I was a little apprehensive before picking up the car. I mean after all I am a car review virgin. We picked up the car from the friendly folk down at Jarvis Subaru Medindie. Jed, the sales manager being the good bloke he is took us through all the ins and outs of the vehicle prior to our departure.
I have to say, 30 seconds in I was suffering tech overload. This car is packed with some serious kit. One of the highlight features is the EyeSight Driver Assist which we'll talk about in detail.
So, why an SUV for our first review? Well it's that SUV's account for around 40% of the Australian passenger car market. It's a very important sector and all the major players are fighting for a slice of the pie.
Subaru have had a strong SUV presence for a long time and for good reason. This car for example, is now in its 5th generation, originally debuting in 1994. Let's face it, you don't keep producing something for over twenty years if it's not any good, especially in an industry as cut-throat as this. If it doesn't meet it sales targets or it's not up to par, it's out the door.
The 2016 Outback range comes in 5 flavours, the 2.5i Petrol, 2.5i Premium Petrol, 3.6R Petrol, 2.0 Litre Diesel and the 2.0 Litre Premium Diesel as tested. Our Outback arrived in the Premium in Dark Blue Pearl. I have to say I like the hue; it suits the car to a tee. The colours on offer are pretty conservative but that is part of the appeal, if you want lairy and in your face, look elsewhere.
My first gut reaction on seeing the car? It's handsome, sits solid and looks like it means business. Does it shout sporty, being that it's sold as a Sports Utility Vehicle? Well... no, but without question it maintains Subaru styling cues.What does that mean to the potential buyer? Class, quality, finesse and long term appeal. If you're wondering what I mean, check out the original 94 Outback; its lines still hold up and it definitely doesn't offend. Something for the most part Subaru are very good at.
Exterior fit and finish is stellar. Attention to detail is obvious. The front three quarter view is particularly strong, the headlights and grill treatment flow nicely with the front bumper and guards. You can see the lineage Subaru has continued with the Outback; its essential heritage stemming from a Liberty Wagon with greater ground clearance and suggestive off-roading ability.
Potential buyers of this class of vehicle quite rightly will expect it to do double duty. It's crucial that it accounts for versatility as a practical daily driver and also as an SUV. The beautifully integrated roof racks, easy seating for 5 adults in comfort, a meaningful cargo capacity, driver appeal and great diesel fuel economy go a long way to make this a reality.
Moving onto the interior, we see how the Japanese are the masters of packaging. It makes me think of Origami or Feng Shui. Your first impression sitting in the vehicle is that of airiness, room to move, including rear passenger space. It gives away little to cars which are a class size above the Outback.
As far as the interior design goes, I can compare it directly to my own daily driver, a 2015 Subaru WRX STi.
The STi's interior layout is a real mish-mash and almost comes across as a parts bin special where everything is chucked in, including the kitchen sink. I love it because it's quirky but I can see it's a mess. Not so with the Outback... the interior flows as a single whole in comparison.
It's clearly evident that the improvement to ergonomics from MY15 to MY16 is substantial. The main instrument cluster faces you with two main circular dials plus engine revs, temperature, speed and fuel. They are surrounded by classy chrome bezels with the gauge lettering in crisp white, with the display graduations in a calming deep ocean blue (by default). Nestled between the two main gauges is housed a full colour Multi-Function Display (MFD) which you can customise to display info as you see fit. Just one of those cool options the MFD can tie in, is the SAT NAV which alerts you to your next upcoming turn at a glance.
The steering wheel both looks and feels beautiful, bound in high quality leather. It has just the right amount of chunkiness and the tactility just feels good. At its base and on the steering arms are semi matt alloy highlights which all add to the cabins class. As you'd expect the infotainment and cruise control settings are all housed neatly on the steering arms.
The semi matt alloy theme is carried on throughout the cabin and is used delicately to offset the predominantly darker interior. As far as the switch gear goes, a lot of it is common to the Subaru family, which isn't a stand out but serve their purpose. Overall the surfaces of the interior presents well and there's a definite Euro feel to the cabin, though it's not up to say VW standards. mainly due to some of the plastics and switch gear coming across as cheaper than the brilliant steering wheel or the well sorted instrument cluster. So, not quite consistent, which is a shame because the outstanding bits are really that good.
