Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium 

Indicative drive away price: $46,369

For the second year in a row, Subaru Outback has won this category by a mighty slim margin. 

The final scores for it and Kia Sportage were so close that either could have trumped the other with an extra point in any one criterion. 

Although Sportage is the stronger value for money proposition, it is Outback’s better overall design and function that earns it the win, with a combination of space and practicality that’s best in the class. So why are they so close? Australians love SUVs so much that recently total sales eclipsed those for passenger cars in Australia for the first time. In SUVs, you need to have a great offering at a sharp price to stay in the game, and that cut-throat competition is reflected in the narrowness of the gaps between most contenders. 

Subaru has a reputation for leading-edge safety, and for those who buy with the head and not the heart 
then the Outback safety package is a no-brainer, as it has the highest score in ANCAP safety tests of any Subaru to date. The latest generation of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance technology is fitted to Outback, so it will keep a look out for potential collisions, and if the driver hasn’t reacted to the danger it will kick in to brake the vehicle to avoid a crash. 

The judges rewarded Outback’s lengthy features list with a standard features score that was only bettered by Sportage. This list includes an infotainment system with its user-friendly touch-screen, plus the addition of Pandora connectivity, sat-nav and voice recognition for a range of functions. 

Outback is a model of consistency when it comes to criteria grouped under design and function, with class-topping scores in each of the seven criteria. This means it has good seating, user-friendly ergonomics and the highly practical nature that’s required of a SUV. It’s also a high achiever when it comes to how well it is screwed together and the quality of the materials used. 

The cabin and cargo space is as big as the Aussie outback, making it one of the most usefully proportioned models in the class. Access to the load area is via a powered tailgate. 

Although Outback isn’t the quickest in the class, the way the 2.5-litre boxer engine delivers its power keeps the vehicle humming along. Its CVT is one of the best versions on offer and allows seamless delivery of the power with far less characteristic engine flare inherent to many of these transmissions. 

This smooth power delivery is also important off-road, especially in mud and snow, as wheel spin caused by a touchy accelerator can be the beginning of a bogging event. All vehicles in this category need to have the ability to go off-road, while on the black top they need to drive like civilised city cars. Outback does this well, providing a comfortable and composed ride, while its all-wheel-drive handling is secure, confident and predictable whatever the road surface. It is also capable of tackling mild adventures off-road. 

It’s the whole package that makes Subaru Outback a deserving winner once again in Australia’s Best Cars. 

SCORE

1ST: SUBARU OUTBACK 2.5i PREMIUM, 882

2ND: KIA SPORTAGE PLATINUM, 870

3RD: MAZDA CX-5 MAXX SPORT, 808