£29,995 - £31,495 Price range
40 - 50 MPG
The Subaru Outback is a large four-wheel-drive estate car that’s long been loved by agricultural communities for its ability to comfortably cross slippery terrain with lots in the boot and five adults sitting inside.
Its main rivals are estate cars that have been given 4×4 systems and a slightly higher ride height (to avoid catching the bottom of the car on ruts and stones) – think of cars such as the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, Skoda Octavia Scout and Volvo XC70.
The latest Subaru Outback’s interior is smarter and more stylish than the previous version’s, and everything feels much more high quality than before. There’s plenty of rear legroom and the 512-litre boot is easily big enough to carry everything a family of five would need for two weeks away.
Out on the road, the Outback is comfortable, although the suspension is a little firmer than you’d expect for an off-roader. This means it doesn’t lean as much as the old model in corners, and you can tackle a bendy B-road with confidence. The downside is that the occasional thud does jar into the cabin.
There are two engines available for the Outback: a 2.5-litre petrol and a 2.0-litre diesel. The petrol engine is thirsty and quite noisy when you accelerate hard, so the diesel gets the nod of approval for most buyers.
As well as being good enough off-road to get out of some seriously sticky situations, the Outback is safe – Euro NCAP gave it five stars when they crash tested it. It’s also available with easy-to-use adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.
So is the Outback a solid buy? We think so – read on to see how it fares in more detail.
Cheapest to run: 2.0-litre diesel SE
Cheapest to buy: 2.0-litre diesel SE
Fastest model: 2.5-litre petrol SE Lineartronic CVT
Most popular model: 2.0-litre diesel SE Lineartronic
The interior quality has been greatly improved on this latest version of the Outback, but it still doesn’t feel quite as posh as the inside of a modern Volkswagen-Group competitor such as the SEAT X–Perience.
The Subaru uses blue highlights for its dials and the air-con dials twist with a satisfying feeling of quality. The new touchscreen infotainment system is much better integrated than the ugly aftermarket Pioneer sat-nav from the old model – it always looked like a rushed job. It can display what’s on your smartphone screen too, and also controls the standard-fit sat-nav.
The sat-nav isn’t the best in the business – the spoken direction instructions are unnecessarily frequent and really interrupt whatever song you’re listening to. It is easy to programme with postcodes, however, and it’s easy to add a petrol station halfway along your route.
The seats are worthy of note too – they’re comfortable for long journeys and do a good job of keeping you in place during fast corners.
Even with a car full of tall adults, no one will complain about space and there’s 512 litres of room in the boot, too. Hit the button to fold the rear seats down and there’s 2,000 litres in total – 400 litres more than you get in the Volvo XC70.
The Outback has permanent four-wheel drive, raised ground clearance and bodywork that allows for fairly steep approach angles (this is the angle of a slope that you can drive onto without catching the front of the car). All this means it’s very good at driving off road.
You won’t be clambering over rocks in pursuit of a Land Rover Discovery, but the Subaru gets surprisingly close to the Land Rover – and you can all but guarantee that it will be better built.
On the road, the Outback is far improved compared to the old model. The steering’s light and it’s easy to spin the wheel around to perform three-point turns in supermarket car parks. The suspension is a little stiff and quite noisy when faced with patches of poorly surfaced urban roads – potholes do give you a bit of an unexpected jolt. The payoff is that the new model is much better to drive than the old car. As you would expect, it has plenty of grip and there’s not much lean in corners for a relatively high-riding car.
That light steering does have a downside – it makes it easy to slip out of your lane on the motorway, thankfully the Outback’s lane assist system will let you know when you’re about to drift too far.
The Outback is available with two engines – an 173hp petrol and a 148bhp diesel. Both are flat-four-cylinder units that make a more pleasing noise than the conventional in-line fours fitted to most rivals.