On the infotainment front, the Outback really nails it. It has all the connectivity you'd expect and you don't need a degree in astrophysics to operate it. Bluetooth connection to the phone was painless; having never used the system before I managed to get it working first time 'round. What's more astonishing is that I did this on the move while our editor was having a turn behind the wheel.
We also have a 6 speaker surround sound system which even at full belt is crystal clear. 7.0" LCD touch screen which integrates all the infotainment controls as well as the SAT NAV. AM/FM radio (do people still use that?) More importantly it is MP3/WMA and iPod compatible; it can stream Pandora natively via your preferred smart device too and has a single CD player for when you want to go old school. Hands free mobile communication, voice command recognition, auxiliary jack and 2 USB connections... phew, that was exhausting.
The user interface for the infotainment system and SAT NAV is legible and logical. I wish it was like that in my Rexxie.
Fitted standard to the Premium Diesel model is all leather seating with quilted inlays and heated front seats. Now this is not a criticism, but you sit 'on' the seats rather than 'in' them... the seating is aimed at comfort and luxury rather than bolstering you which only becomes apparent when you've been behind the wheel for an appreciable amount of time. A long stretch in the Outback, even on second rate roads is not going to leave you feeling strung out, but rather cosseted so you can concentrate on the business of driving.
So what other goodies were present on our test car? Dual zone climate control, keyless entry, push start ignition, immobiliser security system, electric sunroof, electric tail gate, heated and powered door mirrors, 18" alloys, daytime running lights, front fog lights, auto sensing lighting, rain sensing wipers, rear view reverse camera, 8 way power seats for driver and front passenger and the list goes on. Like I said, this car packs a lot of kit and at $49,000 AUD drive-away, its great value.
The active and passive driver safety systems kitted with the car could let you write a novel... war and peace might be easier to explain so go grab yourself a coffee before I start listing them.
We have Pre-Collision Brake Assist; if the car thinks you're going to go up someone's backside it will apply emergency braking. In tandem with that bit of tech you have Pre-Collision Throttle Management where regardless of the throttle input, if the car detects it's all going to go to hell in a hand basket, power will be cut to reduce the possible impact force, hopefully minimising injury or better yet with help from the Pre-Collision Brake Assist, stop the car before it gets to that point.
Adaptive Cruise Control is a really great feature and definitely not a gimmick. Unlike conventional cruise control, not only will it maintain a pre-set speed but will also regulate the speed as required to maintain a set distance from traffic in front. This is actively monitored with Subaru's EyeSight technology; more on that shortly
Laneway and Departure warning will sound an alarm if it senses you aren't maintaining the correct driving line or crossing lanes without adequate indication. Simply using the indicator switches it off.
Now here comes the "I,robot" stuff.
Colour Recognition - yes the Outback has the ability to recognise colours, such as the brake lights from the car ahead and will issue a driver alert if it feels you're not accounting ahead for a slowing down car in front of you.
There's also Active Radar, which is two radar units mounted in the rear bumper which participate in Blind Spot Monitoring. It alerts you with a light symbol in the side mirror of an approaching vehicle in your blind spot. This also comes into play when reversing; it will check for crossing traffic and alert you of oncoming vehicles. With Lane Change Assist, issueing a lane change will again give a visual warning if another car is in your blind spot or is approaching too fast to safely move into the lane - man these radars are really onto it.
Probably the most significant piece of tech the Outback flaunts is EyeSight Driver Assist - the car can see. I'm also going to suggest it may probably read at grade five school level but Subaru is trying to keep that on the hush hush. EyeSight has two cameras high mounted either side of the rear view mirror, allowing the car to see in 3D. It then works in tandem with the other active and passive safety features of the car. In an emergency situation it will apply brakes, steering and throttle management if it feels the driver is not acting on system information. You can use this to assist in the daily drive via the adaptive cruise control.
Now that I've got the boring bits out of the way I can talk about the driving.
You have to remember this is a diesel and it's marketed to the consumer who places high importance on fuel economy, so from that point of view it more than meets the requirement. Even when giving the Diesel Outback a bit of a hiding, fuel economy showed less than 10Litres per 100km, I have no reason to doubt the 6.3Litres per 100Km claimed if you apply a light foot.
