We like Subarus utility models here at carwow. We admire the engineering that goes into them, the no-nonsense feel of their construction, and the little touches that reveal a better understanding of the end users needs than that of many of their competitors.
And yet, despite our approbation, we hadnt ever driven an Outback, the off-road version of their road-oriented Legacy. So we picked up the phone and booked a 2.0-litre automatic diesel model. This is our week with it.
Some accuse the Outback of being a bit bland, a bit anonymous, a bit, well, forgettable. I dont agree. I love the pumped-up estate shape, the gaping air intake on the bonnet, the big alloys, and the bulging wheel arches.
I even loved the Satin White colour. Im not saying that I would actually tick that particular box were I to order one but my wife would and familial recommendations dont carry any more authority than that
Ive been underwhelmed by Subaru interiors before and guess what? Yes, Im underwhelmed again. It isnt so much that there is anything wrong with them; its more that there isnt anything to get excited about, and what there is doesnt look, or feel, that good. Audi gives you Bauhaus-chic. Volvo gives you Scandinavian minimalism. Subaru gives you parsimony.
Which might be a silly thing to complain about. The driving position is great. The seats are supportive and offer masses of head and legroom. It has all the equipment that you need and it all works as youd expect. Its solid and well fitted and if some of the plastics feel a bit cheap they also feel durable.
The boot is cavernous and the rear seats fold easily and completely. There is space under the floor for knick-knacks but having suffered a puncture and had to wait for the AA to come and fit a new tyre I would have preferred to find a spare wheel in there. That is an option box I would tick.
Equipment is good though – the heated seats are almost instantaneous and very effective. And the interior has dozens of small, thoughtful touches: hidden cubbyholes; hooks to hang bags on; easy clean surfaces; 12V sockets.
Its been suggested that Subaru spends its entire development budget on the oily bits, leaving nothing in the coffers for the interiors. If so, youd expect the Outback to drive well and it does. For starters, it shrinks around you as all the best cars do. It feels nimble, pointable, balanced. It turns and stops as well as any 1,600kg estate car with raised suspension. It is, in fact, fun.
It copes with the rough stuff rather well too. Symmetrical four-wheel-drive, long-ish travel suspension, and a decent ride height should keep you mobile in the gymkhana car park or the moorland shoot.
But a cars dynamics are only half the story. After all, we drive most of our journeys at considerably less than ten-tenths. And its here that the Outback racks up the brownie points.
Visibility is excellent. Compliant suspension gives you a comfortable ride, and decent sidewalls make it all-but-impossible to kerb a wheel. The Outback is a car that has been designed by people who understand what four-wheel-drive estate owners need and want from their car; it is the antithesis of the Range Rover Evoque. This is substance, not style.
I absolutely love Subarus 2.0-litre diesel boxer engine. Its flat-four configuration helps lower the centre of gravity (which improves everything from handling through to ride) and while it does feel a bit overwhelmed by the Outbacks sheer mass, it is still a thing of beauty. It might only rev to 4,000rpm-or-so but it does so with alacrity and a willingness that is rare. Almost sounds nice, too.
Performance is adequate, rather than outstanding: 62mph comes up in 9.7 seconds and the top speed is 121mph thanks to only 147bhp and 258lb/ft of torque. None of those figures are anything to brag about – although they feel sufficient on the road – but then Subaru drivers are not, as a rule, prone to boasting…
The official fuel consumption figure is 44.8mpg. I got 41mpg from a series of predominately short journeys, so mid-forties sounds eminently doable. CO2 emissions are 166g/km.
The drivetrain isn’t perfect. I loathe CVT automatic gearboxes (one of the very few things late and respected motoring scribe LJK Setright and I disagree on) and while the Outbacks is better than any other Ive driven, its six artificial ratios feel awkward. I could live with it if I had to but suspect a manual gearbox would be more satisfying.
Value for Money
My wife, a paragon of Yorkshire frugality, thinks that the Outbacks OTR price of 31,495 is good value. As usual, she is right. Other cars might be cheaper (and many are more expensive) but few will give as much satisfaction per pound as the Scoobie. Owners tend to keep their cars for longer than average too, which helps even out the initial depreciation, which will be high.
The Internet is a wonderful thing; advice has never been cheaper or more accessible or misplaced. Humans have an innate need to rank everything, to make lists, create Top Tens, and name Best Buys. As a result, it is easy to get lost in the flood, to be washed away by the sheer volume of opinions and to play it safe.
If you buy an Audi A4 Allroad or a Volvo XC70 or any other mainstream four-wheel-drive estate you are risking nothing. Theyre good cars – very good in some cases – and youll find plenty of on-line buying advice to endorse your choice.
Or you could stand aside from the herd and buy an Outback. Its too flawed to make it onto the recommended lists of many consumer websites, despite oozing more character than pretty much anything else in its class. And in a homogenised, sanitised, and pasteurised world, isnt it more fun to explore the road less travelled sometimes?