By: Dave Abrahams
Johannesburg - The fifth-generation Subaru Outback, released this week in South Africa, can justifiably lay claim to that over-used Americanism, “all-new”.
It's built on a new bodyshell that uses high-tensile steel where it counts to improve torsional rigidity, suspension action and, most importantly, crashworthiness over its predecessor, without adding weight.
And, with one stroke, the designers gave it a whole new profile, moving the base of the windshield 50mm forward and dropping the rear roofline to improve aerodynamic efficiency by 10 percent.
Then they added a chunkier front treatment with wrap-around headlight clusters using LED low-beams, matching wrap-around tail-light clusters, also with LED lights, and an aluminium bonnet that's seven kilos lighter than the all-steel pressing it replaces.
The side mirrors have also been moved from the window surround to a pillar mounting on the door panel. Pure styling exercise? No way; the raked-out A pillar had created a triangular area at the front of the door big enough to put in a glass quarter-light, solving a front three-quarter blind-spot problem that affects a lot of modern vehicles.
More subtly, the hip point of the front seats has been raised by 10mm, also to improve crucial front three-quarter visibility.
The new Outback is available in South Africa with a choice of three horizontally-opposed engines - each revised for improved fuel-efficiency and smoother power delivery - but only one drivetrain, Subaru's love-it-or-leave-it Lineartronic constantly variable transmission (with flappy-paddle manual shift mode, to be fair) and signature symmetrical all wheel-drive with active torque split.
The base model has a revised version of the familiar 2498cc, 16-valve, quad-cam flat-four with variable inlet-cam timing. Quoted power is up from 123 to 129kW, and torque from 229 to 235Nm, thanks to more compression (10.3:1 versus 10.0:1), new cylinder heads with larger intake valves and a revised inlet manifold.
Then there's the industry's only turbodiesel boxer, now with a slightly lower compression ratio to lower combustion temperature and new injectors that raise injection pressure from 180Mpa to 200MPa.
Power and torque are unchanged at 110kW and 350Nm respectively but peak torque is now quoted from 1600-2800rpm, compared to 1800-2400rom for its predecessor.
Leading the charge is the EZ36 3630cc six-cylinder boxer with four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts per bank and variable timing on both inlet and exhaust camshafts.
New con rods, a revised ECU and a new exhaust system help it deliver a quoted 191kW and 350Nm.
BUT POWER IS NOTHING WITHOUT CONTROL
The electro-mechanical power steering system now has a shorter 14:1 ratio in place of the previous 16:1, making the steering quicker and more direct, while the anti-roll bar mountings and bushes have been revise and the front anti-roll bar now acts directly on the strut unit, allowing for a lighter torsion bar.
Front control arms are stiffer, rear sub-frame mountings have been moved further outboard, there's more rear toe-in and front castor - all of which translates to better straight-line stability - while a new “high response” brake booster improves emergency braking, and the handbrake lever gives way to a console switch; whether that is a good thing is up to you.
The 2015 Outback has 213mm of ground clearance, thanks to 18-inch rims and 60 profile tyres; hit the X-mode button and, at speeds of less than 40km/h the ECU switches to a dedicated torque mapping, the centre differential tightens up and the transmission selects a lower gear ratio, while the ABS sensors add traction by braking individual wheels to avoid wheel-spin.
CARRY THE LOAD
When not in use the roof rails are exactly that - bars that run the length of the roof - but they can be turned 90 degrees to become crossbars for carrying paddle-skis, windsurfers, or any long, thin playtoys.
The power-operated tailgate, released either by the key fob or a button under the rear trim, automatically opens to a preset height, and closes either via the fob, a button inside the frame, or another on the driver's console - and when it's open you can hang up to 3kg of wetsuit from the handle, making getting into the surf at that remote beach break so much simpler.
Moving the base of the windscreen forward - without adding a millimetre to the wheelbase - and making the body marginally wider than its predecessor has made the fully leather-trimmed cabin noticeably bigger, also increasing boot space by 22 litres to 512 litres with the rear seats up and 1301 with them folded.
A 6.2-inch touch screen controls almost all the car's non-driving functions, using the swipe/flick/double-tap gestures that smartphones and tablets have made intuitive. The dual-zone climate control, however, is either operated by voice control or from a separate panel below the screen.
Petrol-engined versions come with 12-speaker Harmon Kardon audio, and a lidded pocket ahead of the shift lever contains not one but two USB ports as well as an auxiliary jack and a 12V socket - we reckon Subaru's test drivers must have teenage kids!
2.0 Diesel Premium - R529 000
2.5i-s Premium - R479 000
3.6R-S - R529 000
These include a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a maintenance plan over three years or 75 000km for the petrol variant and three years or 60 000km for the diesel.