LONG BEFORE BOXY SUVs RULED THE ROADS, SUBARU STARTED THE CROSSOVER TREND WITH THE LEONE IN THE 1980s, AND FOLLOWED WITH THE OUTBACK. Essentially a beefed up Liberty wagon, the Outback adds off-road capability to its car-like road manners, comfort and practicality.
Still one of the most impressive crossovers around, Subaru has added to the appeal of the 2016 Outback with an assortment of safety upgrades and technological improvements.
The turbo diesel engine and CVT transmission combination we are testing here has been part of the range since 2010, and is a solid and proven performer. It’s a really nice fit with the smart Outback Premium.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $44,990 (plus on-roads )
Engine/trans: 110kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbo-diesel 4cyl / CVT automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.3 l/100km | tested: 8.6 l/100km
It’s the new safety technologies that sit centre-stage with this car. And of these, Subaru’s latest Generation-3 EyeSight driver assist system is the star turn.
The EyeSight system combines two cameras to watch the road in front of the car. This latest version is able to read brake lights of cars in front, detect obstacles, and warn you - or brake itself - if it detects an imminent collision.
It combines with adaptive cruise control, lane departure and lane sway warning, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking and pre-collision throttle management.
Working hand-in-glove is Subaru’s Vision Assist package with blind-spot monitoring, lane change assist, auto dimming interior rear view mirror, high beam assist, emergency stop signal and rear cross-traffic alert.
Add in three years complimentary satnav map upgrades, and there is a very complete package here – and a comprehensively safe car – in Subaru’s well-equipped 2016 Outback Premium diesel.
- Standard equipment: Dual zone air-conditioning with rear vents, auto-dimming rear view mirror, heated front seats, one touch lever folding rear seats, leather seats, 8-way power front seats, (driver with dual memory & electric lumbar support), smart key with push start ignition, steering wheel controls
- Infotainment: 7” touch screen, satnav, AM/FM radio, single CD player, 6 speakers, MP3/WMA/iPod compatible, Pandora® compatibility, Bluetooth and audio streaming, voice command recognition, reversing camera with rear cross traffic alert, auxiliary jack & 2 USB connections
- Cargo volume: 512 litres, rising to 1801 litres (rear seat folded)
There are no changes to this interior; it remains untouched from the launch in January 2015 of the sixth-generation Outback range.
Like the Liberty, the dash is angled away from front seat occupants. The style is clean, if conservative, contouring around the integrated infotainment screen at the top of the centre stack and over the instrument binnacle with its easy-to-read analogue gauges and digital multifunction display.
Splashes of chrome, gloss black panels and trimmings give the well-made but otherwise black interior a lift (but it is pretty sombre in here).
Whenever I get into any press car, the first thing I do is to pair my phone and stream my music to see how easily it’s done. In the Outback, both functions are effortless and the same applies to operating the variety of infotainment menus.
The soft leather seats (heated up front) are comfortable enough but lack under-thigh support. That aside, the reach and tilt steering wheel makes it easy to find a good driving position and all-round visibility is excellent.
Get settled at the wheel, and there’s only one way to describe the Outback’s interior – it’s massive.
Both rows have loads of shoulder and headroom (even with the sunroof), with a generous amount of legroom for rear passengers. Three adults can comfortably sit across the back seat which also reclines for extra comfort on long journeys.
With the rear seat in place the boot is a handy 512 litres. When dropped, it grows to an enormous flat-floored 1801 litres conveniently accessed through the powered tailgate.
There are many storage options scattered through the interior plus several USB and 12-volt power outlets. The clever thinking Subaru is known for extends to under-floor storage for the cargo blind and a sunglasses case for extra big lenses.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 110kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbo diesel 4cyl
- Transmission: Continuously variable transmission (CVT), all-wheel-drive
- Suspension: Independent McPherson strut front; multi-link rear
- Brakes: Ventilated discs, front and rear
- Steering: Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion, turning circle 11.0metres
- Towing capacity: 750kgs unbraked, 1700kgs braked
At idle the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel boxer engine is quite noticeable, but quieter nonetheless than its direct rival, the VW Passat Alltrack.
Trundling around town and when cruising, the low to mid-range torque from the Outback’s turbo diesel engine provides reasonable acceleration. However, get it on the highway and overtaking manoeuvres need a bit of planning as it tends to run out of breath around 100km/h when you plant your foot.
It will get there. The six ‘stepped ratios’ in the CVT keep things on the boil and Subaru claims a figure of 9.9 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash, but acceleration does taper off beyond that.
However, what it also does is effortlessly flatten hills once rolling. The CVT seamlessly goes about its business and will sit the engine right where the 350Nm of torque does its best work.
And unlike most SUVs, the Outback’s wide footprint and passenger-car stance come to the fore when the roads get twisty.
Here it feels more like a wagon – no surprises there – and, though its 213mm ground clearance allows some body-roll, it does not ‘float’ through bends like in an SUV.
Down below, the constant ‘symmetrical’ all-wheel-drive provides a reassuring surefootedness, especially on slippery roads, and there is decent feedback through the electric power steering (though it’s a bit light).
The brakes too have a solid progressive feel.
The soft-ish suspension irons out most bumps and dips and has no trouble dealing with gravel roads and broken bitumen, making the Outback a supremely comfortable car for long distance travel.
And, if you want to explore bush tracks or dare we say, ‘the outback’, the long suspension travel, ample ground clearance, constant all-wheel-drive and near on 1000km fuel range, will readily take you as far as you dare to venture.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - Subaru Outback scored a 35.99 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: adaptive cruise control, lane departure and lane sway warning, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking and pre-collision throttle management, blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, auto dimming rear view mirror, high beam assist, emergency stop signal and rear cross traffic alert.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
For the first time the Outback has a genuine rival, the recently arrived $49,290 (plus on-roads) Volkswagen Passat Alltrack 140TDI. Like the Subaru it is based on a passenger car platform, has a turbo diesel engine, 4Motion all-wheel-drive and similar dimensions.
It feels quite a bit more athletic than the Subaru; the Passat has 140kW and 400Nm to call on. But there is really only one choice if you’re planning on heading off the beaten track. The Outback has proven its ability to take a fair bit of punishment.
Skoda’s Octavia Scout Premium 135TDI diesel is good buying at $41,390 (plus on-roads) and, like the Passat Alltrack, feels quite a bit perkier on-road (its 135kW and 380Nm responsible here).
For car-like manners, a strong 2.7 litre diesel (140kW and 440Nm) and a very good ride, Ford’s evergreen Territory TS diesel AWD ($51,490 plus, but with huge discounts on offer) is good buying, if a little ancient inside.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Based on a conventional wagon platform, the Outback outshines most SUV softroaders with its car-like driving dynamics, all-wheel-drive, decent ground clearance, off-road ability and overall economy.
The Subaru Outback feels indestructible, like it will last a lifetime (which is perhaps why we see so many older Subie’s about).
It is a well-priced, comfortable, spacious and practical family wagon that’s reasonably easy on the pocket (thanks to capped price servicing, if not the six-month service intervals), and equally at home on the school run or the rough stuff.
The 2.0-litre turbo diesel could do with a bit more urge on the open road, and, like the Liberty, the front seats lack under thigh support.
But these are the only quibbles in an otherwise well-rounded, solid package. Subaru’s venerable Outback is a convincing buy.