I have to 'fess up early. I quite like Subaru. I owned a 2004 Forester for six years as my daily commuter, outdoor gear hauler and surfing wagon.
Like the Forester I owned, the 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium is a wagon design. It's a beefed-up version of the Subaru Liberty wagon, with greater ground clearance and slightly more off-road moxie.
The Forester I owned was a great vehicle; economical to run, spacious inside and inexpensive to service. Functional, not fancy. Nothing ever went wrong with that car. I eventually moved on, but my love for the brand remained.
Sure, the Forester wasn't the most glamorous looking car in silver body with grey plastic wheel arches and bumpers, but it was practical and once I was behind the wheel I couldn't see the grey plastic at all. Today's Outback seems much nicer and luxurious than the slightly smaller Forester of old.
The 2.5i Premium we have sits in the middle of the petrol range with the slightly lower spec 2.5i at the entry point and the 3.6R at the top end of town. There are also two diesel options powered by a 2.0L diesel boxer engine.
The 2.5i premium did get a full CarAdvice test here back in July 2016, so we won't rehash the entire review. Instead, our mission with this one was to load up the wagon and hit the road for a weekend of mountain biking around the Snowy Mountains.
Let's start there. Finding room for your gear in the Subaru Outback is easy given the expansive internal space. Opening the automatic tailgate to access it, not so much. Several times we used slightly too much force on the door handle which had the effect of seizing the door, slightly ajar but definitely not opening automatically as it should.
A manual lift was similarly pointless, if not impossible. It required a second press of the release button to force the boot to shut again before a more deft touch to see it open properly. Frustrating to say the least.
Once properly open though, the station wagon footprint has a ridiculous amount of room at 512 litres with the rear seats in place and a whopping 1801 litres with the seats down. This was our preferred layout allowing us to fit in riding gear, camera equipment, clothing bags and finally some fishing gear too just in case we found some time for a quick flick in the nearby Thredbo River.
We hardly filled the space and easily had room for another person and appropriate gear if we had packed in a more thoughtful fashion. As it was, we had the space to just throw everything in.
Reaching into the vehicle from the back is mostly easy, although the front-to-back depth does mean you will be moving around to the rear doors to position anything directly behind the front seats properly. This length does make the space perfect for long items such as surfboards, snowboards and ski equipment.
The Outback also has moulded roof rails and integrated cross bars should you need to keep anything externally. We had a bike rack fitted. It was a Thule which keeps the bike upright and locked in place with a strap over the rear rim and bracket holding the front wheel in place.
The rack is easy to use for one person and while the car's roofline isn't high, it is still an effort getting the bike up there and heavy bicycles would create more of a struggle for one person.
Once packed, it was time for the five- six-hour haul to Jindabyne from Sydney. With car-like handling the Outback is similarly comfortable inside.
The cabin is tidy and clean with a good level of adjustment between the wheel, driver's seat and mirrors allowing you to find a comfortable driving position with good external vision.
The seat is supportive and more than comfortable for long hauls on road similar to the one we undertook.
Driver aids such as Subaru's EyeSight is standard across the entire range. This system includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and steering assist (which we did not test) and lane departure warning, which at times went off with annoying frequency on country roads when it wasn't needed or not at all in some spots.
I couldn't quite figure it out myself, but you can turn it off if preferred. The 2.5i Premium also has blind-spot monitoring warning you via a flashing orange icon on the side mirror. It also adds lane change assist, high beam assist and automatic dimming rear view mirror all of which I either didn't use nor notice any dramatic effects from.
The dash is executed well with the larger touchscreen display available in the 2.5i Premium taking pride of place in the centre. It's relatively intuitive and provides access to all of the car's computerised systems. It is finished in high gloss, though and is admittedly hard to read while wearing polarised sunglasses.
Below the screen, the dual zone climate controls are again neatly laid out offering separate driver and passenger controls. In addition all of the controls are available on the steering wheel.
It would be entirely understandable if you were to look at the steering wheel in confusion, but once you're accustomed to the layout, everything, including the cruise control, is easy to use.
On the road, the Outback is delightful to drive. Ample visibility is provided via the driving position. The steering is light and responsive with minimal kickback even on dirt roads. While still being a medium-to-large car, it is easy to handle and park in any situation.
The suspension is firm but finds its groove on the open freeway. It was also more than comfortable on dirt roads and definitely transmits more of a tuned car feel than sloppy station wagon or large SUV.
I was surprised by the amount of road noise for a car of this size and internal refinement. It is loud, not unnervingly so, but loud enough to be noticeable. In addition the engine itself is loud. It doesn't respond well to planting your foot and overtaking is probably best done by allowing plenty of space to wind the car up. Once it's there though, it stays there with relative ease.
If you're okay with getting there but not in a way that feels fast and flashy, it's perfect. And for most people that's fine.
The Subaru 2.5i Premium got us to the Snowy Mountains in complete comfort. Once at speed it is a pleasure to drive and the addition of a bike rack on the roof was hardly noticeable. I did glance through the sunroof a couple of times to make sure it was still there.
The road from Sydney to our final destination at Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa covers all types of roads from freeway to Alpine touring and the vehicle handled each in equal measure. It also had room for all our riding gear including helmets, clothes, shoes plus fishing gear and luggage.
With the seats up, more judicious packing may be required but a family could still get away with the space available.
The tracks around Lake Crackenback are built more for the adventurous family, making it the perfect destination for a family weekender and the 2.5i Outback Premium the perfect accompaniment.
Elsewhere in the region there are hundreds of kilometres of tracks catering to all types of riding from intermediate to hardcore expert-level downhill runs.
The nearby stream fishing is not only beautiful but exciting and relaxing. I did manage to lose six from six fish I hooked, but the scenery made that more than bearable.
With the addition of the easily available bike rack, the Subaru Outback cuts a purposeful figure. Comfort extends from the front seats to the back and it's not a bad looking car either. That certainly adds to the appeal.
Subaru has managed to integrate the plastic components more fashionably than in models from years gone by so they no longer look like an add-on. And it's much nicer to drive than some SUVs too.