QUESTION – DOUG (12/01/17):
I’m in the market for a diesel SUV. I’m 79 years-old and I’ve got no family and I like some off-road tracks. I love the Subaru Forester diesel, but it doesn’t offer lumbar support or rear cooling. The Subaru Outback Premium is another option but I read on a blog that the diesel needs long frequent runs to clean the particulate filter – I haven’t heard of this since the ’70s. I like the torque and wet weather capabilities of diesel autos.
I’m having trouble choosing between a Hyundai Santa Fe Elite, Kia Sorento or the Subaru Outback, which does offer rear cooling and lumber support – that’s why I’ve got to get out of my 2012 commodore. I would love the Highlander and Platinum variants for their upmarket inclusions, but they’re too dear. Also, the Subaru servicing cost is a joke. I drive 10,000km a year, but now I intend to do more touring which could be up to 15,000kms. I’ve done a lot of research but I've confused myself.
ANSWER – TOBY HAGON:
Let's kick off with the diesel particulate filter issue, which is very real. The particulate filter is self-cleaning and burns off the harmful particulates when it gets hot, which is usually after about 20 minutes of driving above about 50km/h. So if most of your driving is short trips around town, the diesel isn't for you. That said, you can do some short trips before a warning on the dash will instruct you to drive further.
Regarding that being an issue in the Subaru, it's no more of an issue than it is in other diesel SUVs. The 2.2-litre four cylinder turbo diesel in the Santa Fe and Sorento also has a particulate filter.
As for the cars themselves, the Outback is a fine choice. It's sensibly sized for those who don't need seven seats, with plenty of room for five and a sizeable boot. It's also very comfortable, with suspension that is supple and refined. And the Outback is one of the better driving crossover off-roaders, with decent cornering manners and reasonable performance.
Don't limit yourself to the diesel, though, because the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine also works nicely in the Subaru. And for the kilometres you're travelling it might be worth saving some money on the car up front and spending a little more on fuel, all without having to worry about the particulate filter.
Turning to the Santa Fe and Sorento and there's plenty to love with each. The diesel engine is hearty and the road manners good, with the Kia slightly ahead. As you've noticed, the prices of the top of the range models are getting up there, although you do get loads of features, like side blinds and even heated rear seats.
But that's the appeal of the Kia and Hyundai - multi-seat space for plenty of people.
If you don't need the three rows of seats, we'd be heading forwards the Subaru for its all-round value and excellent packaging.
As for the cost of servicing of the Outback, we agree it’s higher than many rivals. Another negative is the service intervals, which are six months in an era when most cars are 12 months or more.
Even with all that, we’d still have the Outback at the top of our list, partly because some of that cost is offset with a very competitive asking price for the car itself.