While Subaru’s rally successes may have been formed on turbocharged petrol engines, its the Outback’s turbocharged diesel that is set to appeal most to UK buyers. Reviewers report that it is “nigh-on silent” at a standstill, free from vibration, quick enough for most people, but never fast. Subaru offers the car with a CVT automatic gearbox that is impressively smooth, but (like almost all CVTs) causes the engine to drone during hard acceleration. With the auto fitted, 0-62mph takes 9.9 seconds, while a top speed of 125mph means the engine has plenty power in reserve at the legal limit.
Fuel economy has never been a Subaru strongpoint and this hasn’t changed in this new model. It can return 46.1mpg, which falls well short of the 58.9mpg you can expect from a diesel Leon X-perience offering the same power. High emissions mean you’ll also have a larger tax bill than a SEAT owner, with road tax for the manual diesel Outback coming in at £145 per year, compared to the SEAT’s £110 annual bill.
Subaru Outback petrol engine
We tested the 2.5-litre petrol version of the Outback with the CVT automatic gearbox – you can’t have a manual gearbox if you want a petrol-powered Outback. It’s quite noisy under hard acceleration, and we only averaged 35mpg on long motorway journeys (Subaru claims it can achieve 40.4mpg), so we would have to recommend the diesel version if fuel efficiency is your priority. The petrol version also has less torque than the diesel engined Outback, so we’d stick with diesel if you plan on towing anything too.
The petrol version does deal well with the Outback’s size however, and wafts you along effortlessly, although the quietest way to get around is to accelerate gently, without forcing the engine to rev loudly. It does emit a hefty 163 g/km of CO2, however, which means it’ll cost £180 per year to tax. The petrol Outback will get from 0-60mph in 10.2 seconds, and will go on to 130mph.
Euro NCAP gave the Outback the full five-star rating when it tested the car in 2014. Notably, it scored full marks for the side-impact barrier test. Adult and child-protection scores were also impressive, meaning it’s a very safe way to transport your family.
Choosing to fit your Outback with the CVT automatic gearbox means your car also comes fitted with the firm’s EyeSight automatic emergency braking system. It uses two cameras (not one as in the simpler systems) to scan the road for other cars, but can also detect pedestrians, cyclers and roaming large animals, should you come across them. The system includes active cruise control and a lane-departure warning system.
We were impressed by the simplicity of the active cruise control when we tested the Outback, and it copes well with lane changes, speeding up and slowing down to suit the traffic conditions. It does beep regularly however – whenever a car pulls into or out of your lane up ahead, it’ll beep to tell you. On a long journey this can get a little tiring, but it’s a reminder that the system is looking out for you.
The lane assist system works well too: drift out of your lane without indicating and a warning will flash up on the dashboard showing which way you’re drifting. The dials also flash red if the car senses a collision is imminent – don’t ask us how we found out.
Four-wheel drive and the competent chassis means the Subaru should be less likely to be involved in an accident, and the car features more airbags than you can shake a stick at.
While the interior can’t match the quality of a SEAT Leon X-Perience, liberal ticks on the specification sheet means that all Outbacks come well equipped. SE models have automatic LED headlights, cruise control, Active Torque Vectoring for composed cornering, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat and tinted rear windows. All models also have the new seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that features sat-nav, smartphone connectivity and a rear-view parking camera.
The petrol model gets stop-start technology to save fuel in stationary traffic and Subaru Intelligent Drive, which features a hill decent control system – for controlled tackling of steep inclines – and allows you to set up the car for off-road driving.
Go for the top-of-the-range SE Premium model and added to the list is a sunroof, keyless entry, push-button start, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats and a power-operated tailgate.
High running costs and a limited choice of engines are obvious downsides of the Outback, but the new model represents a significant improvement compared to the car it replaces.
You can’t argue with the kit levels, but it doesn’t have the classiest interior on the market – but it feels hard-wearing and like it’ll withstand decades of abuse.
Temper your expectations somewhat though and the appeal of the Outback is more obvious. It’s a do-anything, go-anywhere pack mule of a car. Subaru won’t sell many compared to the more mainstream competition, but the core buyers will be happy and that’s good enough for Subaru, which sells the bulk of its Outbacks in the US.