One of few cars that looks just as good dirty as it does clean.
The Subaru Outback has been with us for some time. Previously called the Legacy Outback, this current generation sought to distance itself from its legacy (sorry) and establish itself as a proper SUV contender. As a result, the Outback is nowadays rarely mistaken for a vanilla Legacy out on the road, especially when it’s covered in the terrain it just traversed.
The Outback is actually two cars in one. Its remarkable on-road manners belie its sheer ability on loose surfaces, and in a segment where the competition sway too extremely one way or another, the Outback’s breadth of ability is truly something to behold. Of course, it doesn’t have the curb appeal that some of its competitors do, but the Outback fan would argue that that isn’t the point of it at all. We check out Subaru’s no-nonsense SUV, and see it for what it is.
“It looks like a slightly stockier version of the old car, but Subaru insists that’s exactly the point. Buyers were polled for what they like and don’t like about their estate-only, all-wheel drive tough-mobile, and said they’d like lower running costs, improved refinement, but didn’t give a monkeys about a fresh suit.” - TopGear
Subaru isn’t known for rocking the boat with its designs. And considering the strong fanbase that the Outback has, a radical redesign would risk alienating the people who love it for its rugged dependability. So rather than divide opinion, Subaru has stuck to its guns. The Outback you see now is the result.
It’s not an eyesore, the Outback. Far from it: It has a no-nonsense appeal to it that makes it handsome, elegant even. Its restraint means that you’re never really sure how far the Outback can go, and your confidence in it may wane sooner than its ability. The black plastic mouldings are concessions to both form and function, as vital bits and pieces need protection and buyers need their neighbours to know that they’re adventurous and out-there.
LED daytime running lights and chunky chrome fog lamp surrounds attract the eye, while an Active Shutter grille looks good and improves aerodynamics. At the rear, LED taillights frame the posterior nicely, with the whole thing having a very mature look to it. Where Subaru’s XV appeals to a more youthful market, the Outback has its sights set firmly on adults. And adults generally like the Outback.
Engine & Drivetrain
“The turbo diesel engine is particularly quiet and only makes its presence heard when the revs rise.” - Drive
The Subaru Outback is available exclusively as an all-wheel drive, making full use of the brand’s ‘Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive’ system. There are three engines that power those wheels, kicking off with a 2.5-litre petrol (129kW & 235Nm), followed by a 2.0-litre turbodiesel (110kW & 350Nm). The former can feel a little bit gutless on the road, but for urban driving, it’ll likely get the job done best. The turbodiesel’s grunt will make like work of just about every situation put forth to it, which is why it’s the engine we recommend.
At the top of the tree, there’s a 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol engine that puts out a healthy 191kW and 350Nm. The power advantage the big petrol has over the diesel pays dividends when travelling great distances, but it’s difficult to justify the price jump from the diesel. The 6-cylinder’s claimed fuel consumption of 9.9l/100km is far off of the smaller diesel’s 5.7l/100km (with the manual gearbox), which makes its case even more difficult to reason.
All petrol Outbacks utilise a continuously variable (CVT) transmission, while a manual gearbox is available only with the diesel. We highly recommend Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT gearboxes, as they’re easily one of the best examples of such a transmission on the market.
“The interior is typical Subaru, which means practical but spartan.” - CarAdvice
Our friends at CarAdvice may be a tad harsh, we think. The cabin of the Outback is hardly austere, regardless of trim level. We agree that the mid-level Premium model tacks on all the luxuries and conveniences you need (like GPS navigation and leather trim), but we argue that the cabin of the Outback has a certain restraint to it, much like the exterior. Everything is functional and well executed, from the large central infotainment screen to the brushed metal-like finishing used on the central tunnel. It’s not form before function, but rather form and function in harmony.
Space in the Outback is generous, with three adults able to sit comfortably in the rear. The cavernous 512-litre boot is enough to accommodate just about everything, and the rear seats allow for up to 1801-litres of space should you need to bring the kitchen sink with you. Rear passengers are also treated to air conditioning vents, an essential when adventuring under the Australian sun.
