Since the launch of the fifth-generation Subaru Outback last year, sales are not only up, they are increasing. In fact, the Outback was the fifth-highest selling large SUV in June, behind the Holden Captiva, Toyota Prado, Toyota Kluger, and Hyundai Santa Fe. And it remains the third-biggest seller year-to-date, behind the just-mentioned Toyota pair.
The arrival of the new generation saw a host of changes that, judging by the numbers, have been embraced by buyers. Yes, even Subaru's protective (and ugly?) black cladding around the wheel arches, fog light housings, lower rear bumper and side rails, has found favour among the SUV-loving masses.
Not that the Outback is technically an SUV. It started life as a jacked-up version of the Liberty wagon, which doesn't exist anymore, making the Outback a wagon/SUV crossover. Bearing this in mind, the Outback has few direct competitors. The Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is the closest match, essentially being a lifted all-wheel-drive Passat wagon, while the Skoda Octavia Scout is also a 4x4 wagon, though, it's technically classified as a medium passenger car, rather than an SUV.
At the large SUV end of town, alongside the Toyota Prado, Kluger, and Fortuner, there's the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Ford Territory and Everest, and Holden Captiva and Colorado 7 - though these are larger, pricier, and unequivocally fit into the SUV mould.
Theoretically, the Subaru Outback is better placed alongside higher spec medium SUVs - it's similarly priced to the Hyundai Tucson, for example - so we'd expect some cross-shopping to be going on in that arena.
Our test car is the mid-spec petrol model, the 2.5i Premium. Priced at $41,990 (before on-road costs), the 2.5i Premium sits between the base 2.5i at $35,990 and the top-spec 3.6R Premium at $48,490.
The diesel range consists of the 2.0D for $36,490 and the 2.0D Premium at $42,990. All variants have Subaru's iconic symmetrical AWD system, and only the diesel can be had with a six-speed manual transmission. The rest of the line-up, including our 2.5i Premium, have a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with paddle shifters.
The Outback has quite a following in regional areas because of its symmetrical AWD system. It's not on-demand, it's always on and the 50:50 torque split doesn't change. Thus, with its signature AWD system and horizontally-opposed 'boxer' engine on board, the Outback has two of the brand's calling-cards, and if you ask the fans, they wouldn't have it any other way. The rear-wheel-drive BRZ is the only Subaru without the symmetrical AWD system, though, it still has the 'boxer' engine.
Regardless of trim level, all Outbacks get roof rails with integrated cross bars, fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, a full-size spare wheel, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, a touchscreen infotainment system, rear-view camera, 'X-mode' with hill-descent control, and Subaru's EyeSight driver assist system.
The Outback is spacious and family friendly, and the 2.5i Premium could arguably be the pick of the range. We've previously criticised the diesel engine for being a little sluggish, and the larger petrol engine can get a little thirsty. With an impressive level of included kit, the Premium is hard to overlook.
The 2016 updates include extra safety features such as SRVD - Subaru's Side/Rear Vehicle Detection, which consists of blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert - as well as an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, high beam assist, and three years of free satellite navigation map updates. The 2016 model also gets a revised grille and only costs $500 more than the 2015 version.
Above the base model, the 2.5i Premium gets quite a few extra goodies too, including automatic LED headlights, a power tailgate, electrically-adjustable and heated front seats, a push-button start, and app connectivity.
It also has comfortable and supportive leather trimmed, eight-way power adjustable seats with lumbar support and driver memory. Even with the electric sunroof above, and the EyeSight driver assist system and sunglasses holder positioned at the top of the windscreen, there is still plenty of head clearance.
The textured black dash top has a rubbery finish that's not as strange feeling as it sounds, while the rest of the dash and doors have a touch of gloss black and silver in the finishes. There's even stitched leather trim on the doors, a built-in water bottle holder, and a funky blue ambient light in the door handle recess.
