This is the new-generation 2021 Subaru Outback, but I reckon many might struggle to pick it from the outgoing model. Although it looks quite similar, this is an all-new model with little carryover from the previous generation.
And we’ve got a top-spec model to sample here. A 2021 Subaru Outback 2.5 Touring, which has a starting price of $47,790 before on-road costs. That's compared to $39,990 for the eponymous Outback 2.5 and $44,490 for the mid-spec Outback 2.5 Sport.
As the name suggests, the entire Outback range carries only one choice of powertrain: Subaru’s relatively new 2.5-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder petrol motor known as ‘FB25’.
|2021 Subaru Outback Touring|
|Engine||2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol boxer|
|Power and torque||138kW at 5800rpm, 245Nm at 3400–4600rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.5L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, Jeep Cherokee|
|Price||From $47,790 plus on-road costs|
It makes 138kW at 5800rpm and 245Nm at 3400–4600rpm running through a continuously variable automatic gearbox (CVT). It’s called Lineartronic and is of Subaru’s own design.
As you would expect, the top Touring model has plenty going on in terms of specification. Unique features for the Touring spec include eight-way electrically adjusted front seats (with memory for the driver), nappa leather accents on the seat trimming, heated steering wheel, electric sunroof and an auto-dipping side mirror. And to round it out, a nine-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system, subwoofer, amplifier and CD player.
On top of that, the Outback has a good list of standard equipment that is shared with lesser models in the range: A full-sized spare wheel should always be celebrated, and tyre pressure monitoring is another great standard feature. Other bits of kit include a powered tailgate, keyless entry, push-button start, heated first- and second-row seats, and electric lumbar support for the driver.
The new infotainment display wows with its 11.6-inch size, and has the important elements of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, digital radio and native navigation. Android Auto smartphone mirroring only takes up a small portion of the screen because of the narrow portrait orientation. Apple CarPlay is better in this regard thankfully, which is less wasteful of all those pixels.
Fan speed, vent control and other climate details are done via an in-screen menu, while temperature control is handled by physical buttons. It works well enough, but could be a little irksome for those who love to constantly fine-tune the air-conditioning. The traditional big speedometer and tachometer are in front of the driver, along with a multifunction display.
While that big screen dominates the interior, the Outback is laden with plenty of nice materials and exposed stitching lending a premium air overall. And it's plenty comfortable, with good ergonomics and soft touches for front driver and passenger.
The new Outback also has Subaru’s EyeSight technology, which covers off a lot of the active-safety features like autonomous emergency braking. It also puts eyes on the driver, monitoring attention levels and potential drowsiness.
In this specification, EyeSight also has a level of convenience built-in. Once you’ve set up a profile within the car, the Outback is able to register and identify drivers, and automatically adjusts things like driving position and mirror positioning.
The fact that the new Outback mimics the previous generation so closely speaks to the popularity of that previous generation – and Subaru understanding what its customers want. Subaru calls it a large SUV, but let’s call a spade a spade. And let’s also call this wagon a wagon, albeit with four driven wheels, moulded flares and increased ride height.
The second row is every bit as spacious and comfortable as a large SUV, with loads of leg room on offer for adults. And even with the sunroof in this Touring specification, head room is also in good supply. There are air vents, USB power outlets, heated outboard seats, and room for a bottle in the door cards.
I also like the seating position in the back, which is slightly higher than the front seats and affords good visibility. However, there is no third-row option for the Outback. Its maximum seating capacity taps out at five.
Moving to the boot – which measures in at 522L – is another strong element of this big wagon's dimensions. It trades more in length and width than height, which is more practical for everyday usage. It's got plenty of amenities as well, including rear seat levers, a 12V outlet, tie-down points, pop-out hooks, and additional storage slots in the sides. Fold down the second row and you've got 1267L at the ready.
Underneath the boot, you'll find a full-sized spare wheel ready for action without a goo kit in sight. Hallelujah.
The 3.6-litre engine is no longer available, and there’s no more diesel option as well. If you want an Outback, you’re stuck with this 90-per-cent-new 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder. Thankfully, it’s quite a good powertrain. I was initially dubious of whether it’s enough engine for Subaru’s largest car. But after only a few kilometres, such doubts started slipping away.
There’s enough acceleration on offer for city and highway driving, which allows the Outback to pull into traffic and nip through intersections with a sense of ease. Those wanting ample power – rather than just adequate – could still be sad that the 3.6-litre engine has gone the way of the dodo. But this new 2.5-litre engine is solid, and proved to be a refined and responsive companion.
Credit should go to the CVT automatic transmission as well, which is a responsive and smooth operator. It allows the engine to quickly gain revs for fast acceleration without letting it drone on redline incessantly. It works well overall, and helped by its stepped nature of shuffling through contrived 'gears'.
Credit also goes to the permanent all-wheel-drive system, which has inherent benefits over even the fastest-reacting on-demand systems. There's seemingly never any risk of wheel spin under acceleration, and grip on low-traction surfaces remains in solid supply.
In terms of fuel economy, I averaged 8.5L/100km after my week with the Outback, which included some big highway stints, but sits a bit higher than the combined claim of 7.3L/100km.
Service intervals come in every 12,500km or 12 months, and are covered under a capped-price servicing program that runs all the way to the 187,500km or 180-month (15-year) mark.
Let's not get too carried away for now. Your first five years of servicing runs to $2449.88, which is on the higher side compared to others in the segment. Okay, I couldn't help myself: for the full 187,500km or 15 years, you're looking at $8524.47. That equates to an average of $568.30 each year over the full schedule, with the most expensive visit being the eighth: $1546.63.
The Outback's ride is quite comfortable and well-dialled overall for the purpose. A lower centre of gravity overall – compared to other large SUVs – and a generous 2745mm wheelbase both help. The taller ride and sensible 18-inch wheels would also be beneficial. As good as the Outback is around town, it's also proficient on the highway runs, with a good high-speed ride quality and plenty of refinement on offer.
Car buyers these days are spoilt for choice in a lot of ways. And those wanting a large SUV with room for five on board would be well served by having a closer look at the new Outback.
It doesn’t change the game at all, but it does let Subaru double-down on what it knows, and what it knows works.