The Subaru Outback is a tall family car with a spacious cabin and grippy four-wheel drive, but alternatives are better to drive, cheaper to run and come with posher-feeling interiors.
The Subaru Outback is a high-riding alternative to a traditional estate car that comes with rugged protective bumpers, a roomy cabin and four-wheel drive as standard.
On the outside, it looks one part SUV and one part jacked-up estate – a bit like the Audi A4 Allroad but with a higher driving position and larger windows to help you see out. It comes with similar black protective bumper trims to the Audi too, and plenty of chrome in the grille, on the window frames and around the foglights.
Despite all this, the rather humdrum Outback will still be outshone by most SUVs in the looks department – especially when you climb inside. The cabin’s a mass of overbearing black and grey plastics – none of which feels particularly posh or upmarket – and the central infotainment screen lags someway behind the flashier systems you get in alternatives.
Sure, it’s relatively easy to use and comes with smartphone mirroring as standard, but the graphics look dated and the lack of any physical buttons means it isn’t all that easy to use when you’re driving.
At least you’ll be sitting comfortably while you fiddle about with the Outback’s touchscreen. The supportive seats come with plenty of adjustment and there’s plenty of space for tall drivers to stretch out.
Things are just as comfy in the back, where the Subaru Outback’s wide cabin and raised roof mean there’s enough space for three adults. The boot is more spacious than the Audi A4 Allroad’s and the Volvo V60 Cross Country’s but it’s not quite as roomy as the load-bay in a VW Tiguan. Flip the back seats down – which you can do using handy levers in the boot – and the Subaru Outback becomes one of the most spacious cars of its size, however.
The Subaru Outback is happier to pull its sleeves up and get muddy than most SUVs, but it’s not particularly good to drive on the road and feels a bit dated inside.
Unfortunately, while it’ll have no trouble hauling your latest DIY project back from B&Q, it doesn’t come with any particularly economical engines. There’s a 2.5-litre petrol that’s smooth and punchy and a 2.0-litre diesel that’s quiet and more suited to long motorway journeys, but neither can match the economy of similar units in other cars.
Equally disappointing is the standard automatic gearbox. It causes the engine to drone loudly when you accelerate hard but at least it saves you from making numerous gear changes in heavy traffic.
On the subject of traffic, the Subaru Outback’s raised seating position gives you a good view out over other cars and its large windows make it relatively easy to manoeuvre around town. Its suspension doesn’t do a particularly good job ironing out potholes but at least the Outback’s pretty quiet on the motorway and doesn’t lean a great deal in tight corners.
It comes with a decent amount of safety kit, too – including lane-keeping assist that’ll stop you drifting into the path of other cars on motorways – so you can rest easy as you cruise along.
Spending more time off the beaten track? You’ll find the Subaru Outback is more adept at tackling tricky terrain than most family cars. Unlike the majority of SUVs which have systems that switch between two-and four-wheel drive, the Outback’s permanent four-wheel-drive setup means it’ll clamber over very slippery surfaces and won’t get stuck if a muddy puddle turns out to bit quite a bit deeper than you first thought.
All this makes the Subaru Outback well worth considering if you live somewhere prone to harsh winter weather or plan to venture off-road on a regular basis, but don’t fancy an SUV. If that’s you, make sure you check out our deals pages.