Did you know they made three ‘Look Who’s Talking’ movies? Neither did anyone else, except maybe the lead actor, John Travolta, who in the early 1990s was staring down the barrel of complete has-been insignificance.
Then bam, in 1994 Vincent Vega exploded onto our screens and before you knew it, Adele Dazeem’s biggest fan was back on the A-list.
Has the Subaru Outback had its Pulp Fiction moment? A return from the brink brought about by sharper pricing, more equipment and a fresher look that now sees it enjoying more success than ever. At the end of 2014 the previous-iteration crossover wagon had sold just under 2500 units for the year. But with a call to the Wolf, 2015 sales soared to almost 11,000 vehicles.
Perhaps it was the Japanese Free-Trade Agreement that saw the Subaru range become better value almost overnight, or perhaps it was the deletion of the Liberty Touring wagon, thus helping the Outback be positioned as a marketing-friendly SUV rather than a crossover wagon. But whatever magic beans the Subaru team bought, its fair to say they worked.
The Outback range was updated again at the start of this year, which added the Eyesight driver assistance package to the 2016 Subaru Outback 2.0D Premium, which now might just very well be the pick of the bunch.
With a price increase of $1500 over the 2015 model, the $44,490 (before options and on-road costs) Outback diesel commands a $2500 premium over an equivalent 2.5i petrol model, but is still $4000 less than the range-topping 3.6R.
The Premium grade means a long list of standard equipment is fitted to the Subaru, and as previously noted, the only option at this point is colour (of which there are nine choices, ours being Venetian Red Pearl).
This ‘want for nothing’ approach is one of the most impressive packaging features of the Subaru. Navigation, alloy wheels, sunroof and leather seats are all included. Most importantly, the Generation-3 Eyesight driver assistance package is now included on the diesel models (not on manual transmission variants, though).
Eyesight combines adaptive cruise control, pre-collision detection, braking and swerving functions, and the lane departure warning and steering assistance systems. The update now includes cameras that can read the red brake lights of the car in front and either warn you or brake if a collision is imminent.
The system works constantly, and you get little lane-keeping reminders every time you even nudge the white line. It includes one of our favourite features, which we have called ‘Facebook Alert’, that notifies you if the car in front has moved off when in a traffic queue, and you aren’t paying attention.
Also new to the 2016 specification Outback is the addition of the Vision Assistance package which incorporates blind-spot monitoring, high-beam assistance and rear-cross traffic alert.
Many of the systems can be individually turned off using a bank of buttons by your right knee, but we found them non-intrusive enough to keep on all the time.
Ergonomics are good, although there are a lot of functional buttons around the cabin. Once you are used to the position and placement of core functions though, it all becomes simple enough to use.
We will note that the cruise control adjustment on the steering wheel requires a small movement for 1km/h adjustment and a minutely less small movement for 10km/h adjustment, making it all too easy to get the settings wrong and resulting in a much less-smooth transition than planned.
There is a stack of room behind every door, the Outback giving plenty of head and shoulder room (despite the sunroof) as well as great leg room for rear passengers.
You can recline the rear seats for a bit more comfort on long trips, and there is a lot of storage around the cabin, as well as multiple USB and 12-volt power outlets.
The leather seats themselves (heated in the front) are very comfortable, although the lumbar support on the driver’s seat could be a little more ‘supportive’. There is reach and rake adjustment on the steering wheel and great visibility all round, allowing for a good driving position which is crucial for long distance touring.
The 512-litre boot can expand to 1801L by folding the seats, and there is storage for the cargo blind, along with a spare wheel, under the boot floor.
The cabin materials, while a bit varied, seem to be nicer and more upmarket than they need to be. From the soft leather padding on the door arm-rests to the metal knobs and glass panel on the infotainment system, there are lots of touches that make the driving experience that much more pleasant.
Yes, there are plenty of generic plastic buttons and trim pieces, but things such as the textured plastic choice on the console could quite easily have been a basic piano-black element, but the extra attention to detail to use something a bit more ‘pleasant’ is what holds the Outback in such high esteem.
We found it quick to pair a phone to the seven-inch touchscreen media system, and while easy to make calls using the voice-command input, the Bluetooth quality wasn’t great, sounding a bit echo-y and compressed to the person on the other end.
The system is a little bit cumbersome to use, and not particularly attractive in its on-screen representation, but all the core features are there and they work well enough.
Featuring a 110kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, and six-speed CVT transmission, the Outback Premium isn’t setting out to scorch the tarmac, but the claimed consumption of 6.3L/100km (combined cycle) make it a more attractive option than the 7.3L/100km 2.5-litre petrol or 9.9L/100km 3.6 engines.
