If ever there was the quintessential name for the perfect Australian car it would surely be the Outback.
Despite having all-wheel drive, a big engine and practical space, this car isn’t quite the king of the wide open road – powered by petrol not diesel and offering a wagon rather than robust SUV body style it’s a little less conventional. But it’s no less a stellar choice of car for those that care about all-round performance.
Comparisons aside, the Outback is available with a diesel engine, just not in this flagship grade. Forgoing diesel power, the 3.6R houses a six-cylinder petrol engine that’s larger than most SUVs.
While continuing tradition unchanged underneath the bonnet, the 2018 range has received a light refresh outside – new LED headlights, the usual rugged-looking wheel arches and skirts, chrome striping and new bumpers as well as some interior styling changes. Elsewhere the suspension has been tweaked and there’s better equipment than before.
For the 3.6R the list is long and most premium features exist: leather interior trim, electric heated seats, panoramic sunroof, electric tailgate, keyless entry with push-start ignition, 12-speaker harmon/kardon sound system with separate subwoofer and amp, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloys, four USB ports and an 8.0-inch infotainment display with Apple Carplay, Android Auto, DAB+ and sat nav.
Further conveniences make everyday life easier - particularly in cold weather - like heated side mirrors, de-icing wipers, automatic highbeam lights with steering follow and model-exclusive SI-Drive mode selector to make the most of the engine and all-wheel drive system.
Safety is top notch too, using Subaru’s Eyesight system which brings AEB, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, reversing camera and rear-cross traffic alert among other automatic safety aids.
It reads like a lot of gear because it is, and in the greater scheme of things the flagship Outback 3.6R is well priced from $49,140 plus on-road costs.
- 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: eight-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
Overall, the interior presentation hasn’t changed much since the current-generation’s inception which is a blend of simple form and elegance. Among the cabin are some premium flourishes like the bright, glossy 8.0-inch infotainment system, double-stitched leather seats and well-sculpted steering wheel. This updated version also gets piano black elements and neater buttons on the centre console that spruce up the cabin.
The driver’s seat has plenty of room and the passenger gets even more, while the bolstering and shape on both provide plenty of ergonomic support for longer trips. The added ride height of the Outback also adds a commanding position but one that’s not as upright as an SUV.
In front of the driver is a small digital screen with a readout for speed and safety systems (like adaptive cruise control distance) and the steering wheel houses a button for most driving commands and multimedia shortcuts.
Back seat occupants have a similar airy cabin feel as up front and simple mod cons such as two USB ports for charging devices and air vents for climate control add comfort. The outer pews are also ISOfix compatible and there are three roof mount tethers to tie down a big family – though there’s no option for a third-row in any Outback.
Instead the boot is 518-litres large with a full-size spare wheel and basic toolkit under the floor that expands to 1801L with the 60:40 split-fold seats down.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 191kW/350Nm 3.6-litre naturally-aspirated petrol flat six
- Transmission type and driveline configuration: Continuously variable automatic transmission with manual shift mode
- Suspension type, front and rear: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension. All-wheel drive with off-road mode
- Brake type, front and rear: ventilated front and rear brakes
- Steering type and turning circle: hydraulically assisted mechanical steering, 11.0m
- Towing capacity: 3500kg
With the most powerful engine in the line-up, the 3.6R does more than just fly along; it goes a long way to disguising some of the complaints the CVT transmission presents behind lesser powered engines. It’s also a bigger engine than some competing SUVs have, providing effortless acceleration on the highway and good grunt when loaded up.
The motor is a 3.6-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder petrol, also found in the Liberty, producing 191kW and 350Nm. Not huge output figures it’s enough to move the high-riding wagon from 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds and it develops plenty of urgency when required. The all-wheel drive and lack of a turbocharger hurt the claimed fuel consumption figure though which lands in at 9.9L/100km. Over testing we achieved an average 10.9L in mixed driving conditions.
The flip side is best-in-range towing of 1800kg and good acceleration, particularly in sportier driving modes that also sharpen response from the throttle and CVT ‘gears’.
On sealed roads noise suppression was good inside the cabin and the ride is soft and comfortable, soaking up bumps and harder hits well while remaining composed.
However, the Outback isn’t as athletic as some of its competitors and where it really shines is its ability to go further off the beaten track than the normal wagon can. It’s raised ride height provides 213mm ground clearance and 18.4 degrees approach and 22.7 degrees departure angles. It’s not ground breaking but enough to venture onto some rough terrain and it’s ability off-road is further helped by X-mode and an electronically controlled diff lock which helps gain traction on slippery surfaces. Over gravel the system gives a lot of grip and a confident ride, while off road we managed to go down some tracks normally reserved for four-wheel drives only.
Capping off all-round ability the Outback is a surprisingly good town car, with improved steering that’s a little light and indirect but easy enough to manoeuvre around the city, and with safety aids such as lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control working well in traffic.
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.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: The Outback is covered by Subaru's three-year/unlimited kilometres warranty.
Servicing: Servicing intervals are every six-months/12,500km and cost $2711 over three years or 75,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Holden Calais Tourer V is a touch more expensive but a more dynamic and capable car on the road with plenty of space. It isn’t as well equipped for driving further afield though and the interior lacks the refinement on offer in the Subaru.
The Volkswagen Alltrack might be the most expensive on this list (just) but it’s easily the nicest inside with premium design and finishes and great technology. But again, it can’t touch the Outback for all-round ability, particularly off road.
The Skoda Octavia was once a better rival to these three, offering a Scout variant that was more rugged but unfortunately didn’t sell. Instead, the Octavia now offers a great value wagon with the most space of this lot and a sporty ride at a good price.
- Holden Calais Tourer V
- Volkswagen Passat Alltrack
- Skoda Octavia wagon
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Though it’s debatable that it’s the perfect car for traversing the outback, the Outback is in many ways a great Australian car. Our thirst for wagons might not be as big as it once was but they’re still the choice of many travelling families and this one isn’t afraid to continue on where many budget-box SUVs will stop.
It might not have proper dynamic ability but with a powerful motor and good town etiquette the Outback is a genuine all-rounder.
- Interested in buying Subaru Outback? Visit our Subaru showroom for more information.