Conservative styling belies Subaru Outbacks ability as a thoroughly practical vehicle at home on both tar and gravel.
Conservative styling belies Subaru Outbacks ability as a thoroughly practical vehicle at home on both tar and gravel.
Flipping down the rear seats opens up a cavernous 1801 litres for loading mountain bikes or other bulky items.
Flipping down the rear seats opens up a cavernous 1801 litres for loading mountain bikes or other bulky items.
Cabin class and space are improved over the previous Outback.
Cabin class and space are improved over the previous Outback.

ROAD TEST

Subaru Outback 2.5 S-i Premium AWD

Johannesburg - The rally successes of the Impreza WRX forged Subaru’s reputation as a bastion of high-performance all-wheel-drive prowess.

Then in 1994 it applied that knowledge to the more family-oriented SUV segment with the launch of the Outback, a raised version of the Legacy station wagon with some mild off-road ability.

It’s been a staple of Subaru’s line-up ever since, leading up to the launch of the fifth-generation Outback in South Africa a couple of months ago. Pulse-quickening styling has never been this car’s strong point and the new Outback doesn’t stray from its conservative roots. However, it’s a little less vanilla-flavoured than before due to the base of the windscreen being moved forward to give the car a sleeker profile, while a new trapezoidal grille and daytime running lights give it slightly more frontal “attitude”.

Moving the windscreen forward and widening the body 20mm has gained additional cabin space, and the car happily accommodates four or five adults.

This family-sized roominess is one of this Subaru’s selling points. At 4.8 metres long the Outback provides a lot of space for the buck. It’s larger but less expensive than mid-sized SUVs such as the Audi Q5 and Honda CR-V (in fact it’s closer in size to even pricier players such as the Audi Q7 and BMW X5).

It also has enormous luggage space at 512 litres (and that’s with a nearly full-sized spare wheel in the boot), while flipping down the rear seats opens up a cavernous 1801 litres for loading mountain bikes or other bulky items.

Accessing the luggage compartment is also a cinch thanks to an electrically-powered tailgate.

MOVING UPMARKET

Subaru says a key objective with the latest Outback was to move upmarket in terms of material quality, which hasn’t traditionally been a strong point of this Japanese brand. The cabin’s still a little low on interior glamour compared to German SUVs and the classy new Jeep Cherokee - particularly the Outack’s bland seats - but it avoids looking too plasticky and seems neat and solid, and soft-textured in the right places.

The new Outback has lowered noise levels and vibrations and feel suitably refined, with no major sound intrusion except for some wind noise.

A more torsionally stiff body improves the feeling of solidity and also has handling benefits. For a high-riding car with 213mm of ground clearance the Outback doesn’t wallow excessively in corners, and I like the sharpened feel of the steering, which has been geared to react faster. Stability control and active torque vectoring keep the big car’s roadholding surefooted and safe, and there are seven airbags.

Ride quality is another strong point and this big Subaru glides over bumps gracefully with its high-profile 18” tyres.

Spec levels across the three-model Outback range are pretty generous, and even this baseline derivative on test, the 2.5 S-i Premium, comes standard with items such as a reversing camera, cruise control, 12-speaker Harmon Kardon audio, and electrically adjustable front seats. A 6.2 inch touchscreen integrates the functions for audio, telephony and the onboard computer, and it’s all fairly easy to use.

The gadget generation is well catered to with USB, Aux and 12-volt ports. Voice control allows the driver to control audio, climate control and telephone systems.

OUTDOORSY NATURE

The Outback isn’t a hardcore off-road machine but its permanent all-wheel-drive system, together with that above-average ground clearance, gives it better gravel-driving ability than most soft-roaders. Its outdoorsy nature is enhanced by a hill-descent-control system, while the driver can flick an X-mode switch that fine-tunes the various driving systems for low-traction situations. For instance the central differential goes into a semi-locked state, a limited-slip function across axles comes into play, and the transmission selects a lower gear ratio.

This baseline 2.5i-S version of the Outback, selling for R479 000, is powered by a 2.5-litre normally-aspirated boxer petrol engine paired with a continuously variable transmission. It’s a smooth performer with good cruising legs but lacks a spring in its step, and the 129kW and 235Nm outputs aren’t summoned in a particular hurry.

If your hobbies include caravanning or boating it would be a better bet - if you have the extra 50 grand in your budget – to consider the two-litre turbodiesel version or the 3.6-litre petrol, each of which has a much gutsier 350Nm on tap.

A switch on the steering wheel allows you to choose between two modes: “Intelligent” decreases engine power and cuts fuel consumption while “Sports” mode offers full-tilt boogie. On a combination of driving between these two modes our test car averaged 9.2 litres per 100km, which is decent for a big car but higher than Subaru’s 7.7 litres claim.

Subaru is one of the few automakers sticking with CVT transmissions, and in this Outback it feels reasonably smooth and well-polished, unlike earlier-generation CVTs which could be quite dreadful. It has programmed “steps” to feel more like a regular automatic, and there’s the option to shift gears manually with steering wheel paddles so you can avoid the high-revving drone that characterises these kind of gearboxes.

VERDICT

The new Subaru Outback’s a roomy and practical all-weather family car with a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, and a class-leading ride height that gives it somewhat better gravel-road ability than the average soft-roader. Though rather prosaic in its styling and interior execution, the Outback’s a solid package that offers particularly good space for the price. - Star Motoring

FACTS

Subaru Outback 2.5 S-i Premium AWD

Engine: 2.5-litre, boxer petrol four

Gearbox: Continuously Variable Transmission

Power: 129kW @ and 5800rpm

Torque: 235Nm @ 4000rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 10.2 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 192km/h

Consumption (claimed): 7.7 litres per 100km

Base price: R479 000

Warranty: 3-year/100 000km

Service Plan: 3-year/75 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Audi Q5 2.0T S quattro (132kW/320Nm) length 4644mm, ground clearance 200mm - R559 000

BMW X3 xDrive 20i AWD (135kW/270Nm) length 4657mm, ground clearance 204mm - R548 938

Honda CR-V 2.4 Executive AWD (140kW/220Nm) length 4605mm, ground clearance 170mm - R520 900

Jeep Cherokee 2.4 L Longitude 2WD (130kW/229Nm) length 4624mm, ground clearance 200mm - R500 990

Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 GLS Exceed AWD (123kW/222Nm) length 4655mm, ground clearance 190mm - R439 900

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