For our week of combined urban and country driving, we saw an overall figure of 8.4L/100km – which was dropping steadily given a bit of extra freeway driving on the last few days. Achieving something in the 7L/100km range would absolutely be possible.
The engine itself promises peak torque between 1600 and 2800rpm, but can feel reasonably sluggish off the mark. The torque band isn’t huge and so roll-on acceleration isn’t ever going to feel ‘exciting’ but there is enough power there for effortless cruising.
Country overtaking may need a bit more forward planning however. The legs are there, it just doesn’t pick up speed as rapidly as you would like. Subaru’s 3.6 engine remains our dynamic favourite for just this reason, but has the considerable fuel consumption increase as a trade-off.
We found the typical diesel clatter quite prominent when the engine was cold, but once up to temp, the trademark Boxer ‘thump’ would take over.
Despite being a rather big car (4815mm x 1840mm footprint), the Outback is very usable around town and light enough to feel at home in tight urban confines.
The suspension tune errs toward the comfort side, and the ride over uneven roads and speed bumps is compliant and always comfortable in the cabin.
Big mirrors and neat little class cutouts in the front of the door frames help with urban vision, and the powered tailgate can be set to open at a limited height should you find yourself in a more ‘cozy’ parking environment.
Stepping out of the city and onto a longer tour is where the Subaru Outback is most at home. Pay attention to the other cars next time you find yourself on a country jaunt, and you’ll be surprised just how many Subarus inhabit our roads.
It’s here where the Outback relaxes and becomes the excellent big-country tourer it was designed to be. The ride is perfectly suited to varying road surfaces, and the driver assistance features are less intrusive, but always active to keep you safe and sound.
Fuel consumption slipped to the 5L/100km range and for the most part, the Outback dealt with every road, traffic and weather condition we threw at it.
However, on a particularly windy day, we found the Outback more susceptible to crosswinds than expected. It didn’t feel as if it would be whisked away by the chilly southerly, but just wobbled a bit more than in normal conditions.
You could further simulate this by giving the steering wheel a little wiggle at touring speeds, the Outback responding like a much smaller car.
Despite being some 200kg lighter than the ageing Volvo XC70, at 1723kg, the Outback is within 10kg of the new Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, so it’s not just a matter of mass.
The softer suspension tune gives the car more room for lateral movement, which likely caused the sensation of lightness, but a lack of insulation could also be the key.
You can feel a discernible ‘cold patch’ in the cabin below the (closed) sunroof, and coarse-chip road noise was measured at over 70dB at 80km/h, indicating there is more that could be done to insulate the Outback from the outside elements.
A small gripe in the overall scheme of things though. Let’s not forget Travolta made Battlefield Earth…
We took the Outback through a short off-road loop and found its behaviour on unsealed surfaces confident and still comfortable.
There’s a tendency to push into corners on loose gravel, but never with an indication that the car is losing control. It remains a highly predictable and supremely capable machine.
When the surface became more wet and muddy however, the standard 225mm wide tyres would slip considerably and we found the car in regular, but controllable, understeer scenarios as grip levels further decreased.
Yes the Outback has the X-Mode hill-descent system, which is great at managing gearing and traction slippage, but it can’t overcome physical grip limits.
This is an AWD not a 4WD by the sense of the terms, and so while the Outback will get you a bit beyond the carpark, it isn’t designed for hard-core off-road adventuring.
One of the common criticisms of the Outback, and Subarus in general, is the cost of servicing. The 2016 Outback requiring a trip to the dealer every 12,500km or six months, whichever comes first.
Using the capped-price indications on Subaru’s website, three years of your Outback will cost just under $2500 in servicing fees alone. Compare this to the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack at $1290 for the same time period.
If you require servicing for distance intervals rather than time, the three year period sees service covering up to 75,000km. For the same distance travelled in the Passat, you’ll pay over $2700.
Like this, the costs come down to relative usage and the Subaru makes more sense for buyers who regularly clock up longer distances. Plus Subaru updates your GPS map data as part of the process — a lesson some of the German brands should learn.
So what does the Outback diesel need to be a 10/10 car? A little bit more power from the engine and a tune that helps pull better off the line and when overtaking would be great. Plus add better cabin insulation to help with noise and temperature intrusions, and give the car a more of a premium feel befitting the fact that it already feels like a premium car.
We’ve paired the Outback with the Skoda Scout and against the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, and each time it has come up trumps. Ditto against the Ford Territory. The model had its much needed reboot and hasn’t looked back.
Now, with diesel efficiency and all the driver assistance systems, the 2016 Subaru Outback Premium 2.0D makes an even more compelling case for being one of the best value, best packaged cars in Australia.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.