Actual seat of the pants performance is adequate; perfectly fine for urban/city driving and even the twisty country bits but not so great on the freeway. Passing is not something you can take for granted.
Having said that, qualifying won't matter to the potential buyer who opts for the diesel economy. If performance is high on the list, they'll go for the 6 Cylinder Outback or the even more extreme, the upcoming Levorg.
To put it into perspective, the Outback diesel version runs a 2.0 litre horizontally opposed boxer engine that produces 110Kw @ 3600rpm and 350Nm of torque at 1600-2800rpm. Despite the healthy torque, the portly kerb weight of 1644Kg makes it difficult for the car to overcome its mass. That's part of the price we pay for all the inherent technology it's equipped with.
Subaru quotes a 0 to 100Kmh standing start acceleration time of 9.9 seconds which is on par for its class. Not the quickest but definitely not the slowest. Once the car is on the move, rolling acceleration is acceptable.
The Outback Diesel is only available with a CVT (constantly variable transmission) gearbox, this is both a boon and a hindrance and I think it might be down to marketing. I had no issue with the transmission itself, it works really well but not being a conventional gearbox still leaves people scratching their heads. Why no gear change? Well there is, kind of. It's artificially stepped to mimic a 6 speed auto. For me that was an issue, I dare say if the stepping was removed and the drive left to its own devices a few tenths would be knocked off the 0 to 100 run.
Why wouldn't it be sold that way? I guess it might be disconcerting for the driver expecting a conventional gear shift when none is forthcoming. The CVT really does offer a different driving experience in full auto mode and does a good job of applying the right ratio according to driver inputs and load the car is experiencing. The way it applies available torque and sets engine revs won't always bear on what the right foot is doing though as opposed to a conventional auto.
This takes some getting used, but once you get your head around it, you can see it makes sense. Again, it adds to efficiency and fuel economy.
You can elect to use the transmission in manual mode too. Pull the transmission lever to the right from the D setting into the M setting. The instrument cluster will change from blue to red to show you mean business.
This is where it falls over, there are steering wheel mounted paddles that control upshifts and downshifts and it will "change" gear but the end result is totally artificial and nothing is gained other than a sense that the driver has some additional involvement.
Leave the CVT in full auto mode, let it do its own thing, you get on with the driving and all is fine with the world. It's fair to say that in full auto mode, a quick downshift use of the paddles indeed does help with a spirited drive, but the upshift paddle wouldn't be missed. The simple driving itself is where the Outback Diesel really shines.
Dynamics & Handling
Us South Aussies take our beautiful countryside for granted, you don't need to go to Europe, just north and south of Adelaide are some really world class drives, which is where we chose to give the Outback Diesel a bit of a belt.
One run from the Adelaide CBD, through to Tea Tree Gully, to our end destination Birdwood, which happens to house Australia's National Car Museum.
Then another southern jaunt again from the Adelaide CBD, through to Belair, Blackwood and finally on to Clarendon another lovely SA hidden gem of wine producing region.
This meant we got to experience the Outback Diesel under all the typical conditions you'd expect to come across. From city stop start traffic, to twisty backroads, highway cruising and the like.
Dynamically the Outback Diesel really surprises, the actual business of driving the car is a sheer pleasure.
Let's take the stop start city traffic conditions; the daily grind that can leave us fatigued, irritable and questioning if we should have taken the bus. Not so with the Outback. This is a case where technology employed wisely, can make life better. The Subaru EyeSight Drive Assist really comes into its own, set the adaptive cruise control and literally all you have to do is steer.
It's a little unnerving at first as the car brakes and accelerates under its own impulses but more often than not it can do as good a job of stop start traffic as you can. The end result is that you feel more refreshed and the stress levels go down. That is not to say this is a replacement for braking and accelerating, the system isn't perfect - it can lose tracking of the car in front, especially around tighter turns but I think that could be fixed with the EyeSight cameras tracking with the steering system. However when it does lose tracking, the car duly informs you on the cruise control display, green you're good to go, white, you've lost tracking.
