sales over 2015.
That was enough to give it fourth spot in the highly competitive large SUV segment (its official classification, despite being based on a conventional wagon bodystyle), behind the Toyota Kluger, Prado and Jeep Grand Cherokee. And according to Subaru Australia, if supply constraints were lifted then sales would likely have been even higher.
The Outback clearly resonates with Australian buyers, and while it's still outsold by the Subaru Forester mid-size SUV - the brand's current top-seller - the gap between them is closing fast.
Will 2016 be the year the Outback becomes Subaru Australia's most popular product?
- Standard equipment: Foglamps, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, active cruise control (except on 2.0D/2.0D Premium manual), voice command system, 18-inch alloys (except 2.0D) trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps. Leather upholstery, power/heated front seats, sunroof, push-button ignition and power tailgate on Premium/3.6R.
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour touchscreen display (satellite navigation on Premium/3.6R), AM/FM/CD audio system, Bluetooth phone and media streaming, Pandora app compatibility, USB audio input.
- Luggage space: 512 litres minimum, 1801 litres maximum
Besides a few more buttons for the blind-spot monitoring and other new active safety systems, the Outback’s cabin is pretty much unchanged.
As one of Subaru’s more recent products, the Outback also has one of the brand’s more handsome interiors. It’s clean and well laid-out with sensible button placement on the centre stack that’s easily navigable.
Outward vision is great too, especially around the A-pillars thanks to the stalk-mounted wing mirrors.
The interior of the high-grade Outback 2.0D Premium that we drove is a sea of black and silver, but the quality of plastics is high and they’re screwed together tightly. No squeaks or rattles.
The front seats have decent lateral support, but the bases are too short in the squab for most Australian thighs. If you’re taller than 5’6” you might be wishing there was more under-thigh support.
Back seat comfort is excellent though. The Outback is a lengthy beast and measures 22mm longer than its stablemate SUV the Forester (and with an extra 10cm in the wheelbase). That translates into exceptional rear legroom, meaning tall passengers won’t find much to moan about in the back of the Outback.
A big fold-down centre armrest is provided, each rear door-bin can carry a waterbottle and there are face-level air-vents for your backseaters too.
ISOFIX child seat anchorages are provided for the outermost seats and there are three top tether-points across the rear backrest. The Outback is well-suited to family-carrying duty.
The roof-mounted centre seatbelt is a pain if you have a regular need to fold down the rear seats, but at least folding them is easily accomplished via the boot-mounted release handles. With 1801 litres of seats-down cargo capacity, the Outback makes a decent substitute for a van should the occasion call for it.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 129kW/235Nm 2.5 litre petrol flat four; 110kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbo diesel flat four; 191kW/350Nm 3.6 litre petrol flat six
- Transmission: 6-speed manual (Outback 2.0D only), continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Permanent AWD.
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: Ventilate disc brakes with sliding calipers front and rear
- Steering: Hydraulic power steering, 11.0m turning circle
- Towing capacity: Braked - 1500kg (2.5i), 1700kg (2.0D), 1800kg (3.6R). 750kg unbraked for all models.
The Outback drives much the same as it always did, with the diesel Outback continuing to possess exceptional refinement for a high-riding wagon.
There’s just a hint of a gravelly engine note when accelerating hard and a tiny amount of wind noise off the wing mirrors, but road noise and engine vibrations are very well suppressed.
A big safety improvement for the 2016 model year is the inclusion of Subaru’s EyeSight safety system on auto-equipped diesel Outbacks. Using a pair of cameras mounted high behind the windshield, EyeSight is able to detect other cars and pedestrians and automatically brake to avoid a collision.
It also brings a lane departure warning with it, which sounds an alarm if you stray outside of your marked lane - a potential lifesaver on long highway journeys.
The Outback - along with its more road-focused Liberty cousin - gets one of Subaru’s better-tuned CVT gearboxes, which behaves like a regular automatic with defined gear ratio 'steps' when heavy acceleration is called for, but uses a more efficient constant RPM calibration when only light throttle is applied.
Its kickdown performance could be swifter, but this transmission is well-suited to the predominantly steady-throttle cruising we did on the launch. Same goes for the grunty diesel, which has abundant low-end torque and rarely needs to rev hard to get places.
There are no suspension changes for MY16, but in our opinion the Outback’s undercarriage doesn’t need any tweaking. On dirt and asphalt it rides smoothly, ironing out most bumps and not crashing over more severe road imperfections.
The higher-grade Outback 2.0D Premium we drove gets 18-inch alloys as standard, but the regular 2.0D is equipped with 17-inch items as standard. We’d surmise the suspension is even more supple on that model.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.99 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Seven airbags (front, front side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee) are standard across the Outlander range, along with traction control, stability control and ABS.
A key upgrade for the 2016 model is the addition of active cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning to all auto-equipped Forester models, with lane change assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert also now standard on high-grade Premium and 3.6R models.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Australian new car landscape is all about high-riding SUVs these days, with wagon-based crossovers like the Outback relatively thin on the ground. That said, there are a few other options available:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The updates may be relatively minor, but don’t forget that this Subaru Outback only launched at the end of 2014 and is still fairly young.
And it’s easily one of the best options in the crossover wagon space, with exceptional refinement, ride comfort, cabin space and build quality. It also handles quite a bit better than the average SUV.
The 2.0D continues to be the pick of the litter thanks to its low-end torque, quietness, efficiency and relaxed nature, justifying its $2500 price premium over the petrol ($3000 for the top-spec 2.0D Premium). The 2.5i is comparatively weaker, but still not a bad choice. The six-cylinder 3.6R, meanwhile, is a powerhouse.
We recommend a very close look, especially if you’re averse to the idea of buying a more conventional SUV.
- Subaru Outback 2.5i CVT - $35,990
- Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium CVT - $41,990
- Subaru Outback 2.0D manual - $36,490
- Subaru Outback 2.0D CVT -$38,490
- Subaru Outback 2.0D Premium manual - $42,990
- Subaru Outback 2.0D Premium CVT - $44,990
- Subaru Outback 3.6R - $48,490