The Subaru Outback has carved a reputation as one of the more rugged all wheel drive estate cars. June Neary tries the current version for size.
Will It Suit Me?
To be honest, I was a little intimidated by the image of the Subaru Outback. It's probably not the sort of car I'd instinctively lay down my own money for, being a little too macho for my refined sensibilities. The latest car pulverises such generalisations. Although it rides at 200mm, it's a good deal more refined than I expected and the interior quality has been immeasurably improved. There's also less body cladding than I remember older versions having, which means it no longer looks quite so 'military surplus'. The big bumpers and flared wheelarches mark it out for the country set and the side protectors give it a chunky profile. Suddenly I didn't feel at all embarrassed by the Outback.
Subaru have listened to customer feedback and acted accordingly. Previous owners had raved about their cars' engines, running gear and reliability but weren't quite so keen on the materials used in the cabin and felt the exterior styling wasn't the sharpest. The latest Outback concentrates on these twin Achilles heels with some success. With soft touch surfaces and smooth, damped stalks and buttons the cabin feels a good deal more upmarket. The fascia, the door trims and roof lining all now benefit from extra padding and texturing, Subaru benchmarking the best German manufacturers to get a feel for what was required. Interior space was never a problem with the Outback but in the latest car it's better than ever, with more shoulder, leg and elbow room for front seat passengers. As ever there's the added attraction of all-wheel drive to haul you out of the mud. The boot measures 512-litres to the tonneau cover, with 2,000-litres available when the seats are folded. That's way bigger than Volvo's XC70 which can only muster 1,600-litres. Choose a diesel and it'll easily pull a two-tonne caravan as well. If you're into that sort of thing. Not that there's anything wrong with it.
Behind the Wheel
The Outback sticks rigidly to the tried and tested Subaru formula of 'boxer' engines and all-wheel-drive. The boxer tag results from the distinctive horizontally-opposed engine layout that sees the banks of cylinders punching out at each other like pugilists. The engine's good for 150PS and if that's not enough, you can buy a 2.5-litre petrol with 165PS. I'd stick with the diesel. As you'd expect from a car like this, there's AWD - but not just any AWD system but Subaru's acclaimed permanent Symmetrical set-up. This can be mated to Lineartronic CVT auto transmission if you prefer.
Value For Money
Subaru pricing used to be at the mercy of the Japanese yen, but these days, the currency fluctuations have settled down and this car looks decent value again. Prices start at around £28,000 for the 2.0D SE variant, which is very reasonable given that an entry level Volvo XC70 opens at over £34,000. That buys you a manual Outback diesel: you do need to add £2,000 (which is quite an ask) for the Lineartronic box. The petrol model starts at around £28,500 and only comes with Lineartronic transmission. The difference between the entry SE and the SE Premium trim is £3,000: I'd be content with the more affordable version. After all, SE customers still get automatic LED headlamps and headlamp washers, cruise control, Active Torque Vectoring, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, electrically-adjustable driver's seat and privacy glass, as well as a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, incorporating satellite navigation, audio, smartphone connectivity and a rear view parking camera. Petrol SE models also feature an emissions-reducing start-stop system and Subaru Intelligent Drive, which allows drivers to select different engine modes depending on road conditions for improved economy and performance. Your extra £3,000 for the Premium variant nets you a sunroof, keyless entry and push-button start, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats and a powered rear tailgate. Lineartronic models also get the camera-based 'EyeSight' safety system. This monitors the road and traffic ahead for potential hazards and includes autonomous Pre-collision Braking Control and Pre-collision Throttle Management, Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Departure & Sway Warning. The Outback has scored a five-star EuroNCAP safety score, so it's hard to put your family in anything much safer.
Could I Live With One?
If I'm honest, I thought this Outback wouldn't really be my cup of tea. In actual fact, it wasn't at all what I'd expected. This latest version is a good deal more sophisticated than its predecessors and the mechanical package has come on to such a degree that it'll no longer bankrupt you to run if you live in town. My choice would be for the diesel version, now a great alternative to a rather pointless compact SUV if you're a suburban-based buyer. With Outback ownership, safari shorts and bush tucker are now strictly by invitation only.