Subaru has been highly successful at carving itself a market niche with their all-wheel drive recreational vehicle models.
Their Outback model was well ahead of the main game when released in late 1996. It combined the practicality of a medium size wagon with prestige car appointments and refinement, plus the versatility of extra ride height and an all-terrain all-wheel drive system. It would be several years before any competitor such as the Volvo Cross Country and Audi Allroad that offered such attributes arrived, albeit with significantly fatter price tags. But given price difference, they aren’t true rivals.
Models and features
The Subaru Outback was based on the Liberty wagon. Differences included heavier-duty longer-travel suspension, distinctive body skirts and extra ground clearance courtesy of larger wheels and revised underbody mountings. The Liberty’s 2.2 litre engine was ditched in favour of a 2.5 litre ‘flat four’ offering more power and torque.
Transmission choice for the constant 4WD Outback was initially limited to a four-speed auto with power, normal and snow modes. A year on, a five-speed manual option arrived with a dual range reduction system. However auto versions have proved the most popular and later auto models offer sequential sports shift.
Outback has always offered good occupant safety and standard equipment levels. Successive model upgrades have brought improvements in both areas plus increased body size, styling revisions and several specification variants. At release, there were only two specification levels – a base model and the better-equipped Limited.
From 2003 the popular base model was designated Outback 2.5i and offered features including dual airbags, ABS/EBD, climate control, 16” alloys, CD, cruise control, leather steering wheel, remote central locking, power steering, mirrors, and windows.
On the road
The four cylinder engine is generally responsive but gives its best in the mid to high rev range. From October 2000, Subaru offered models with a six cylinder, 3.0 litre engine that have proved deservedly popular.
The Outback wagon offers good dynamics and responsive steering. With car-like comfort and refinement, Outback proves a very capable, practical and pleasant vehicle for extended touring.
Its all-terrain features mean it can also take slippery or rough roads and sandy tracks in its stride. However it’s not a ‘full-blown’ off-roader and its car-like design, including limited approach and departure angles and underbody clearance will limit adventures.
Model dependent, towing capacity is around 1400kg, but modest maximum ball loads may prove a limiting factor. Overall finish is good, whilst cabin and cargo space are family-friendly.
Reliability is a Subaru virtue, but won’t protect you from trauma if you buy a used example that has been abused or had proper servicing neglected, especially engine oil, coolant and cam belt. Check for oil leaks and also for underbody damage to panels and mechanicals from off-road forays. Also inspect rear shock absorbers on models with self-levelling rear suspension for proper operation, oil leaks or damaged air bags.
From 9.5 to 13 litres/100km, depending on model and conditions.
For an indication of what you would pay for this vehicle please go to RACQ's online car price guide or contact our Motoring Advice Service on 07 3666 9148 or 1800 623 456 outside the Brisbane area.
Volvo Cross Country and XC70
5 cyl Turbo, 2000 – 2005
4 cyl, 1997 – 2005