We are now almost two years into our 2016 Subaru Outback, and what can I say? Well, I started off really liking the car, but now I am beginning to feel a bit of buyer's remorse. Let's start with the good stuff.
Comfort and handling – This car is so comfortable I can drive for six hours (don't do this) without a break and without feeling uncomfortable at all. On gravel this car rides like nothing I have ever driven before. It glides over corrugations and grips into corners.
The big leather seats are wide, supportive and endlessly configurable. It is spacious, and there is plenty of room in the back with both front seats in a less than accommodating position.
It handles superbly well. Because it's still a car, it doesn't have a high roof line like an SUV. It's tall because it has genuine ground clearance (parked next to my boss's VW Passat Alltrack it looks like a truck). However, because it has a boxer engine, its centre of gravity is low. It therefore sticks to the road remarkably well, unlike a normal SUV. The permanent AWD makes it very sticky and leaves it feeling very surefooted.
Off-road ability – Yes, that's right, I actually use my Outback off-road. Well, on the beach at least. Again, it impresses. I have only got it stuck once in a dune and that was my fault. I probably would have beached anything doing what I was doing (but a quick dig with my hands fixed it). It chews through the soft stuff with ease. I was genuinely astounded considering it's still running standard road tyres and I am pretty lax about airing down. I'd love to run it through some mud and see what it does.
Equipment – In 2015 when it was launched, the Outback and Legacy (I live in New Zealand) came absolutely loaded. AEB, radar cruise (even on the base model), lots of airbags, stability control etc. My 2.5i Premium has no blank buttons, and I have never had a car that didn't have blank switches, even my previous BMW had blank spots. I have sat-nav (now out of date, of course), reverse camera, auto lights, wipers, electric boot, keyless go, sunroof blah, blah, blah. And, of course, the really handy inbuilt roof-racks. This stuff is great, and in 2015 most of it was only available in the top-spec versions of its competitors.
Value – This is New Zealand and cars are pricey here. It was a shock moving back from Australia. The petrol Outback range starts at $45K for the base model, $50K for the Premium, and $60K for the 3.6R. So at $50K, the Premium was the way to go. That $5K gets you a lot of kit! Especially when you compare it to, say, a top-spec RAV4 or CX-5, you just seem to get a lot more car with the Outback. However, the car I wanted was the 3.6R, but there is no way you can justify a $10K premium to jump to the 3.6. Which leads me on to what I don't like about it.
Performance – There isn't any. It is so slow. Okay, it's fine, but I like having a bit of power. The Outback seems downright anaemic compared to the 2011 Kluger we had in Australia (not to mention my 2009 BMW 135i – but I'm being fair and not going to compare it to that!). In fact, it feels anaemic compared to our little VW Polo 1.2 TSI. The 2.5-litre with 129kW is just not enough power to adequately run a car this big.
Economy – I have always found that the trade-off to inadequate power is poor fuel economy. The Outback is fine. It's a big car, but you burn through a lot of fuel just trying to keep it up in the traffic. A lazy six is better than an overworked four, or better yet a low-pressure turbo would be handy. I guess my gripe is that for my poor fuel economy, and I don't mind paying for petrol, I am just not getting any enjoyment out of the car for my money.
I will also quickly mention that these things chew through tyres, and at 30,000km I will need to replace two already.
Gearbox – With the best will in the world, the Lineartronic CVT is still a CVT. I'm going to preface this by saying the SLT gearbox is the best CVT I have ever driven. And I have defended it, and will continue to defend it, because it is a good gearbox. But it sucks the life out of the car. There is no X-factor, there is nothing that gives it character, and that makes me a bit sad because character is important to me.
I almost didn't even consider an Outback because of the CVT – and I still wouldn't consider any Mitsubishi or Nissan CVT because they are awful – but I am glad I drove it, because to reject the Outback due to its gearbox is silly. Drive it first.
I still like the car, I just have never fallen in love with it. I have owned a fair number of cars in my relatively short time, and of the 10 cars I have had (I think that's right, maybe 11), there are only four I haven't fallen in love with and subsequently they didn't last too long. The Outback is a family car, so it's not going anywhere any time soon because it is really good at being a family car.
But I don't think I will buy another when it comes time to replace it. I need something that's a bit more fun. Whether that be proper off-road capability (I'm thinking a Prado) or on-road fun (I'm thinking VW Passat R or used BMW 540i M Sport).
I mentioned that I have buyer's regret two years in, and that stems only from not getting the 3.6R. I just wish that I had waited for a demonstrator model, because I would not pay $60K for the car.
If you aren't an enthusiastic driver and prioritise practicality above all else, the Outback becomes an almost zero-compromise car. It can go 90 per cent of the places a proper 4x4 will go, while still behaving like a car on the road. It's larger than similarly priced small-SUV alternatives, which mainly comes from width rather than length. And it is just insanely practical – from the keyless go to the integrated roof-racks, it is a genuinely good car.
But that's just it. It is just a good car. And I am sure that I won't be too sad when it's time to move on.