Behind the Wheel
“On the road Outback is noticeably more car-like than its SUV rivals.” - CarsGuide
The Subaru Outback is more of a wagon-crossover than an outright SUV, and that body style pays dividends out on the open road. Where rivals like the Toyota Kluger and Holden Captiva are more upright, the car-like physique of the Outback means that it drives more like a car. Its softly-sprung setup makes for smooth progress over all but the most scarred surfaces, and body roll is reigned in far better than its rivals. The steering in the Outback is far more connected than the competition too, which means that the capability the Outback comes with as standard poses little trade-off.
Speaking of ability: The only limitation of the Outback are those due to the wagon body style. Long overhangs front and rear means approach angles aren’t as generous as some of its rivals, as is ground clearance thanks to the lower-riding setup the Outback sports. But for the light off-roading that cars like these are usually subject to, the Outback is more than capable. There’s even a proper ‘X-Mode’ driving mode to facilitate progress through tougher terrain, though only a handful of owners are likely to venture too far off a farm track.
The way the Outback progresses through whatever surface it finds itself on is one of its strongest assets.
Safety & Technology
“The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has rated the Outback at five stars for safety, its maximum rating.” - WhichCar
The Outback sports Subaru’s ‘EyeSight’ active driver assistance system, which bundles together things like autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane drift warning, lead vehicle start alert (when the car ahead of you in a queue has moved), active cruise control, and blind spot monitoring. EyeSight is standard fit on all automatic Outbacks.
A reversing camera is standard here, as are automatic wipers and headlights. There’s also “good” airbag protection for all five occupants. The Outbacks’ passenger cell is also remarkably strong, which is why all Outback models sport a 5-star ANCAP rating. It’s a family wagon, after all.
To fully understand why the Outback makes sense, we have to take a long hard look at the traditional SUV and its uses first. The high-riding family wagon rarely sees anything more than grass at a polo club, with most being used almost exclusively for the school run. A little more ride height and slightly more supple suspension can be justified, though riding that much higher than everyone else… that doesn’t make total sense.
That’s where the Outback shines. It answers questions you didn’t know you were asking. It does all that’s expected of the vanilla family wagon, while packing the off-road ability that most high-riding SUVs go without anyway. It’s unbelievably sensible, the Outback, which is likely why on its introduction in 2015 saw sales rise by 345% from the year before. The no-nonsense approach that Subaru’s taken with the Outback has not only satisfied the needs of ardent fans, but it’s also taken away customers from its rivals by simply being clever.
Our recommendation lies with the 2.0D Premium CVT, which sits in the middle of the range. Generous standard kit and a plush interior will see the Outback through years of service, leaving few wanting. Residual values should be strong too, which means you’ll have plenty of money left in your Outback when the time comes for you to get another one.
CarAdvice - 85/100 - “Overall the Subaru Outback range remains one that is hard to beat. Subaru’s three-year warranty may deter some, but with the addition of fixed-priced servicing, the Outback’s proven reputation and reliability makes it the best choice in its segment.”
WhichCar - 80/100 - “The Subaru Outback is a five-seat alternative to bulky, big SUVs. It has a smart all-wheel drive system and an elegant interior that accommodates adults comfortably in the rear. Based on the Liberty medium car, the Outback rides higher and handles gravel roads well. Most Outbacks have auto emergency braking.”
Wheels Magazine - 70/100 - “It’s a spacious, practical and relatively economical car in its class, and one of the best value for money SUV alternatives.”
Drive - 65/100 - “Safe five-star all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback become even safer, more polished.”
CarsGuide - 80/100 - “The Subaru Outback is a near-perfect family soft-roader for the price. Fit and finish is admirable, ride and handling is great and the latest round of safety tech add-ons only make the Outback more appealing.”
Motoring - 78/100 - “A strong contender in the two-horse wagon-based SUV race.”
TopGear - 80/100 - "Reaches the parts other lifestyle crossovers (and some ‘proper’ SUVs) do not.”
AutoExpress - 80/100 - “Need an estate that can tackle tough terrain? The Subaru Outback may well be worth a look.”