Many brands will claim to have invented the crossover segment. Which one is actually responsible is irrelevant. Subaru has perfected it. Of the seven cars it sells in South Africa, four blend one form of genre with another. Some even cross crossovers.
On test here, though, is the Outback. One part station wagon, one part SUV. Just as it has been for four generations since 1994. Actually it’s a little more wagon to be honest, but even when parked among a sea of Sportages, Qashqais, Tiguans, Q3s and X1s, the Outback isn’t too far off this almost-SUV profile that’s so fashionable right now. It’s a little lower in overall height, but its 213mm ground clearance and high-up driving position is competitive within the softroading fraternity.
This Outback model was actually launched almost four years ago, but in 2-litre turbodiesel trim as on test here, is only a couple of months old. It’s an interesting concept from a brand having popularised flat-four motors, and given its tie-up with Toyota it would have been easy to borrow a more conventional diesel engine layout.
Instead, Subaru has stuck to its guns and developed a diesel boxer so that it can still hold onto its opposing piston heritage. I’ll spare you all the rally-winning, low centre of gravity jargon. It hardly applies now.
SOUNDS LIKE A TRACTOR
Fire up a petrol-powered WRX STI and its backbeat exhaust note is an instant giveaway of what’s under the bonnet. But not so here. This flat diesel gives up almost all of its characteristic engine noise, and, sorry Subaru, sounds more like a tractor. Diesel clatter is overwhelming from outside the vehicle, or when driving with the windows down. It’s one of the loudest idlers I’ve encountered actually, but thankfully Subaru’s become very good at cabin insulation and with windows sealed pretty much all unwanted noise is cancelled.
Its 110kW and 350Nm outputs are healthy for its cubic capacity, and it feels sufficient when on the move, but from a standstill there is some turbolag to overcome. The throttle pedal seems to be calibrated conservatively too, meaning that deep inputs are required to access all the power. This, combined with a CVT (Continuously Variable) transmission with no kickdown switch for overtaking manoeuvres makes for a fairly lazy feel. Reminds me of a sleeping grandpa. He’ll eventually wake up, but it’ll take a lot of shaking.
That said, this Lineartronic unit is one of the better CVT gearboxes we’ve come across. Pre-programmed “ratios” do their best to mimic actual gear changes, and getting up to speed feels much like it would with more normal automatic transmissions. Once at cruising speed, however, revs settle into a steady CVT-typical drone, but again that well-sealed interior helps to hide the irritating trait. Where other CVT-driven cars have had me on the brink of motoring hara-kiri, the Outback’s actually quite pleasant. A little lethargic, but pleasant.
Subaru claims an average fuel consumption figure of 6.3l/100km, while we returned a real world and not all that bad 7.5.
Space is awesome. The interior feels airy and spacious from all five seats, and the boot’s big enough for at least two healthy bullmastiffs and a month’s supply of Epol. There’s also a full-size spare wheel stowed under the floor, and that’s more than some of its aforementioned crossover competitors can say.
The Outback’s also got Subaru’s famed all-wheel drive system on its side, which counts huge for those drivers who feel more confident driving in the rain or on gravel with this safety net. As far as all-wheel drive systems go, this is a relatively simple one but it will get you further over the river and through the woods than some even simpler front wheel-biased systems common in crossovers today.
It’s sad that Subaru has lagged so far behind in electronics, though. The media interface here, even with its larney-looking colour screen, is one of the user-unfriendliest I’ve come across. Even after dedicating 15 minutes to pairing my smartphone with the Outback’s Bluetooth system, I failed. A series of very convoluted menus, all navigable via two knobs, might have you reconsidering the hara-kiri option.
The Outback’s also not cheap. This turbodiesel model comes in at R460 000 (the 2.5 petrol is R409 000), and while that price is competitive with some high-end German rivals it’ll be a big ask to sway potential buyers from bargains to be had at Korean dealerships. Standard kit includes leather upholstery, a sunroof, cruise control and electric driver’s seat, but little things like heated seats, auto lights and wipers and a better infotainment system are obvious absentees at the price.
The Outback diesel comes with a three-year/100 000km warranty and a three-year/60 000km maintenance plan.
An extremely comfortable, fuel efficient, well-built and easy to drive alternative to the usual crossover suspects. But in this price range I’d expect more features.
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