After all these years, I still think of the Subaru Outback as a wagon rather than SUV — the Forester too.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy a diesel Outback anymore, but the latest turbocharged petrol version certainly addresses any perceived deficiencies in performance.
And, like a fine wine, launched here in 1998, Outback continues to get better with age.
The one major gap in an otherwise impressive repertoire remains the fact that it seats only five.
In fact, Subaru hasn’t offered a seven-seater since the propeller-nosed Tribeca in 2013.
But you’re not likely to receive any complaints from those five people in a car that really is a benchmark for comfort and features, given its relatively modest price.
What’s it cost?
Prices for Outback start from $42,690.
Two turbocharged versions are offered: Outback AWD Sport XT is $52,190 while Outback AWD Touring XT is $55,990 — $5000 more than their standard counterparts.
The Autumn Green Metallic colour of our test vehicle looks very army and provides a real point of difference, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste (my wife hates it).
Paint appears to be a no-cost option.
To distinguish turbo models, they feature dual tailpipes to go with the extra performance, although they are barely visible below the back bumper.
There’s also an ‘XT’ badge (remember the powerhouse XT Forester) and LED fog lights that are made up of six LEDs — we’re told it’s an homage to the Subaru badge which features six stars.
Like other versions the turbo rides on 18-inch alloys with 225/60 series rubber and water repellent, synthetic leather seat trim. Touring adds nappa leather.
A full-size alloy spare is provided.
Standard equipment includes dual zone climate air with rear vents, heated and power-adjust front seats, electric lumbar for the driver, heated rear window seats and a power tailgate.
There’s also push-button start, auto lights and wipers, auto dimming mirror, auto high beam, rear park sensors, self-levelling, daytime LEDs, steering-responsive LED headlights and adaptive cruise control.
For some reason front parking sensors have always been a dealer fit option.
Subaru was slow to the infotainment party, but has made up for lost time with a big, impressive system that’s dominated by a large 11.6-inch tablet-style touchscreen.
It has reportedly been redesigned for the latest model to improve user friendliness, with new shortcut buttons, updated climate control buttons and full screen Android Auto.
XT Sport features Bluetooth, voice control, AM/FM and DAB+ Digital radio, built-in satellite navigation, plus wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, along with six-speaker audio. The CD player has gone to God.
Physical buttons such as the climate control panel have been integrated into the screen, with convenience and operability prioritised through shortcut switches for some frequently used features.
There’s two 12v/120v power outlets,, USB-A and -C ports and AUX in the front console, plus another two USB-A charge ports in the back.
Five star safety starts with eight airbags, a rear view camera and Autonomous emergency braking (Car to Car, Vulnerable Road User, Junction Assist and Backover).
EyeSight 4.0 features roadside speed sign recognition, adjustable speed limiting, and intersection crash avoidance using new cameras with a wider field of view and a lower profile inside the cabin.
There’s also a lane support system with lane keep assist (LKA), lane departure warning (LDW) and emergency lane keeping (ELK) and an advanced speed assistance system (SAS).
Three standard child seats anchor points are provided along with two Isofix anchor points.
Outback is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty period along with 12-months complimentary Subaru Roadside Assistance.
A three-year service plan is $1355.
What’s it go like?
Apart from the turbocharged engine, the other big change is the switch to the Subaru Global Platform (SGP), which is stiffer and provides the scope to use of alternative powertrains — such as hybrid or fully-electric setups.
Turbocharged variants benefit from a more powerful 2.4-litre horizontally-opposed DIT Boxer four-cylinder petrol engine that delivers 183kW of power at 5200 rpm and 350Nm of torque from 2000-4800 rpm.
With maximum torque kicking in from a low 2000 revs, Subaru says the turbo does the dash from 0-100km/h about 22 per cent quicker than naturally aspirated models (but they don’t reveal what that time is).
Transmission is to all four wheels via a CVT-style auto, with auto-engine stop-start and gear changes paddles provided for manual operation.
Auto Stop-Start now incorporates “Change of Mind Control” which as its name suggests, restarts the engine within 0.2 of a second — if you change your mind.
Although described as symmetrical all-wheel drive, like most systems these days it is actually a part-time system with torque transmitted to the rear wheels as required (read the fine print).
In manual mode the CVT features seven steps or simulated gears, with the addition of Intelligent and Sport modes plus two-mode X-Mode for off-road driving.
With 213mm of ground clearance, X-Mode is designed for use below 40km/h with one setting optimised for snow and dirt and the other for deep snow and mud.
Fuel consumption from the 63-litre tank is a claimed 9.0L/100km compared to 7.3L/100km for the standard model, and it takes premium 95 unleaded.
CO2 emissions are 204g/km.
The suspension has been re-tuned to accommodate the new engine, with different settings for the springs and dampers, and the result is first rate.
The extra torque of the turbocharged engine has also allowed the tow capacity to be increased 400kg, up from 2000 to 2400kg.
Outback is easy to get in and out of, with a cabin that is a nice to be.
The seats are large and comfy, something Subaru has always done well, and the ride is quiet and buttery smooth (in contrast to the Jeep we drove previously).
All-round vision is excellent and you can see where the front of the bonnet is when it comes to parking.
The large physical blind spot lights that never fail to capture attention.
Elbow room is a bit snug however, so be sure to try it on for size.
The interior layout looks pretty much the same as previous Outback that we drove a couple of years back, but the front seats have been redesigned with advanced shaping and support to reduce fatigue over longer distances.
Although the infotainment system looks impressive, the instrument cluster has a bit of catching up to do.
It retains old-style analogue gauges that flank a small central driver info screen with fuel consumption figures etc.
You be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
At 4870mm in length, with a 2745mm wheelbase, rear legroom in the wagon is excellent as is cargo capacity, with 522 litres available with second-row seats in use and 1267 litres with them down.
Standing 1670mm high, it’s also easy to wash compared to most SUVs.