Subaru Outback Sport AWD preview
Sixth time lucky for Subaru’s enduring and endearing Outback wagon
The sixth generation of Subaru’s Outback launched here earlier this year, 25 years after the original model’s Australian debut.
It’s the latest model to adopt the Subaru Global Platform underpinnings and the most spacious Outback yet.
This latest Outback also incorporates substantial changes to the engine and other mechanical componentry, up-rated towing specifications and a more generous standard equipment list.
Along with the inclusion of advanced safety features and equipment, the new Outback boasts enhanced body strength and rigidity, greater use of high-tensile steels and new inner-frame structure, all contributing to enhanced occupant crash protection.
This is also the first Subaru to be built to withstand collision impacts in the latest Mobile Progressive Deformable Barrier crash tests and the first to include an airbag in the front passenger seat cushion, taking the total airbag count to eight.
As a result, the new Outback has been awarded the maximum five-star safety rating by independent testing authority ANCAP.
Tested against the latest and most stringent 2020-22 protocols, the Outback achieved the highest scores to date in three of the four areas of ANCAP’s assessment.
The Subaru wagon’s plethora of safety technologies includes the latest generation Eyesight driver-assist package, incorporating multiple new features such as lane centring function, autonomous emergency steering, emergency lane-keep assist, speed sign recognition with intelligent speed limiter, lane departure warning (with steering wheel vibration to alert the driver), lane departure prevention, and pre-collision avoidance (with expanded support for collision avoidance at intersections).
Outback buyers can also tick off blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking function, driver monitoring system (including distraction and drowsiness warnings, plus facial recognition), adaptive driving beam and steering-responsive LED headlights.
In a now simplified three-tier model range, the Sport sits mid-ships between the Outback AWD ($39,990) and the flagship Touring ($47,790).
Equipment “extras” over the base model include black exterior highlights, heated front and rear outboard seats, sports pedals, dark metallic wheel finish, dusk-sensing headlights, premium leather steering wheel, satnav, hands-free power tailgate and front-view and side-view monitors (in addition to the standard reversing camera). A dedicated washer nozzle for the rear camera to cleanse away dirt, is a thoughtful inclusion on an off-road capable vehicle such as this.
Externally, the new model retains a distinctive family appearance that ensures it’s instantly identifiable as an Outback, but there’s enough subtle design improvements – including restyled lamps, grille, body cladding, and new paint colours – to ensure it won’t be mistaken for the old model.
The updated cabin has a well-crafted and upmarket look and feel with plenty of soft-touch surfaces, double-stitch detailing and use of gloss black surrounds.
The dash is dominated by a vertical orientation, 11.6-inch high-definition touchscreen, which controls various infotainment and vehicle functions.
These include DAB+ radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and voice command recognition. Multiple USB ports are also fitted to all versions.
Seat trims are unique to each grade with the Touring’s Nappa leather accents a step up on the Sport’s grey and black water-repellent seat trim and the entry model’s basic black fabric.
This is the largest Outback to date and the cabin feels spacious.
There’s good head, leg and foot space for rear occupants, more shoulder and hip room up front and a more generously proportioned 522-litre (VDA) cargo area, expanding to 1267 litres with the split-fold rear seat folded.
No doubt there are others in the large SUV class that are more capacious, some also offering third-row seating, but the Outback’s more car-like proportions remain a key part of its charm.
Subaru also deserve full marks for supplying a full-size matching alloy spare beneath the carpeted boot floor, rather than the less practical space saver of its many rivals.
The Outback’s pleasingly car-like ways continue out on the road, where it proves a reassuringly comfortable and relaxing vehicle to drive, whether around town or chasing country miles.
It really is an ideal touring vehicle, capable of taking most road conditions easily in its stride.
In addition to supple and cosseting ride qualities, the new underpinnings and revisions to the Outback’s fully independent suspension contribute to its confidence-inspiring handling, marked by strong all-wheel drive grip, a nice sense of balance, and unflappable cornering poise.
The steering, while light and easy, is still pleasingly accurate.
Comfortably supportive seats add to the Outback’s easy driving manners, while its plush-ride quality contributes to the overall sense of refinement.
With this model, Subaru has adopted a range of new measures to reduce cabin NVH so that normal conversation levels are easily maintained, even at highway speeds on noisy coarse chip surfaces.
The previous Outback’s 2.0-litre turbodiesel and 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol Boxer engines have been put to the sword, with all variants powered by a 2.5-litre Boxer petrol engine that’s now direct-injected.
Subaru claims the engine is 90% new and its engineering changes deliver improved fuel efficiency, plus an extra 9kW and 10Nm, taking maximum outputs to 138kW at 5,800RPM and 245Nm between 3,400 and 4,600rpm.
A range of additional engineering measures including powertrain and cooling system upgrades help underpin a 500kg increase in maximum braked towing capacity. The Outback is now capable of safely hauling up to 2,000kg.
The revamped 2.5-litre engine mates to a “Lineartronic” CVT auto with paddle shifters.
The transmission has also had engineering tweaks to improve its efficiency, making it quieter and enhancing its driving performance on take-off and during high-speed cruising, according to Subaru.
Other changes include a wider spread of possible ratios and a manual mode with eight steps, one up on the old model. It’s one of the better transmissions of this style we’ve driven.
The engine feels smooth and has enough muscle to deliver solid performance both around town and out on the highway, even when high-speed passing is called for.
The selectable “Si Drive” allows a choice of modes – “I” for milder performance and optimisation of fuel efficiency, or “S” for a sharper throttle and transmission response to enliven performance. Most buyers are likely to be satisfied with the updated engine’s response, but given how great the rest of the package is, we can’t help feeling this new Outback deserves an even better engine, with more oomph.
Subaru’s symmetrical AWD system with active torque split and X-Mode system with settings for snow/dirt, normal, and deep snow/mud will help with excursions away from sealed roads.
The new Outback is already kicking goals for Subaru by driving increased dealer foot traffic and market share.
There’s little doubt it will appeal to the legion of ferociously loyal owners already rusted on to the brand but this polished and ultra-likeable cross-over wagon should also lure many new converts to join the Subaru faithful.
ENGINE: 2.5-litre petrol, four-cylinder Boxer
ANCAP CRASH RATING: Five stars (2021)
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined cycle, litres/100km): 7.3 (168g/km CO₂)
FOR: Well-appointed and easy to live with; quality fit and finish; good safety and convenience features; spacious, versatile, refined, and comfortable; full size spare wheel; five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
AGAINST: Deserves an even better engine; no cordless phone charging pad; narrow front door storage bins.