A 7-inch touchscreen sits front and centre, with buttons either side for map, audio, telephone, apps (MirrorLink and Pandora), information and settings. It's cleanly laid out, clear in its display of information, and takes no time at all to get used to.
Under the dual-zone climate control buttons there's a good-sized storage nook with 12-volt, AUX and two USB outlets, two cup holders and both the glove box and centre console bin are lined.
The steering wheel-mounted controls put the radio, volume, telephone, voice command, adaptive cruise control and drive mode settings all at your fingertips, as well as the functions housed in the instrument cluster display. You can change the volume for the alerts (SRVD and EyeSight), the timer for the interior light, and the timer for the defogger, plus access your trip data.
There's a cluster of buttons on the lower dash to the right of the steering wheel to control the brightness level of both the infotainment and driver information displays, open the boot, and turn blind-spot monitoring, lane departure, auto stop/start, and traction control on and off.
The amount of space in the second row is impressive. It's incredibly spacious and it's obvious why the Outback is such a popular option for families. The outboard seats are comfortable and nicely moulded, there are bottle holders plus can holders in the doors, blue lights in the door handle recesses, leather map pockets behind both seats, and rear air vents.
The fold-down centre armrest is large, wide and feels solid. There are two cup holders with silver trim around the rims. The middle seat is flat and not too high, even taking the room the sunroof takes up into account, and though the transmission tunnel between your feet is narrow, it's quite high.
The rear seats are 60:40 split-fold, and there are levers on both sides of the boot for easy use. The Outback has a reasonable amount of boot space at 512 litres - generous when you consider the Forester has a cargo capacity of 422L - and that expands to 1801L with the rear seats folded flat. When you look at a few other cars for comparison though, the Sorento has 605L (in five-seat configuration), the Tucson 488L, the Passat Alltrack 586L, and there's 588L in the Octavia Scout.
But the boot floor is nice and flat, there are pop-out shopping bag hooks, the electric tailgate (though slow) is handy, there's a full-size spare under the solid floor, and a light on the roof above the boot space.
It's got a great rugged feel to it that is in stark contrast to the modern, and dare I say stylish, features of the interior. The exterior has a sporty yet country vibe, and you can hear the iconic 'boxer' engine note, though it's not overbearing.
Under the bonnet is the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol version of Subaru's horizontally-opposed 'boxer' engine that produces 129kW of power and 235Nm of torque, teamed with a CVT. It's not in a particular rush to go anywhere, but the CVT is smooth and well-tuned, it's casually confident around town and equally well behaved on the highway.
There are two drive modes to choose from; 'Intelligent' and 'Sport'. Intelligent mode is designed for around town and regulates the engine and throttle performance for optimal fuel efficiency, while Sport mode beefs up the acceleration and delivers more power for a sportier experience, particularly suited to the open road. The paddle shifters are far more fun in Sport mode too - don't even bother in Intelligent mode unless you're bored.
Fuel economy is a claimed 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres, and during our time we recorded a respectable 9.2L/100km.
Thanks to its AWD system and rather balanced body control, throwing the Outback around corners is a joy. There's a confidence in its footing and a sense of grace about the way it handles winding roads. Though it's not a hardcore off-roader, it can certainly handle a good dose of the great outdoors.
When you do head off the bitumen, 'X-Mode' is designed for rough, loose surfaces, slippery slopes and steep inclines. When activated, information like steering angle and vehicle dynamics are displayed in the instrument cluster display.
The ride is quite firm and almost 'sporty' feeling, but doesn't make occupants feel jolted about, nor is it jarring. It's relatively compliant over potholes and speed bumps, and comfortable on smooth stretches of road.
The Outback comes with Subaru's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, three years or 75,000km capped-price servicing program, and 12 months roadside assist.
The Subaru Outback is a tried and tested family car. It combines the best of an SUV with the practicality of a wagon in a rugged yet sporty-looking exterior that hides quite a modern and tech-laden interior. The engine may be a little modest, but for the price, swag of included features, and its reputation, there's little wonder it's so popular.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium images by Sam Venn.