Subaru Outback review: Spacious and safe

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A few months ago, Subaru took the covers of the sixth generation Outback, so you may be wondering why I’m reviewing the fifth generation version. Well, at the time of this review, the Japanese brand has not announced whether it will be coming to Blighty, so for the time being, this is the newest Outback you can get your hands on, but should you buy it? Keep reading to find out.

Now, before I really sink my teeth in to this review, a bit of housekeeping. Unfortunately, I’ve not had the chance to test this car off-road as the green lanes I normally use are too tight for the width of this car (1840mm) and the dedicated off-road venues I contacted supplied prices for hire were simply more than I can afford.

However, if you would like to know how the X-Mode works, then please do check out my Subaru XV review, which you can do by clicking the video in the right hand corner of the screen. Anyway, back to the Outback.

More space than you can shake a stick at

One of the great things about the Outback is the sheer amount of space this thing offers. Let’s start with the boot – it offers a gargantuan 559 litres worth of space, so it’s going to be able to swallow pretty much anything you throw at it. Better still, the load lip is low, and there’s no step in to the boot either. In case you need more space, you can fold down the 60/40 seats like so, and you’ll be able to make use of 1,848 litres – impressive stuff.

Step in to the rear and you’ll find the space is equally impressive. As always, the driver’s seat was set for me, I’m 6’2″, so I am of course a taller chap. Even so, I had plenty of knee room and lots of legroom. So much so, that I could probably do a Riverdance in the rear. Ok, not literally, it’s just a metaphor. Headroom is also pretty ample, so you would need to very tall indeed to struggle for space in the back.

Subaru Outback Review

Could you fit three adults in the back? I reckon you may be able to, but it would be a bit of a squeeze to be honest. There’s a decent amount of practicality to be had in the rear as you have doorbins which can take a bottle of drink as well as one or two smaller items, a centre armrest that offers two cupholders, and you also get two USB ports in the rear so those in the back can charge their smartphones on the go.

Subaru Outback Review

Let’s move in to the front, which like the rear, offers a decent amount of room, and getting a comfortable driving position is easy, as the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach, plus the driver’s seat and the passenger seat are 8-way electronically adjustable.

Let’s talk about the cubbyholes; the doorbins are a decent enough size, with space for my sports bottle and some left over, you have two cupholders in the middle, a storage compartment here, a pretty large hideway underneath the front centre armrest, you also get a sunglasses holder, handy for summery days like today, and last but not least, you get a glovebox, which like the rest of the car, offers a decent amount of space.

Subaru Outback Review

Comfy, but a bit bland

Time to hit the road, and one of the first things that surprised me about the Outback is how comfortable it is. I had the XV earlier this year and the ride wasn’t the greatest – the Outback, however, is much more agreeable. Now, I won’t lie, you are likely to notice most of the road imperfections, and this is not a car that will glide over the tarmac as if it’s silk, but the suspension is supple, and the damping does a great job from protecting you from harsh bumps.

The seats are as comfy as they look

The new Outback has a choice of just one engine; it’s a 2.5 litre, four cylinder Boxer petrol engine, which offers 175hp and 235Nm of torque. Yes, it’s not much is it, but the engine makes progress well enough, but I wouldn’t say the car feels particularly fast or grunty. Like the engine, there’s only one choice of gearbox; a CVT, which Subaru calls the Lineartronic.

It behaves like a CVT should, it’s easy to use, and smooth, but it won’t like to be rushed. Plant your right foot in to the carpet and you’ll be met with the classic CVT rubber band effect. However, you do have the choice of a Sport mode, which does give the Outback a bit more pep, allowing the Boxer engine to pack a bit more punch.

Subaru Outback Review

I think it’s about time I give over some performance stats, this engine will hit 62mph in 10.2 seconds, and it will take the Outback to a top speed of 123mph. For those of you more concerned about economy, on a combined run this engine will offer 33mpg – yes, I know it’s not the most frugal – and the CO2 emissions emitted are 166g/km, although that figure is using the old NEDC method of testing.

Heading back to the fuel economy, in my experience I’ve been able to get 38.5mpg but that was on a route with less city driving, so my target for that particular commute would have been the WLTP ‘High’ figure of 39, which I came very close to hitting. That’s not bad going, but you don’t need me to tell you that this isn’t the most frugal car in this area of the market. You could for example, get a Focus Active diesel, which will offer over 55mpg. Yes, I know, the Active is not four wheel drive, nor will it be as rugged as this, but at least it’s not quite as thirsty.

Subaru Outback Review

It won’t be the cheapest car to run, but what about to buy?

Choosing the right Outback for you will be very easy as there are just two trim levels at the moment, and as mentioned, there’s only choice of one engine and one gearbox. You can have the SE, or the SE Premium, which offer respective prices of £30,010 and £33,025.

Subaru Outback Review

The SE offers features such as 17″ alloys, LED headlights, high beam assist, privacy glass, keyless entry, heated front seats, 6.5″ touchscreen, navigation, smartphone connectivity, reversing camera, front and side view monitor,  more safety equipment than a hospital, you get the message, it has more features than the latest smartphone.

I, however, have the SE Premium, meaning I gain features such as 18″ alloys, lumbar support for the driver’s seat, an eight-way electronically passenger seat, sunroof, electric tailgate, leather seats, and a 8″ touchscreen.

Subaru Outback Review

Rivals for this car include the Audi A4 Allroad, Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and Skoda Octavia Scout, although A4 and the Passat are in the process of being replaced, so you’d be looking at the Scout, which would cost you around £1,400 more than the Outback SE Premium when spec’d to a similar level.

It may be better value compared to the European rivals, but you do have to make some sacrifices. The inside looks pretty nice when you first step in; you have nice splashes of leather dotted about, as well as black and silver panels, but this starts to unravel a bit when you actually start to deposit some fingerprints about.

Subaru Outback Review

For example, on the centre console you have a material that looks like brushed metal, only it isn’t. Now, I don’t mind the fact it’s plastic – I half expected that – but what I do mind, is the quality of it. Then the you have the sunglasses holder, which is made brittle-feeling plastic and it feels like it was Poundland reject. Ok, that’s a bit mean, but you get my point, I very much doubt the Germans will be particularly worried…

Ask Aaron

Time for a new segment in my reviews, Ask Aaron. The idea is simple, I answer questions submitted by lovely and wonderful subscribers in advance of a review being filmed and I then answer them – simple! So, without further ado here we go.

What is the fuel consumption like?

Average. If you something more frugal you’ll need to look elsewhere.

How good is the Eyesight system compared to its rivals?

The Eyesight system is a wonderful bit of kit, which really helps to hammer home Subaru’s ‘Better Where It Matters’ slogan. If you want to see the system in action, check out the video in top right hand corner of your screen.

What is the interior quality like when compared to the more “mainstream” rivals and also how is the Subaru infotainment system? Is it as bad as many other reviews indicate?

Two questions? Greedy! Just kidding. As mentioned earlier, the interior quality is a bit hit and miss, and I don’t think it’s enough to beat European rivals. The infotainment system? It works well enough, I quite like the display, but it is a little laggy, and I don’t like like the actually feel of the screen as it feels like cheap plastic.

Subaru Outback Review

Would this car suit a diesel better, or at least a turbocharged petrol?

Yes, I think it would. I think a diesel would suit this car quite well, but the diesel option for the Outback was dropped, which isn’t surprising as car brands are moving away from that fuel type. The new outback will feature a turbocharged Boxer engine, but it’s not confirmed whether it will come to the UK.

Does it feel worth the money when compared with European Rivals?

In regard to quality, maybe not, but when it comes to how much you get as standard, I don’t think there’s much room for complaint.

Back to the driving

Let’s speak a little bit more about the drive; as I mentioned earlier, the Outback is a pretty comfy car to drive, but it does mean the handling is rather wallowy. There’s a good chance this won’t matter at all to potential buyers, but it’s still worth noting that the Outback is not the most dynamic car in its class.

On the plus side, this is an easy car to get along with, thanks to the forgiving ride and the CVT gearbox, which driving a breeze. Yes, you do of course get the dreaded ‘rubber band’ effect in which you put you foot down, the revs build and it then feels like a small slice of eternity before the power is delivered to the wheels.

However, you soon learn to work with the transmission, but you have a ‘Sport’ driving mode to make the car a bit more peppy, although it would be nice to have the option for a manual gearbox.

On the whole, refinement is agreeable, although I did notice some tyre noise making its way in to cabin once I ventured past 40mph, but it was far from deafening. The engine isn’t  afraid to make itself heard when you work it hard, but as long as you change your driving style accordingly, this should never be too much of an issue.

Is it safe?

One area that Subaru offers a lot of appeal is in the safety department and the Outback is no different, as it was able to gain five stars from Euro NCAP. This is thanks to standard safety features such as autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist, to name a few, so it’s clear Subaru is not holding back in this area.

Subaru Outback Review
Source: Euro NCAP

Final thoughts

The Subaru Outback may not be the best looking in its class, nor may it have the nicest interior, but it’s dependable like a faithful old dog, and just as reliable, too. It also has hight safety levels, a good amount of kit, and it’s pretty comfy to boot. However, the very limited choice of engine and gearbox may put some buyers off, but I imagine this won’t be too big a hurdle to get over for Subaru’s loyal customer base.

Car Obsession Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Subaru Outback Review

Pros:

  • High safety levels
  • Dependable, reliable
  • Good amount of kit
  • Spacious
  • Comfortable

Cons:

  • Limited engine/gearbox choice
  • Interior not as nice as rivals
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Not the most stylish car

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