The Skinny: Bigger than the Forester, but more capable than a Liberty, the Outback straddles the divide between two of Subaru’s most popular models.
Unlike the petrol versions of both of those cars however, the diesel Outback misses out on Subaru’s “Eyesight” cameras, a system which scans the road ahead for danger.
But, this safety omission aside, the Outback holds its own in the large crossover segment. Adept off-road, as practical as a large SUV but less bulbous and more dynamic than most on-road, it is very much the 'true crossover'.
It is also styled with a degree of restraint, is priced right (from $43,490) and is as solid as a brick but as comfortable as a conventional wagon.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $43,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 110kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo-diesel 4cyl | CVT auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.3 l/100km | tested: 8.9 l/100km
In 1983, a certain Alexander Gutman recorded a spoken word piece which was to become one of Australia’s biggest selling singles. Filled with puns, you'll remember it (maybe) as “Australiana” - you know: "how much can a Koala bear?".
Subaru has loosely adapted a version for the advertising campaign for its Outback SUV and even hired the originator (Austen Tayshus) to voice the TVC.
Despite the tired puns being dragged out once again, the MY15 Outback doesn’t feel tired at all, with the 2015 update improving everything inside and out. There’s more space, a better infotainment system and a quieter cabin.
Australians are taking up diesel SUVs in droves, which is why we requested the 2.0-litre diesel Outback for a week of running around with the family. With kids clambering in and out, shopping trips and a weekend away, here’s how it went.
Quality: Subaru’s typical solid build is the theme throughout, and nowhere is this more evident than inside.
Materials choices are good, with neatly textured plastics, subtle accents in silver and an inoffensive layout. There’s nothing bold nor is it too drab; it’s the Goldilocks-zone of interiors – “just right”.
All touchpoints feel good (the wheel is a good size and nicely trimmed) while all the switchgear feels sturdy. The cabin also holds up well to young kids jumping in and out, with the leather resisting scratching from the booster seat (for transporting the youngest offspring).
Comfort: The Outback’s seats are quite comfortable, despite being flat, though a touch more lower-back support would be appreciated..
The rear seats offer plenty of headroom and legroom, with the bench being padded very nicely and with a good slope on the backrest.
Equipment: The Premium version of the Outback has plenty of included features such as sat-nav, Pandora radio, electric tailgate, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, full leather seats with electric adjustment and heating, plus a sunroof.
Added to that is keyless start, reversing camera, Bluetooth phone and audio, dual-zone climate control, and multifunction steering wheel.
Storage: The Outback has quite a large footprint and there is plenty of space on offer inside. The boot liberates 512 litres, which grows to 1801 litres with the seats laid down. With a split-fold back row, it’s very practical for carting around awkward cargo.
The door pockets are divided into a bottle holding section up front and a smaller cavity for miscellaneous items, plus there are two (uncovered) cupholders behind the gear-lever, plus two in the drop-down centre armrest in the rear.
In addition to the glovebox, there’s a small but deep lidded cubby which sits at the base of the centre stack, in which you’ll find a 12V outlet as well as a 3.5mm jack and two USB ports.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With a turbcharged diesel and a CVT auto, we expected lagging performance but that’s simply not the case.
Subaru’s CVT is the best of its type, few would pick it as being anything other than a conventional automatic. It keeps the engine in its sweet spot at middling revs, and, only on floored full throttle is the CVT evident.
Then, when you do 'floor it', the CVT mimics a conventional 'geared' auto, stepping neatly and smoothly between ratios.
The engine’s outputs (110kW and 350Nm) certainly aren’t massive in a car this size, but there’s enough torque on tap to get it up to 100kmh in just under ten seconds. Sure, it’s no rocket off the line, but on the roll it’s ample quick enough to deal with slow moving traffic and is untroubled by hills.
Being a diesel though, fuel economy is certainly better than its petrol counterpart.
During our week of testing, we chalked up just under 9.0 l/100km, which considering a slightly heavy right foot and city-only driving, isn’t too bad from a 1.75-tonne family car.
Refinement: The boxer 2.0-litre isn’t the quietest unit at idle, its horizontally-opposed 'boxer' configuration being a little lumpy (you’d think that the balance would be a bit better given its layout).
Despite a little coarseness there, the cabin does a good job of isolating road noise, and, with the cogless auto, it accelerates smoothly and adjusts ratios slickly.
Ride and Handling: Given its size and weight, the Outback has plenty to commend it when pushed to its limits. The suspension is on the firmer side, but not so much as to be uncomfortable at speed.
Around town on broken tarmac it can be a little jiggly on its 18-inch wheels, but it’s quite a bit better dynamically than most similarly-priced SUVs.
The upside to this is surefooted grip around corners, and thanks to its all-wheel-drive system it will accelerate out of tight corners in slippery conditions without sliding around. In wet weather or on gravel, the Outback feels fairly glued to the road.
The steering is a bit vague but some will appreciate the lightness when parking.
Braking: The Outback uses vented discs both front and back, meaning fade is never an issue. In the daily grind, the pedal feel is good and progressive.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.99 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Subaru’s safety inclusions are substantial, with dual front, side and curtain airbags, plus a driver’s knee airbag. ABS, electronic brake distribution and ESC are backed up by seat belt reminders. In crash testing, the Outback scored extremely well, notching up the full five star score.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Service costs: The first six paid services in the Outback cost a total of $2443.78. This covers you for three years of scheduled servicing.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Ford Territory TS AWD ($49,990) - While it's getting on in years, the Territory still offers space, smoothness and safety for a family looking for a large SUV. It's interior finish lets down the side a bit, however there's plenty of space and even a seven seat version, something the Outback can't offer. It also drives very nicely and makes the Outback feel quite bland in comparison. (see Territory reviews)
Hyundai Santa Fe Active CRDi ($43,990) - A decent-sized family wagon, this large SUV from South Korea has a cracking diesel under the bonnet. It also drives reasonably well, has a nicely finished interior, though not quite as good as the Subie's, and will seat seven. With one of the best warranties on the market, it's a good buy. (see Santa Fe reviews)
Toyota Kluger GX ($44,490) - Without a diesel in its range, the Kluger's fuel use is a lot higher than the Outback but despite this, the Kluger offers plenty of grunt from its smooth V6. Like the Subaru, the Kluger will probably outlast humanity with a rock-solid reputation for dependability, and like the Outback, its interior is designed to be more practical than beautiful. (see Kluger reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
One of the measures of a car is whether you'd be happy to take it for a trip across the Nullabor and with some side excursions deeper into the outback. If in the back of your mind there's a doubt about whether it will leave you stranded, then it's best crossed off your shopping list.
No such worries with the Outback. Of course, its name is designed to instill confidence, but Subaru's reputation for reliability and the ability to stray quite a long way off the tarmac can't be ignored.
It's not the most exciting machine out there but if it's good, honest transport you're after, the Outback is one of the better ways to get around.
With a 5-Star ANCAP rating, a solid diesel and robust build, it's a family car that's as much at home in the 'burbs as it is in the bush and beyond.