You can also set how far ahead the car in front should be from 1 to 3 seconds, obviously the faster the traffic flow, the more distance you should allow. An intuitive rocker switch on the steering wheel is moved up or down to change between the 3 settings and represented on the MFD by bars placed between symbols of you and the car ahead of you.
How far can the EyeSight Driver Assist see ahead? We were told 100 metres and can track 16 objects simultaneously, including pedestrians. It's doing this all a 100 times a second. Amazing! Overall I give the EyeSight Driver Assist a big thumbs up and I can see that it won't be long before we see similar systems across the board.
When it comes to highway driving, it'll do the job. On twisty backroads however it's a revelation. The Outback can really corner. I'm trying not to sound cliché but the chassis has a "rally" based heart. As soon as you hit the twisty stuff it becomes immediately apparent that the symmetrical all-wheel drive that Subaru is famous for really means something. The chassis/suspension setup is such that the vast majority of drivers will nowhere near see the dynamic limits which the Outback possesses.
Another thing, when pushing hard the car literally shrinks around you. It's lithe, nimble even, which does my head in because the Outback in all guises is no lightweight.
For the suspension setup we have McPherson struts up front with double wishbone, coil springs and stabiliser bar rear, nothing out of the ordinary but the suspension tuning is wonderful. It offers a perfect balance of ride, comfort and handling that car makers always promise but most times miss on one point or another.
The handling is so good that the tyres will give up long before the chassis/suspension does. If you're at that point then you're cornering at a pace most drivers won't see and the tyres will let you know it's close to end game. Interestingly, the safety nannies never cut in once that I'm aware or if they did it's so seamless as to be undetectable. Remember this car has torque vectoring, active brake distribution per wheel under cornering, centre diff and viscous limited slip differential. All helping to maintain poise when punting briskly. On every other recent Subie I've driven, you can hear/feel those systems coming into play. My intuition is telling me that the Outback is slightly under tyred considering the capabilities of the suspension/chassis setup. The test car comes standard with Bridgestone 225/60 R18 100V all round.
The handling for the most part when pushed remains fairly neutral with a tendency to understeer when reaching its upper limits but it is all telegraphed intuitively to the driver and common sense will tell you to back off, whereupon the car settles and continues to track true.
To give you an idea of just how good the handling is, at one stage we were following a new Renault Clio R.S. (a known corner carver) in the twisty bits. Much to the Clio driver's disgust we were always on his tail. When we did finally part ways he begrudgingly gave the nod of approval.
On the steering front, it's wonderfully weighted and accurate, it's also quicker to change direction than you'd expect. Steering feedback however is a tad numb, something we're experiencing across the board as all the major players adopt electric steering.
Braking is strong, employing 4 wheel ventilated discs all round. Pedal feel is well weighted and effort required to modulate braking is in perfect keeping with the suspension/chassis tuning. We experienced no brake fade or pedal drop during our test.
One aspect we would have loved to test more of is its off-roadability. No doubt it would handle it well. We can say on the few unpaved surfaces we did experience on country back roads, the difference for ride/drive comfort and general road manners is almost imperceptible from a paved surface, there is of course more noise introduced into the cabin but it's as you'd expect.
With all this rambling, I almost forgot to mention NVH (noise versus harshness).Why? Well it's so good I forgot about it. From the interior you really have to strain to hear that you are in fact driving a diesel. Under hard acceleration there is a muted but pleasant boxer warble. From the outside the heavy diesel clacking noise you expect is greatly subdued. A lot of people won't pick it for a diesel until you point it out – or you read the badge.The cabin is well insulated from outside noise and cossets the driver and passenger alike. All things you expect for a car pitched at comfort and luxury.
To sum up, the Subaru Outback 2.0 litre diesel is a great car. I give it four out of five stars. The handling and driving part of the equation as well as the sensible driver assist technology make the car simply a joy to drive.
Price as tested $48,990.00 drive away
Fantastic fuel economy.
Well sorted Infotainment.
Luxury and Comfort.
Attention to NVH
Good value considering the sheer amount of kit on offer.
Slightly under tyred
Could use more power.
People might rely on the safety tech too much.
Unnecessary manual mode for the CVT.