First Drive: Subaru Outback

Who really needs an SUV?

You don’t see many Outbacks in the urban area that I live, Subaru’s most versatile model generally being the reserve of those living in the country, either towing a horsebox or being a proper hard-working farm vehicle.

A strong Japanese Yen originally made it an expensive choice but the economy has moved on, for better and worse, and Subaru’s are no longer a left-field choice for the well-heeled gentry. Instead it’s now a car that’s within spitting distance of the Skoda Superb and Octavia Scout, and there’s countless SUVs priced at similar levels.

As well as a 2.5-litre petrol engine, there’s a smaller but more economical 2.0-litre diesel option. It’s the big seller, and tested here in automatic form. Oddly, the petrol comes with only an automatic gearbox so if you want a manual then it has to be the diesel. However, the automatic gearbox is of the CVT variety, so you’ve got the pain and pleasure of a drony whine from the engine as you accelerate, but then calm refinement and a near inaudible engine once you’re up to speed.

It’s not quick, as the 148bhp engine fights against the nearly 1.7 tonnes of Outback a little, it pulls smoothly and continuously so it never actually feels too lethargic. Combined with a diesel engine that’s amongst the smoothest around and it’s a pleasant cruiser.

The soft suspension helps there, too, although it’s setup stiffly enough to keep body roll well checked. It’s not a car that encourages enthusiastic driving, which is why it’s a shame that the low-speed ride quality is a tad choppy, but it’s more comfortable than many cars at speed.

Where it does excel is at very low speeds, and away from tarmac. I ventured up to Grange Farm Leisure at Wittering to put the Outback through its paces off-road and, thank to some seriously poor weather, the Subaru had a far tougher test than was expected. Deep mud, ruts, a river and much more proved a challenging environment for the Outback, but the permanent, symmetrical all-wheel-drive system got it places where many other 4×4’s would have failed. Ok, so standard off-road techniques had to give way to burying the throttle into the carpet at times, but it made its way through every obstacle unscathed.

No mud or water made it into the spacious interior, which remained suitable classy at all times. Dominated by a seven-inch touchscreen that’s bright and responsive, it’s easy to navigate although some of the on-screen buttons are a tad small to hit when you’re moving. It comes with satellite navigation included, while elsewhere there’s heated and electrically adjustable leather seats, climate control, keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control. Further back, a large boot can accommodate 559 litres of luggage, with a flush lip and wide door making it a breeze to use.

On the automatic models, Subaru’s Eyesight system is fitted too. This safety kit looks out of the windscreen using dual cameras to get a 3D view of the road ahead, alerting you to danger if it appears. Should you not react, the car will stand on the brakes and bring you to a halt, as well as keep you in the middle of a lane if you’re beginning to veer around. With countless airbags, traction and stability control, and a five-star EuroNCAP crash safety rating, it’s clearly a tough car.

Tough enough that it’s said that 96% of Subaru’s made in the last 12 years are still on the road and, after punishing it through the wilds of Wittering, it’s easy to see why.

The Outback may not be the last word in the fashion-led world of SUVs, but it feels more upmarket than the budget options, less pretentious than the chrome-clad competition, and more solid than anything similar. If you’re in the market for a car of this ilk, the Outback should definitely be on your list

Model Tested: Subaru Outback 2.0i SE Premium Lineartronic
Price: £34,680
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel
Top speed: 119 mph
0-62 mph: 9.9 seconds
Power: 150 PS (148 bhp)
Torque: 350 Nm (258 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £509
Official fuel economy: 46.3 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 159 g/km
Car Tax: £140 (£500 in Year 1)
Insurance group: 19E

* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 36%.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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