The Subaru Outback is an ideal family car if you need a rugged but civilised city-friendly SUV with bulletproof reliability and the benefit of full-time all-wheel drive.
Having given back our Hyundai i40 wagon long termer, we needed something else that could cater to our needs. Something with adequate space for a baby seat and pram plus all the things that come with having a one year old.
The Subaru Outback has always been top-of-mind, we’ve already had two in the family (and an XV) so when the opportunity came to take a brand-new 2.5-litre four-cylinder automatic Premium variant for a long term review, it was too good to pass up.
The Outback is classified as a large SUV, but it’s certainly not as high as a traditional SUV. In fact, it’s really just a higher-riding Subaru Liberty wagon with some physical enhancements to give it a more rugged look. In essence, it is to the Subaru Liberty what the Subaru XV is to the Subaru Impreza.
From the outside the Outback hasn’t changed much for the last few years, this current shape has been around since 2009 but it still looks fresh, thanks largely to its clean but sharp design.
Getting in is simple and that extra ride height over a traditional wagon (such as the i40) makes it much easier for putting the little one in his seat. It’s higher than your average car but not high enough to make it intimidating to park. It feels perfectly at ease in tight car park spaces and we’ve had no trouble getting it and out of small city parking lots.
It comes with a reversing camera (displayed through the large 8-inch central LCD system when the vehicle is in reverse gear) but for some reason the Outback premium misses out on rear and front parking sensors as standard. Although the reversing camera is helpful, we would definitely opt for the reversing sensors as well, since they provide a more useful guide using audible warnings, which doesn’t take your eyes of the road. The sensors are available as an accessory from Subaru or for about $300 from a third party.
Seating position is easily adjustable (8-way power driver’s seat) and the steering wheel moves in and out as well as up and down for perfect alignment. The speedometer and other driver-focused instruments are clear and easy to read regardless of steering position.
The location of the satellite navigation screen means you’ll need to take your eyes off the road to glance (if you’re not good at following audible instructions) but given its large size and good clarity, it’s a non-issue. Strangely, the large screen doesn’t dim when the headlights are on, you have to manually tell it to go into night mode which can be a tad annoying.
The rear seats are very spacious and despite housing a rather chunky infant seat, there’s enough room to fit two adults as well. The rear also get air conditioning vents, which are a must in Queensland summers. Overall there are plenty of storage spaces throughout the cabin, some with rubber lining that makes them ideal for placing phones and other slippery valuables. The boot can take our oversized pram and the week’s groceries without complaint. We managed to fit multiple suitcases as well as a pram for a weekend away with room to spare.
The six-speaker audio system provides excellent sound quality, though it did take us a while to work out how to get the Bluetooth audio streaming to work properly with our iPhone. If you opt for the Premium grade (tested here), which comes with the satellite navigation, you won’t have a USB port for audio purposes and will instead have to make do with RCA jacks that are somewhat pointless for today’s modern gadgets and also don’t provide charge. You can, however, get an adapter that will make the iPod sing and we believe that Subaru is looking at upgrading its media interface in the next model year.
The 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine is good for 123kW of power and 229Nm of torque. Which is reasonable considering the Outback only weighs 1.5 tonnes. If you go the automatic route you’ll be using a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is unlike a traditional automatic but does its best to behave as such. In-gear acceleration is smooth and it certainly doesn’t feel gutless for inner city driving or overtaking on the highway. It’s not as gutsy as the diesel Outback (360Nm of torque) but then again, that’s not available in an automatic (yet).
Steering feel is almost not worth mentioning as it’s perfectly suited to the character of the car. It’s not too heavy or too light. It’s ideal for car parks but feels responsive and provides adequate feedback for when you get a bit enthusiastic. The Yokohama Geolandar tyres are perhaps the only downside of the Outback’s driving dynamics as they tend not to provide the best grip when its wet, this is the same issue we have in our Subaru XV which makes use of the same tyres. They provide ample grip in the dry, however.
After spending a month in the Subaru Outback, we’ve found it to be an ideal family car. It’s quiet, spacious, refined and comes with Subaru’s well-known emphasis on safety (maximum five-star safety rating). Our average fuel economy for the first 1,500km of the car’s life has been 9.3L/100km, which is not bad considering it has spent most of its time driving short distances and has barely been bedded in.
The Subaru Outback is a very comfortable and reliable family car. My favourite feature is the large screen, which displays the wide-angle reversing camera, which allows the driver to see far more than just what is directly behind the car.
The Outback could make use of parking sensors especially in the front of the car. Although parking the large Subaru is relatively easy, even in the tight underground shopping car parks. The Outback contains plenty of room for the family to sit comfortably along with all the bits and bobs needed for a couple of days away over the school holidays.
We will be updating our long term test again next month, feel free to ask any questions you may have regarding the Subaru Outback and we will get back to you with a detailed answer.