The Subaru Outback is an interesting car, and until the arrival of the Tribeca it had always been the relatively out of place car in Subaru showrooms.
Based on the Liberty platform, the model was introduced back in 1996 to fill the gap for those after a Liberty that offers more versatility, especially when it comes to off-roading.
Of course the Outback makes perfect sense, the Liberty’s symmetrical all-wheel drive is more than capable of overcoming dirt and mud but it lacks the ground clearance and is not specifically designed for that purpose, enter the Outback.
Subaru did their planning well as more than 65,000 Outbacks have so far been sold and that’s probably more than anyone would’ve expected from such a niche car.
This week sees the launch of the fourth generation Outback and along with testing the new Subaru Liberty I took the Outback for a drive as well.
The biggest problem with the new Outback isn’t really anything other than a timing issue.
Subaru is bringing the 2.0-litre diesel variant of the Outback to Australia in November and as much as I like the 2.5-litre and the 3.6-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engines available now, the diesel makes so much more sense.
Subaru says the diesel Outback can cover about 1000km on a tank and Subaru rally driver Cody Crocker, who joined us at the press launch, confirmed that he has managed more than 1100km.
I can’t tell you how the diesel variant goes as they are yet to be made available for press evaluation. However I can tell you about the new Outback as a whole.
So far as external design goes, I’ll be the first to admit I like the look of the new Outback, it’s a huge step forward in modernising the previous generation which lacked that refined edge.
As is the trend with many new models, the new Outback is the biggest incarnation of the model yet, it’s 65mm longer, 50mm wider and 70mm higher, this means more leg, shoulder and head room.
There is now an extra 30mm of space between the front seats, which has been gained by removing the traditional hand brake and going for an electronic one. Rear legroom is increased by 99mm allowing five adults to now sit comfortably for long distance drives.
Although all the extra room comes with extra weigh, it doesn’t mean it’s thirstier, in fact it uses less fuel than the previous generations thanks to a new CVT transmission and better engine management.
If you’re interested in the new Subaru CVT gearbox it’s explained in more detail in the New Liberty review. It’s also safer and produces less CO2 emissions.
The 2.5-litre Outback produces 123kW and 229Nm and comes for the first time in both CVT and six-speed manual, however it’s safe to say 3.6-litre or better yet, the soon to arrive 2.0-litre diesel should be considered for that extra pulling power.
It’s hard to say how the 2.5i CVT will be received, it makes sense to have a more fuel efficient transmission but whether or not it’s needed in a car better suited to rural buyers, we will have to wait and see.
With rain pouring down, the temperature reading seven degrees and the drive route completely covered in mud and water, Subaru still happily gave me the keys to the Outback 3.6R. So I headed out through some relatively nerve racking and slippery terrain in outback (no pun intended) Daylesford, in central Victoria.
After a few minutes in the mud, you’ll notice pretty quickly that the Outback actually behaves like most larger four-wheel drives but with much better steering feel and handling. Obviously you wouldn’t take it climbing up massive hills and slopes but so far as driving on slippery mud, dirt or through water, it’s pretty darn good.
More notably though, the ride is very soft over bumps, so much so that I started wondering if handling had been compromised to compensate, it hasn’t. Subaru Australia spent a considerable amount of time testing the Outback in, you guessed it, outback Australia, the main reason being the tuning of the suspension and the active safety controls.
Testing out the car’s off-road ability I deliberately went over giant potholes, cornered quickly through slippery mud, hit the brakes through water and did whatever else you can think of.
Although CarAdvice will have much more to tell you after we’ve spent a week in it for a full review, my first impressions were pretty good. It can pretty much go anywhere so long as the ground clearance allows it.
Having finally left the dirt and muddy roads, the MY10 Outback behaves very much the same as the new Liberty on tarmac despite having a ground clearance of 213mm, which is 63mm more than the Liberty. Confidence is not an issue when cornering even in the wet, although, just like the Liberty, I did find the electronics just a tad too intrusive for my liking.
Moving inside, the same overly hard plastics from the Liberty are found throughout the cabin, additionally the ‘wood grain’ inserts are unnecessary and take away from the interior’s otherwise classy look. Perhaps it’s also worth noting that the top of the range McIntosh sound system has a rather out of place look to it, the basic model’s stereo looks more appealing and modern.
Front and rear seats are quite comfortable and having spent 20 minutes in the back seat while the car was being flung around muddy roads, I can safely say long distance drives even in the country roads would not be an issue for adults sitting in the rear.
The steering-wheel mounted paddles on the automatic variants are also a good new addition, Subaru has gone for the more classy non-plastic approach and the paddles are almost better than some you’ll find in car’s worth three times the price.
Until the diesel engine arrives in a few months time, there are currently five variants on sale. The entry model 2.5i which is available with with the choice of Lineartronic CVT or six-speed manual transmission, while the 2.5i Premium adds leather trim, electric sunroof and rear air vents. You can option it with the SatNav pack to add DVD capability, reversing camera and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
The new top of the range 3.6-litre engine replaces the 3.0-litre but is essentially the same size, uses less fuel and produces more power. Unfortunately the CVT transmission can’t take the 350Nm of torque so Subaru has stuck with the five-speed automatic.
The six-cylinder 3.6R variant also gets Xenon HID low beam headlights. Tick the Premium box and you’ll get SatNav, DVD, reversing camera, Bluetooth compatibility, leather trim, power passenger seat, McIntosh sound system and electric sunroof.
Overall the Outback has only improved on an already successful formula, it’s the perfect adventurous family car that can tough it out back. If you’re interested in one, I strongly recommend the diesel variant that will arrive in November.
Stay tuned for a comprehensive review of the new Outback in the coming weeks. Also check back regularly for news on the Outback 2.0-litre diesel.