Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $47,990 (plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 191kW/350Nm 3.6 petrol 6cyl | CVT auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.9 l/100km | tested: 12.1 l/100km (manual)
After spending a model generation enduring also-ran status, the Subaru Outback has a new lease on life.
With all-new styling, an upmarket interior, improved levels of equipment, more efficient engines and reduced pricing compared to the model that preceded it, the 2015 Subaru Outback hits a high note.
It’s not all roses though. After a week of driving, we found the fuel economy a little disappointing; this may be the 'big six' Outback 3.6R’s Achilles heel.
Sure, it’s a handicap for a car pitched at middle-Australia families, but are there enough positives to outweigh that one sizable negative?
- Standard equipment: Dual-zone climate control, sunroof, power heated front seats, power tailgate, active cruise control, voice command system, reversing camera, 18-inch alloys, leather upholstery, trip computer.
- Infotainment: seven-inch colour touchscreen display, satellite navigation, AM/FM/CD 12-speaker harman/kardon audio system, Bluetooth phone and media streaming, Pandora app compatibility, USB audio input.
- Luggage space: 512 litres minimum, 1801 litres maximum
The previous generation Outback was nothing special inside. Even 'plain Jane' would have found it a bit ordinary.
The new Outback is still no style leader, but it’s well-built and better executed than the former model.
The button layout on the centre stack is clearer and simplified, the seven-inch touch screen is flush with the fascia and switchgear quality is improved.
It’s inoffensive and an interior that places a high emphasis on usability and practicality. You need only look at the back seat to discover that.
While the front seats are comfortable and spacious enough, the rear seats are even better. Even basketballers would approve of the leg and kneeroom on offer, and headroom is plentiful.
Got slouchy teens to transport? Well, the backrest angle is adjustable to suit their preferred posture.
The centre passenger will need to place their feet either side of the Outback’s modest transmission tunnel and the backrest (really, the underside of the armrest) is quite firm, but there are at least rear air vents to keep those backseaters comfortable - something you won’t find in the back of a Forester.
Cargo space is also another area where the Outback excels. With 512 litres of seats-up capacity the Outback easily eclipses the Forester’s 422 litre boot space.
Drop the rear seats using the handy boot-mounted release handles, and there’s 1801 litres of total cargo capacity - 194 litres more than the Forester.
As the most expensive model in the range, the Outback 3.6R comes fully loaded. Sat-nav, voice-activated commands, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, a sunroof, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, internet music streaming via the Pandora app, a powered tailgate, keyless entry - all are standard features.
And so too is Subaru’s 'EyeSight' active safety system, which uses two cameras to detect cars, pedestrians and other obstacles to help avoid collisions.
We can say from first-hand experience that it works. While driving along a suburban road, a pedestrian decided to step out from behind a tram travelling the opposite direction and cross in front of our Outback.
Before we had time to lift our foot off the accelerator, EyeSight had detected the pedestrian, determined we were about to hit him and applied the brakes hard.
Technology like this is no gimmick, it’s a genuine life-saver.
ON THE ROAD
- 191kW/350Nm 3.6 litre naturally-aspirated petrol flat six
- Continuously variable automatic transmission with manual shift mode
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension. All-wheel drive with off-road mode.
- Disc brakes all around.
- Turning circle: 11.0 metres.
The Outback 3.6R Premium has no shortage of grunt thanks to its 3.6 litre naturally-aspirated flat-six engine.
A full-blooded 191kW and 350Nm is just a flex of the ankle away, and it produces 14kW more power than the Forester XT’s turbocharged two-litre four.
Unfortunately, it’s horribly thirsty around town. The CVT automatic it’s bolted to does a commendable job of trying to keep revs low - and thus fuel consumption - but the 3.6 is simply a gas guzzler.
We recorded an average of 12.1 l/100km over an even mix of highway and city driving, which is roughly equal to the real-world consumption of larger SUVs like the Toyota Kluger.
Given how many Klugers are on the road these days, that may not necessarily be a huge turn-off.
However, if you’re concerned about fuel bills the four-cylinder 2.5i Premium or diesel 2.0D Premium may be more to your liking.
Happily, that’s pretty much the only sizable demerit to the Outback.
That flat six, though thirsty, makes light work of carting around four adults plus their luggage, and the comfortable, settled Outback is a superb long-distance cruiser.
And don’t let its jacked-up suspension fool you either: it’s actually pretty handy around a corner, and has a very carlike feel to the way it handles.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.99 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Subaru’s EyeSight active collision detection system is standard on all petrol Outback models, and combines active cruise control, collision warning, lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking and a pedestrian warning all into the one piece of hardware.
It’s an optical system though, and can sometimes be spooked when driving towards a setting sun. That aside, it works well.
Other standard safety gear includes stability control, traction control (incorporating hill descent control), ABS, EBD and brake assist.
Seven airbags are standard (front, front side, curtain and driver’s knee), and all passengers get three-point seatbelts.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The VW Passat Alltrack is a close rival on spec and price (though diesel-only), while the Skoda Octavia Scout is similar in purpose though slightly smaller.
Beyond those two wagon-based competitors, there are the more traditional large SUV options like the Toyota Kluger and Nissan Pathfinder, against which the Outback holds a significant price advantage when compared spec-for-spec.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Though it’s officially classed as a large SUV, the Outback is quite a bit different to its key segment competitors.
A high-riding wagon-based crossover, it combines the positive virtues of both car and SUV into a slick and attractive versatile package.
And though the model tested here, the Outback 3.6R Premium, is a $47k proposition, it’s still great value against similarly-specced competitors.
Surprisingly, it also offers better value against the top-spec Forester. With more space, more power, the same torque and a better-handling chassis, the Outback 3.6R premium actually offers more car for $1500 less than the Forester XT Premium.
No wonder then that the Outback is presently outselling the Forester. Last year it trailed Forester sales by a very wide margin, not so this year.
Fuel economy is indeed a bugbear, but any six-cylinder large SUV suffers from the same ailment.
Indeed, if you’ve got the Toyota Kluger, Nissan Pathfinder or Mazda CX-9 on your shortlist but don’t need seven seats, you should do yourself a favour and check out the Outback 3.6R Premium.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- 2.5i CVT - $35,990 (down $3000 / 7.7 percent)
- 2.5i Premium CVT - $41,490 (down $2000 / 4.6 percent)
- 2.0D manual - $35,490 (down $5000 / 12.3 percent)
- 2.0D CVT - $37,490 (down $5500 / 12.8 percent
- 2.0D Premium manual - $41,490 (down $2000 / 4.6 percent)
- 2.0D Premium CVT - $43,490 (down $2500 / 5.4 percent)
- 3.6R - $47,990 (down $10,000, or 17.2 percent)
Subaru’s lifetime capped price servicing program is included, and the Outback comes with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
MORE: Subaru Plans For Autonomous Driving With EyeSight Upgrade
MORE News & Reviews: Subaru | Outback | Wagons