Subaru Outback: Oldie but a goldie

Riley Riley

What is it?

Dating back to 1994 but launched here in 1996 the Subaru Outback remains true to the original concept.

It is still identifiably a station wagon, but with off road pretensions, rather than a high-riding SUV that’s actually designed to gets its feet dirty — though few are used for this purpose.

And it’s even picked up some copycats along the way, such as Volvo’s XC70 wagon and the Audi Allroad, the latter offered in a couple of models these days.

Now in its sixth generation, Australia won’t see an all-new Outback until much later this year, maybe even the beginning of 2021, and it will probably include a hybrid at the expense of the diesel.

But reportedly it won’t be the same as the model launched recently in the US.

In the meantime, the current Outback, that weathered the bushfires with us over the Christmas break, is a very liveable, practical form of transport.



What’s it cost?

Outback is priced from $37,440 plus on roads.

That’s for the 2.5-litre 2.5i. The Premium version is $43,940, while the six cylinder 3.6R Premium is priced from $50,440.

The diesel is priced from $40,040, while the Premium diesel takes it to $46,940.

At the moment, the 2.5i is going for a song at $39,990 driveaway, with two years free scheduled servicing thrown in.

Last updated in 2018, the current model features a new front bumper, grille, headlights, exterior mirrors and wheel designs.

Inside updates have been applied to the steering wheel, air conditioning panel and vents, plus stitching has been added to the instrument panel.

Premium variants add front and side view monitors plus a new 8.0-inch tablet-style touchscreen with satnav, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

There’s also leather and dual zone climate control, with rear air vents, push-button start, eight-way power adjust driver and front passenger seats with memory, heating for both and electric lumbar adjustment for driver, and one-touch electronic folding rear seats.

Add to the list LED head, tail and daytime lights, auto lights, auto wipers and auto-dimming rear view mirror, a sunroof and powered rear tailgate — plus 2 x 12V/120W power outlets and two USB charge ports front and back.

With a five-star safety rating, the third generation EyeSight Driver Assist system adds Lane Keep Assist to its litany of driver aids.

Other safety features include: seven airbags including a driver kneebag, rear view camera, auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, swivel headlights, auto high beam, blind spot monitor, front view monitor, side view monitor, lane change assist, and rear cross traffic alert.

All petrol models roll on 18 inch alloys — the diesel gets 17s — and it comes with a full-size spare..


What’s it go like?

Outback is if anything over-engineered.

The 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine produces 129kW of power and 235Nm of torque at 4000 revs.

It’s teamed with a CVT-style automatic with auto stop-start, seven gears or steps as they are called, along with steering wheel mounted gear change paddles.

That’s not a lot of power and torque, but it’s is applied judiciously and is a relatively light 1600kg, and will be sufficient to please the average driver (that applies to most people).

If you want more get up and go, there’s always the diesel with heaps more torque for another $3000 and, with a hybrid imminent — we’d be tempted to grab one.

The transmission is calibrated in such a way to reduce any tendency for the engine speed to accelerate faster than actual pedal input, the thing that produces the zoomy effect in some CVTs.

To make the most of the four cylinder boxer engine, Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) with Intelligent and Sport modes.

Basically, Sport mode sharpens throttle response and keeps it on the boil, with linear acceleration from any vehicle speed range.

In default Intelligent mode throttle response is moderated, creating smooth, environmentally-friendly performance.

This mode is also designed to produce low fuel consumption.

One of the things I like best about Subaru’s CVT is the way it slips seamlessly between auto and manual modes.

Punching the accelerator invokes the steps or gears and it begins to operate like a traditional auto, with discernible change points.

Back off and it slips back into rubber CVT mode.

Operating the paddle shifters while you’re in D also activates temporary manual mode.

When the transmission detects that things have returned to normal, after your partner has finished yelling at you — it automatically returns to Drive.

The cabin is spacious with oodles of room in the back for passengers and we note air vents, and is trimmed to a high standard.

Two traditional luminescent, analogue style dials face the driver, with the option to display speed digitally between them and a reminder of the current speed limit.

The latter appears to draw its information from the TomTom navigation system and does not to change to reflect temporary work zone speeds.

The large glossy touchscreen sits flush with the dash and we kinda prefer it that way because it doesn’t get in the way, despite the current trend to freestanding screens.

Despite what you might have heard or been told, the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system in Subarus does not operate in four-wheel drive all of the time.

It’s an active torque split system that transfers drive to the rear wheels as required, operating in front-wheel drive for the majority of the time.

That’s a good thing because driving two wheels instead of four uses less fuel.

For off road use the X-Mode control improves all-terrain performance on rough roads by optimising integrated control of the engine, AWD and brakes.

It uses Hill Descent Control to keep vehicle speed constant, providing peace-of-mind on steep descents.

Subaru reckons provides off-road capability rivalling that of some heavy duty four wheel drives (yeah, I know).

But with a handy 213mm of ground clearance it’s up for a rough track or two.

The problem becomes the entry and exit angles, with long front and rear overhangs.

Washing the car after getting it dirty is relatively easy because it sits lower than most SUVs.

Fuel consumption from the 60-litre tank is a claimed 7.3L/100km using stand 91 RON unleaded petrol.

We were getting 8.4L/100km at the end of our two weeks.

The 2.5 can tow 1500kg, the six 1800kg and the diesel 1700kg.


What we like?

  • Unpretentious
  • Station wagon format
  • Ease of entry and exit
  • Large luggage capacity
  • Spacious interior that doesn’t try to cram extra seats


What we don’t like?

  • Nothing really
  • Well, you have to keep putting it in Sport mode


The bottom line?

Outback offers the best of both worlds.

It’s a practical station wagon and occasional bush basher.

It’s well put together, you get a lot of car for your money, with a clear emphasis on safety.


CHECKOUT: Hybrid Soobys keep the boxer faith

CHECKOUT: It’s the not so clumsy Outback


Subaru Outback 2.5i-Premium, priced from $43,940
  • Looks - 7.5/10
  • Performance - 7/10
  • Safety - 8/10
  • Thirst - 7/10
  • Practicality - 8/10
  • Comfort - 7.5/10
  • Tech - 8/10
  • Value - 8/10

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