It’s fair to say that the Subaru Outback is a popular car, with owners in Australia always warm and fuzzy about theirs. It’s also fair to say that Subaru is still seen as a niche manufacturer and it’s also fair to say that that niche is getting bigger with the brand recognition really achieving cut through. The now twenty year old nameplate, WRX, has gone a long way to contributing to that, but there’s the Liberty, Forester and the Outback to thank as well. In February of 2016, A Wheel Thing attended the launch of the updated Liberty, Forester and Outback and recently sampled the 2.0L diesel and 3.6L petrol powered versions of the Outback Premium.
Of note were the subtle changes to the suspension in the wagons. It’s A Wheel Thing’s opinion that the Outback is one of the best in the medium wagon class for ride and handling. There is a bit of competition out there such as the Mondeo, Superb, and Octavia, just to mention a couple, but the incremental development work that Subaru Japan and Subaru Australia have jointly been involved it has paid off.
Tested on dirt and tarmac roads in South Australia during the launch, and driven hard in its most likely environment, suburbia, both versions exhibited the kind of ride a discerning driver looks for. On undulating roads,there’s no sense of continuing the motion, with the Outback simply following the up and down movement while simultaneously isolating the cabin from it.
Shopping centre car park speedbumps were ignored, with only the barest thump transmitted through at low speed (say two or three kmh) and at around 20 kmh there was a short, sharp, jolt which was instantly damped. The larger rubber based units on some back roads were noticeable in the relative lack of impact felt inside, with the compliant suspension taking up most of the shock and minimising any bodily movement. It’s well tied down and lacks the floatiness found in others.
It’s also quiet on the road with tyre, road and wind noise very quickly becoming forgotten. This helps in regards to fatigue on a drive, as does the ride quality. It’s a tight handler, with just a hint of understeer in slow 90 degree corner turns but tucks the nose in nicely in roundabouts. Steering is responsive, perhaps moreso in the 3.6R, with the load building up left and right from centre in a progressive manner.
The transmissions provided were CVTs for each, programmed for six speeds with the 3.6R feeling more like a traditional auto. There is a manual option available, as well as a 2.5L four potter. The range starts at $35990 for the entry level 2.5L with CVT with the range topper 3.6R at $48490.The diesel premium CVT is $44490, with that price being an increase of $1500 over the outgoing model whilst the 3.6R seeing an increase of just $500.
The difference in the drive between the two is astounding; the traditional auto leaves the CVT to eat its dust. A Wheel Thing has not been a fan of CVT, for the most part, as the CVT added to the WRX is simply superb. There’s a discernable lag in acceleration, a lag in switching from Reverse to Drive before forward motion is engaged, a lack of smoothness in doing so as well. The 3.6R’s gearbox however is zippy, instantaneous response is given when asked for, and there’s more of a sense of the engine working firmly hand in hand with the gearbox.
What’s damning about the way the CVT dulls the diesel compared to the petrol, are the torque figures: both engines produce 350 torques, with that number for the petrol being a peak figure and at 4400 rpm but the diesel shows that between 1600 to 2800….The 3.6R is more free spirited in its revvy nature, seeing 191 kilowatts at 6000 and showing no restraint in how it spins. The diesel is, naturally, lower on peak power, with 110 kilowatts at 3600 revs but it just lacks character and a seeming willingness to put that grunt down through the all wheel drive system due the CVT. There is the question of economy, with 6.3L per 100 km for the diesel (combined)versus 9.9L/100 km for the 3.6R, however.
Apart from the all wheel drive system marketing that Subaru has steadily built its following on, there’s been the step by step increase in standard technology. All diesel auto Outbacks get the EyeSight collision avoidance system, with stereoscopic forward looking cameras and also now with colour recognition programming. The 2.5i Premium, 3.6R and 2.0D Outbacks also get the Vision Assist package, giving the driver: Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, high beam assist and self dimming rear vision mirror.
The colour recognition shakes hands with the ACC, Adaptive Cruise Control, by recognising brake lights being activated in vehicles ahead, and will slow the Outback. It’ll also recognise lane changing vehicles ahead, adding to the five star safety rating the range has. A very handy feature is what’s called Unintended Start Prevention, where it’ll hold the vehicle if the accelerator is pressed but the sensors read an object in front of the car.
Subaru have also tossed in the Euro style emergency brake light system, which flashes the brake lights when the computer senses input that would be an emergency stop situation. All Outbacks now get halogen DRLs integrated into the fog lights, the 2.5I and 2.0D have electric folding mirrors as standard plus teh diesel also gets auto headlights and wipers. A Wheel Thing is of the opinion that auto headlights shouldn’t be seen as a luxury or optionable item, they should be standard across the board.
The interiors of both are identical, down to sunroof, somewhat slabby seats, lack of detail on the leather, no cooling for the pews (surely a must for Aussie spec cars with machine made leather seats?), the SI Drive system (which changes the engine mapping and shift points in the autos), the StarLink touchscreen satnav and infotainment system…you get the picture. A Wheel Thing still feels the location of the clock has it lost within the aircon controls, not exactly an ergonomic or safe feature…Of course you’ll get Bluetooth handsfree phone connection, audio streaming and, being wagons, plenty of storage space with over 500L of cargo and enough bottle holders to suit the family.
The exterior hasn’t come in for any major do-overs; there’s a new Dark Blue Pearl paint (verra noice) and a retrimmed grille for the 2.5i and 3.6R aside from the aforementioned driving light change. It’s a handsome looking vehicle, with just enough black polycarbonate to remind people of the soft road ability the Outback has, along with good looking 18 inch alloys and 225/60 Bridgestone rubber. It’s a good size overall, too, with a total length of 4815 mm encompassing a wheelbase of 2745 mm and tracks of 1570/1580 mm. And if you do wish to try out the off road ability, you’ve got over 200 mm of ground clearance to play with.
At The End Of The Drive.
Subaru’s Outback is a good and solid seller for the Japanese brand, with just under 11000 units sold in 2015 and the brand had a massive 344.7% sales increase as well. There’s a three year warranty on offer, which some would say lacks compared to some of the other brands out there. But the brand and the Outback have a strong, fiercely loyal following and there’s little doubt an extra year or two warranty makes little difference to that loyalty.
What the Subaru Outback trades on is a good look, solid engineering, dependability and with the 2016 model, some of the best handling in its class, with the MacPherson struts and double wishbone rear. It’s a pity the CVT nobbles the diesel compared to the 3.6R as the economy of the diesel will always be a winner there but the 3.6R wins thoroughly in the performance stakes. Head across to www.subaru.com.au and follow the links for information on the vehicles available.