The Outback does a nice line in visual chunkiness, thanks to its wide-slatted grille, skid plates, plastic-clad side sills and big, bold foglamps. The wing-style headlamps and sharp bonnet creases temper the chunky feel with a little bit of sophistication, but further back, the roof rails, raised ride height and beefy back bumper ensure that the original theme is returned to. Entry-level SE models look sharp enough, with LED headlamps, privacy glass and 17-inch alloys as standard. SE Premium trim, meanwhile, boosts the wheel size to 18 inches.
The Outback’s interior is a big step up from what many existing Subaru customers will be used to. Where the firm’s cars have a tendency to look rather plasticky and unappealing in places, the Outback’s cabin has some genuinely impressive materials and thoughtful finishes on show. Granted, it’s not a match for most German estate cars, but it still feels like a classy environment overall. The ergonomics, on the other hand, are less impressive. Proceedings are dominated by a touch-screen system that’s slow to respond, confusing to use and looks rather too much like a shop-bought accessory. There’s a cluster of buttons on the right of the steering wheel that are tucked away out of sight, and the central display between the two main instrument dials could be clearer. That said, there’s lots of seating adjustment and a good view out.
The boot is a good square shape, and at 559 litres, it’s not short of capacity, either
You’d expect any family wagon of this size to be generous on space, and the Outback doesn’t disappoint. All five seats are good on headroom and legroom, although life in the middle rear seat is less comfortable due to the hard, raised cushion and a bulky transmission tunnel that eats into your foot space. The boot is a good square shape, and at 559 litres, it’s not short of capacity, either. The figure extends to an impressive 1848 litres when you drop the rear seats, and they drop pretty much flat with no steps in the load area. There’s a very small lip to load items over, but this is still one very practical car.
Ride and handling
The Outback’s 4×4 styling isn’t just for show. The car has permanent four-wheel drive, which allows it to scrabble along muddy tracks pretty effectively, and provides some useful extra traction on the road. That contributes to the Outback’s generally impressive handling abilities. There’s loads of grip, and reasonable suppression of body roll and, while the steering isn’t particularly rewarding, it does feel meaty and consistently weighted. There’s a penalty to pay in ride comfort, though: the car feels jittery over patched-up urban surfaces, and it doesn’t settle down enough at motorway speeds, either.
The petrol engine doesn’t feel as strong as the figures suggest, and your progress feels laboured and breathless
Two engines are available: a 173bhp 2.5-litre petrol that’s mated exclusively to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), and a 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel that’s available with either a six-speed manual or the CVT. Unusually for a car like this, the petrol outsells the diesel, but we really can’t see why. It doesn’t feel anywhere near as strong as the figures suggest, and all too often, your progress feels laboured and breathless. The transmission doesn’t help, either, feeling rather dim-witted and a little bit jerky. There are paddles to let you swap between pre-programmed ‘steps’ to make it feel like you’re changing gears manually (which, with a CVT, you’re technically not), but even then, the transmission feels slow and cumbersome. Refinement isn’t particularly impressive, either, with a rasping exhaust note to be heard too much of the time. This is joined by a fair amount of wind- and road noise on the motorway. The diesel engine also makes a bit of noise, but it’s better on refinement because you don’t have to work it as hard as the petrol for as much of the time thanks to its stronger low-down pull. That also gives it more flexible performance, but your pace is strangled a little by the CVT. We’d urge you to stick with the manual.
At a time when even huge family estates are posting some seriously impressive figures for efficiency, the Outback’s vital statistics look way off the pace. Granted, it’s a symptom of all versions having four-wheel drive, but for many buyers, having that capability simply won’t be worth the cost. The diesel can only manage 50mpg according to official figures, and that drops by another 4mpg if you specify the CVT. The petrol, meanwhile, only just scrapes over the 40mpg mark, and the correspondingly high figures for CO2 emissions will mean fairly lofty bills for company car drivers. The Outback isn’t a cheap car to buy, either, and resale values will be weaker than those of some rivals.
Subaru’s cars are renowned for their ruggedness and durability, and that’s reflected in the firm’s strong showing in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index. The company sits comfortably in the top half of the study’s manufacturer standings, and although there’s no data on the Outback itself, its closest relation, the Legacy, is one of Subaru’s strongest performers. What’s more, the Outback is covered by a five-year/100,000-mile warranty, which is generous compared with the cover you get on many rivals.
The Outback has an impressive range of driving aids to help you avoid accidents
The best way to avoid injuries is to avoid having accidents in the first place, and the Outback has an impressive range of driving aids to help you do exactly that. As well as the extra grip and traction you get from the standard four-wheel drive, all Outbacks also have stability control and active torque vectoring. Cars fitted with the CVT also have a system called EyeSight, which incorporates autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. If the worst does happen, there are seven airbags to protect you and your passengers. The car has already earned the full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests.
There are two trim levels available – SE and SE Premium – and both provide generous standard equipment. SE models have cruise control, heated front seats with electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, plus the 7.0-inch touch-screen infotainment system that incorporates satellite-navigation, smartphone connectivity and a rear parking camera. SE Premium models add a sunroof, leather upholstery, a powered tailgate and keyless entry with push-button start.
Because you need the four-wheel drive of an SUV combined with the practicality of an estate car. Thing is, most SUVs are already pretty practical, many even more so than an estate. This means the Outback will always be an acquired taste, but there are still plenty of die-hard Subaru fans for whom this car will be seriously tempting.