Minor revisions to what is already an excellent choice in the large SUV segment.
The 2016 Subaru Outback update takes what is already one of the most impressive large crossover SUVs on the market and adds an array of active safety features and other technological improvements.
The Subaru Outback has always been short of rivals, given it is essentially a giant wagon. Though it’s categorised (and hence, insured as) a large SUV, the Outback is broadly a Subaru Liberty wagon, a model that the Japanese brand dropped with the introduction of the new-generation.
That strategy, thanks to big price cuts at launch, seems to have worked rather well, as sales of the new Outback increased by 345 percent in 2015, going from 2457 in 2014 to 10,927 a year later. The large SUV is currently the fourth best-selling car in its class, after the Toyota Prado, Kluger and the Jeep Grand Cherokee – vehicles that are largely incomparable to the Outback’s car-like characteristics.
The Outback is a hugely versatile car, though it seats just five, the room in both the front and rear seats is substantial. It’s the sort of car you can easily fit two child seats in the back of and still fit an adult in the middle. Subaru has made great use of space in the second row and there’s an enormity of legroom.
Then there’s the boot, which with a 512-litre luggage capacity is substantial enough to store a large pram and a month’s worth of shopping without any issues. It’s more the depth and size of the boot that gives it the versatility to carry large boxes and those even longer items can be stored without problem once the rear seats are folded down, to expand the luggage space to an enormous 1801L.
Measuring 4815mm in length, 1840mm in width and sitting 1675mm high, the 2016 Subaru Outback is by no means a small car. So for what it does well in terms of versatility and practicality, it does have the characteristics of being large. But it’s no SUV, at least not when it comes to driving dynamics.
While the smaller (but no less practical) Forester sits up high like a more traditional SUV (60mm higher than Outback), the Outback has a more car-like stance, and its lower centre of gravity and wider footprint makes it an ideal choice for those that need the room and practicality of an SUV without the imposing shape or stigma.
The Subaru Outback is offered with three different engines, a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder (129 kW – 235 Nm), a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel (110 kW - 350 Nm) and the range-topping 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol (191 kW - 350Nm). Full specification including fuel economy figures here.
The 2016 updates see all automatic models gain the brand’s Eyesight driver assist system, finalising the system's roll out across the entire range with the addition of the diesel models (manual models excluded).
The Subaru Eyesight system, now in its third generation, brings technologies such as adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, pre-collision braking assist, pre-collision steering assist, lane departure warning and lead vehicle start alert to Outback.
Behind the wheel, the Outback is a solid drive. It doesn’t suffer from the floatiness of cars such as the Prado or Kluger, and its constant all-wheel drive system gives it the sure footedness that Subaru is known for.
The base model 2.5-litre engine could certainly do with more torque as it tends to linger somewhat when at full throttle, not helped by its continuously variable transmission (CVT) that seems to compromise performance for the sake of fuel economy.
It’s very much a decent engine, as in, it will get the job done without much hassle, but ideally the 2.0-litre diesel would be the pick of the three, as the extra torque helps with carrying weight up hills – though the diesel is hindered by a shortage of power that is evident when the right pedal is flat to the floor on a straight road.
The 3.6-litre six-cylinder unit is by far the best choice if power and performance are the primary prerequisites, but its extra cost over the diesel is somewhat hard to justify, as is its appetite for fuel.
For our review of the new 2016 Outback, we visited Mt Gambier and navigated our way through plenty of country roads and tracks, showcasing the Outback’s ability to deal with rough surfaces as well as the suburban sprawl.
Part of our instructions for the drive was to not feel as though we had gone down the wrong track, such was the nature of some of the country roads that they felt more like a bush rally than anything else.
For its part, the Subaru Outback is the ideal choice for families to traverse into country roads, it eats up poorly surfaced tarmac or dirt roads without the slightest complaint and its suspension is ideally setup to deal with such environments.
That’s not to say it’s not for the city, because it does that rather well. It’s softer in its ride, so it’s by no means as composed around corners as a Liberty, but what it lacks in dynamic capability compared to its sedan brother, it still has in spades over its most direct competitors. Its 213mm ground clearance is good enough to get you out of most places, too.
The interior is typical Subaru, which means practical but spartan. There’s everything you need in there and the mid-spec Premium would be the ideal choice to gain the satellite navigation and leather trim, but none of it really feels all that upmarket.
We found plenty of storage compartments in both rows and easy places to store large smartphones.
The Eyesight active safety system can at times drive you mad, beeping constantly as you brush a white line, but it's one of those things that may one day save you and your family's life, so it's easy to put up with and definitely a bonus to have. Alternatively, you can switch it off for those short suburban drives and have it on when going for longer drivers where fatigue may become a factor.
Overall the Subaru Outback range remains one that is hard to beat. Subaru’s three-year warranty may deter some, but with the addition of fixed-priced servicing, the Outback’s proven reputation and reliability makes it the best choice in its segment, and the 2016 updates have only further reinforced its position.
Fixed priced servicing: