Question: Is the new Subaru Outback the ideal all-round car for people who live in areas of the countryside such as the Lake District? Answer: We’ve had two weeks to find out, read on…
The Subaru Outback is a car that makes lots of sense to us in many ways. It’s an ideal car for families who spend lots of time in the outdoors, offering lots of space inside, but it’s not a big bulky SUV on the outside, and somewhere underneath there are still some genes from the legendary Impreza rally cars. The Outback from two generations before this latest model also delivered excellent real-life economy – can this latest model keep up the good work?
The latest Outback retains its traditional unique selling points: it has a Boxer engine, which has a low centre of gravity, and this is mated to a symmetrical all-wheel drive layout. Our test car was fitted with a six-speed Lineartronic CVT. The latest Outback also has Active Torque Vectoring (ATV), which applies braking or more torque to different wheels to avoid understeer or oversteer through corners.
For off-road use, Lineartronic models have an X-Mode button, which optimises the control of the engine, transmission, all-wheel drive system and Vehicle Dynamics Control system (VDC) – Subaru’s electronic stability programme. X-Mode also incorporates a Hill Descent Control.
The default torque split distribution is 60% front/40% rear, but the electronically-controlled Multi-Plate Transfer (MPT) clutch can send more torque to the rear wheels if needed. The ground clearance of 200mm is maintained from the previous model.
The new Outback has an Active Grille Shutter system to improve the car’s aerodynamics and efficiency.
From Subaru’s point of view, the big news on the new Outback is ‘EyeSight’, the brand’s collision avoidance technology.
Subaru is also stressing that the interior quality is an improvement over the previous Outback. This may be true, but other manufacturers such as Audi and Jaguar Land Rover are still ahead in terms of interior quality, design and infotainment systems.
One area of the Outback’s interior that remains impressive is the space; even without a high roof, the Outback does have lots of room for the driver and passengers, and for luggage.
What about the exterior styling? In our view it’s an improvement compared to the previous Outback model, but it’s still not as easy on the eye as the Outback from two generations ago.
We like the driving experience of the Outback – particularly that this is a 4×4 with a low centre of gravity, so it generally has very good body control when it goes round corners – unlike virtually all large 4x4s.
It also has a comfortable ride, overall it’s a refined and quiet car, and the steering and brakes are both well weighted.
Our test car had a six-speed Lineartronic CVT. We generally dislike CVTs, as most of them result in the engine revving highly and making lots of noise if you need to accelerate, but the increased level of noise isn’t matched by the same increase in the rate of forward progress. However Subaru’s CVT is the best we’ve tried – there’s no drama with revs; it feels like a direct driving sensation.
However it’s not the most instant responding of systems. You get a “D’ setting, and that’s it; it generally changes gear at low revs, so it feels like it also needs a Sport setting to hold the car in gear to higher revs and provide a more responsive feel.
What you do get is the ability to change gear manually using steering wheel-mounted paddles, and this works well, especially for holding the car in a lower gear for twisty and hilly Lake District roads.
Despite living with the Outback in the Lake District for two weeks, we didn’t get the opportunity to test it seriously off-road. However we did drive an Outback across Salisbury Plain on the car’s UK launch, and it performed well. Also, your Green Car Guide Editor bought a diesel Outback when it was first launched in 2008 (two generations of Outback ago) and owned it for four years, and during that time it was extremely capable off-road, and quite simply amazing in snow and ice. That car was fitted with Yokohama Geolander tyres, as have all Subaru SUVs that we’ve driven over the past ten years, which proved to be excellent both on and off-road. In contrast, most other SUVs and crossovers that we test are generally fitted with tyres with virtually no off-road ability.
Our new generation test car was shod with Bridgestones rather than Yokohamas, so it would have been interesting to compare how these performed.
As well as taking the Outback across Salisbury Plain on its launch, we also tested its new EyeSight collision avoidance technology at Thruxton race circuit. This entailed driving the car towards a wall and seeing if the car stopped itself – which it did. We thankfully didn’t re-test this feature during our two weeks with the car.
Whilst we’re on the subject of safety features, there’s a very concerning trend at the moment with an increasing number of manufacturers relating to the fitment of lane departure warning systems. We fully understand that such systems help with the car’s insurance group, but the Outback, like other cars, beeps at you every time you drive on a white line. This is very annoying and means that you have to reach down to the right hand bottom of the dashboard to turn off the LDW button every time it starts beeping when, for instance, taking the ideal cornering line on country roads or overtaking on quiet dual carriageways – and reaching down to turn it off is more likely to make you crash than intentionally driving over a white line.
The new Mazda CX-3 has a similar system but when you switch it off, it stays switched off when you re-start the car. This is a much, much better system. If you feel tired then you can simply re-engage the system and it will beep at you when you nod off and wander over the line.
However while the Outback beeps at you when you’re driving over a white line, and stops you crashing into things when driving forwards, it doesn’t beep at you when you’re reversing and about to hit a wall, as most other cars in this class do, which seems a like a strange omission.
The official NEDC combined economy figure for the Outback 2.0 DIESEL CVT is 46.3mpg, with an emissions figure of 159g/km CO2. The Outback 2.0 DIESEL (with manual transmission) that was launched in 2008 had a figure of 48.7mpg – so in two generations the Outback has gone backwards in the area of fuel economy.
The 2008 Outback also returned excellent real-life economy, in the mid-40’s. Over two weeks our 2015 test car averaged 37.2mpg – again, down on the 2008 car. One thing in the Outback’s favour is a long range on a tank – around 600 miles.
The Outback 2.0 DIESEL CVT doesn’t have a start-stop system; most rivals do have this, and although such a system isn’t likely to deliver much benefit in real-life if driving outside of built-up areas, it would reduce the car’s official emissions, and so its VED band and BIK rate.
With a six-speed manual transmission, the Outback Diesel returns fuel economy of 50.4mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 145g/km CO2 – which is an improvement on the 2008 model.
Our test car cost £32,995. This is quite a lot of money, but there are many rivals that cost a lot more.
There are two engines available in the UK – the 2.0-litre turbodiesel, producing 150PS and 350Nm torque, or a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre petrol unit, with power and torque outputs of 175PS and 235Nm.
Diesel engines are available with either a six-speed manual transmission or the Lineartronic (CVT) transmission; the 2.5-litre petrol engine is only available with the Lineartronic.
There are two trim levels available on the Outback in the UK – SE and SE Premium.
EyeSight, Subaru’s collision avoidance technology, was fitted to our car, which the company believes is best in class.
The Outback 2.0 DIESEL CVT (and manual) has a towing capacity of 1,800kg.
The Subaru Outback is a car that we could live with: it’s good to drive, there’s lots of space inside, although it’s not too big on the outside, and it has off-road/all-weather capability and ground clearance to deal with whatever the countryside throws at it. This latest model is more refined than previous generations, and the CVT helps with this. We’re really not big fans of CVTs that appear in certain hybrid models, as they tend to result in the revs and noise increasing without a similar increase in forward progress. However the CVT in the Outback is an improvement on such systems – the revs never really rise, but the downside is that it’s not super-responsive – it feels like it needs a normal and a sport setting.
So is the Outback the ideal car for ‘outdoor families’ in countryside areas such as the Lake District? The answer has to be yes; the Outback is ideal for people who live off the beaten track. In the narrow lanes of the Lake District, larger SUVs are just too wide.
Downsides? The CVT is good, but it could be more responsive. Real-life economy is average for its class, but this is more disappointing because the Outback Diesel launched in 2008 – two generations previous to this model – had excellent real-life economy. However none of these things would stop us buying this car. The one thing that would stop us buying this car is the very annoying lane departure warning system that beeps at you all the time, and which you would have to switch off every time you started the car.
So the Outback is essentially a good car – and increasing sales worldwide testify to this – but there are also some very good rivals in this class; it scores a Green-Car-Guide rating of 8 out of 10.