Many alternatives have gone by the by. All-wheel-drive wagons with slight bush ability are thin on the ground these days. Aside from Skoda and Subaru, if you want four driven wheels underneath a slightly high-riding wagon (not an SUV), you're paying big bucks.
Yes, Subaru counts the Outback as an SUV. But, let’s call a spade a spade: the Outback is a wagon. A jacked-up wagon.
I mean, what is an SUV, anyway? Most of us know that it stands for Sports Utility Vehicle, and broadly refers to large-ish, high-riding vehicles with lots of interior space and some potential off-road ability. But, the true meaning seems to have been lost these days amongst the blurred lines of sports SUVs, performance SUVs, small SUVs, SUV coupes, crossovers and so-called city SUVs.
Everyone wants an SUV these days, but the definition seems to be more of an idea bouncing around in the zeitgeist rather than a true style or discipline.
Regardless, the all-wheel-drive wagon is something Subaru has done (and done well) for many years, so it’s good to see it sticking to its guns in the otherwise SUV-crazy market. Sometimes it’s better to try and beat them than join them.
We’ve got a 2020 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium, which has an asking price of $43,940. It measures in at 4820mm long, 1840mm wide and 1675mm high. With a 1639kg kerb weight, a 2100kg GVM yields a payload of 461kg. Braked towing capacity for the 2.5-litre Outback is 1500kg.
Under the bonnet is a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol that makes 129kW at 5800rpm and 235Nm at 4000rpm.
Claimed fuel consumption for this breed of Outback is 7.3 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle. We weren't able to match that, using 8.4 litres per hundred kays on our test. The Outback is happy on 91RON unleaded petrol.
Worth noting: this is a slightly older take on the 2.5-litre donk in the newer Forester, although Subaru does claim there to be 90 per cent worth of difference. The new engine brings direct injection and an increased compression ratio, leaving it with more power (136kW) and torque (239Nm at 4400rpm). Not much in it, then: 7kW and 4Nm.
The new Outback will likely get this new iteration of the engine (it's already available overseas), which is touted to run slightly more efficiently. However, the current Outback sticks to the older engine.
This will also join a new platform, which debuted with the Impreza in 2016. It’s called the Subaru Global Platform, and follows in the trend of a single adaptable platform capable of being stretched and pulled to suit different models.
Although this 2.5-litre engine does seem to be the most popular variant, you can choose to power your Outback wagon with a couple of different options under the bonnet. While all run through a ‘Lineartronic’ continuously variable transmission to all four wheels, your other choices are a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel (110kW/350Nm) or 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol (191kW/350Nm), both in boxer configuration.
Whereas the Outback 2.5 Premium like ours has a before on-roads price of $43,940, the diesel-powered Outback Premium goes for $46,940. Or, the big block costs the most: $50,440 before on-road costs.
Although it doesn’t read like a whole lot on paper, this 2.5-litre Outback feels adequately powered around town and along the highway. While not feeling outright underpowered, some situations like steep hills or short overtaking opportunities could have you wishing for a few more ponies.
On the plus side, it’s a smooth and relatively responsive operator. The SI Drive modes don't make a whole lot of difference in my experience, but that’s alright. The way the Outback is set up lets you get the best out of the driveline, even if a little extra wouldn’t hurt at times.
Subaru is well known for doing a CVT well, and this Outback is no different. It doesn’t drone or lug forever, ‘shifting’ between artificial steps nicely. When you need maximum go forward, it shifts towards that space between peak torque and power without too much fuss.
The Outback’s ride qualities provide little room for complaint. There are no trick adaptive or active components under the skin, just good old-fashioned coil springs and control arms. However, it’s well tuned. Although the Outback has relatively old bones, it feels refined and well honed. Supposedly, many years of constant refinement have ironed out any small niggles in the tune.
The dimensions of the Outback are more about length than height. You don’t get that high-up driving position that other (taller) SUVs can muster. It’s higher than most cars, however, and my experience from behind the wheel was comfortable.
Visibility is good around town, and the 2745mm wheelbase yields an 11.0m turning circle. For a town-based car, it’s far from unwieldy.
The Outback’s interior is not as tech-heavy as other models, but it feels traditional, resolved and effective. There’s less technology inside an Outback compared to a Forester (with the latest iteration of EyeSight), which has a third display mounted high in the dashboard. Along with showing some additional safety information, a sensor here keeps an eye on the driver’s attention levels.
More isn’t always better, however, and the Forester has been accused of having overkill in this regard. The Outback, in comparison, has enough on offer to not feel dated. There’s plenty of standard safety equipment, befitting Subaru’s obsession with the subject. Standard gear includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control.
The overall look of the Outback’s interior is probably the biggest hint to the model’s age, and could do with a freshen-up. There’s nothing wrong with it, quite the contrary in fact. We found ourselves to be comfortable and well served by the controls and ergonomics behind the wheel. However, it won’t take long to find competition that feels newer and more interesting from the inside.
The second row is plenty spacious, with a low seating position offering plenty of leg, head and toe room. There’s a bit of width on offer, as well, allowing you to fit three adults in the back with a bit of shoulder-rubbing and tailshaft-dodging. That middle seat contains an armrest and cupholders, and you’ve got air vents and dual 2.1-amp USB points as well.
At the rear there's 512L of boot space, or drop the seats from the levers in the boot walls for up to 1801L. Subaru also includes a space under the floor to stow the cargo blind.
If you’re keen to do some light off-roading, then this Outback is a better proposition than many SUVs on the market. Combined with 213mm of ground clearance, the off-road traction-control system (X-Mode) helps cinch up wheel spin and direct torque in slippery conditions. While you’re not going to keep up with actual 4WDs, it works pretty well.
The built-in roof-racks, rated to 80kg dynamically, are a smart adjustable design and easily stowed away when not in use. We chucked a big and heavy Australis Bushranger Canoe up there and didn’t have any troubles.
We also like the full-sized spare mounted on an alloy wheel. It’s much better than a space-saver, and better than an unsightly steel wheel. If it were me, I’d be doing a five-wheel rotation (including the spare) to get some extra miles between fresh rubber, and using that spare before it goes stale.
With service intervals every 12,500km (or six months), the Outback’s capped-price servicing program is set to cover you up until five years or 60,000km. Over that time, the half-yearly service schedule sees 10 visits for a grand total of $4560.49. That makes it a bit more expensive (and time-consuming) to keep your book up-to-date via the dealership network.
The Outback is covered by Subaru’s five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Despite its age, there is plenty to like about the Subaru Outback as a practical and versatile family car. It's in a unique position these days, and while the body style is not a real 'SUV', it yields space and comfort aplenty.
Plus, Subaru's tuning of the ride and steering suits the application nicely. It can do a bit of off-roading, and it can handle a good load on the roof. In many ways it's a better SUV than other SUVs, whatever that means.