2021 Subaru Outback AWD review

Does the entry-level Outback offer good value for its sub-$40k retail price tag?

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What is the Subaru Outback AWD?

This is the base-spec variant of the new sixth-generation model of Subaru’s globally popular all-terrain wagon.

2021 Subaru Outback AWD review

While it doesn’t look too different from the model it replaces, it has been rebuilt on a new platform and brings additional space, comfort, technology and an updated 2.5-litre petrol engine.

Despite looking like an all-terrain wagon such as the Skoda Superb Scout 4x4 and Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, the Outback is actually classed as a large SUV and accordingly brings plenty of space, comfort and practicality.

What is the Subaru Outback AWD to live with?

The entry-level Outback variant retails for $39,990 and has a recommended driveaway price of $44,716.

While it misses out on luxury appointments such as fancier seats and seat heaters found in the Sport and Touring variants that retail for $44,490 and $47,790 respectively, it’s not exactly lacking for kit, with its standard features list putting some mid-spec SUVs to shame.

2021 Subaru Outback AWD interior

As well as an excellent all-wheel-drive system, the base Outback brings the latest version of Subaru’s Eyesight driver assistance suite, X-Mode all-terrain traction program, driver monitoring system, adaptive cruise control, the new 11.6-inch portrait-mount infotainment system, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, LED daytime running lights, self-levelling headlights with adaptive high-beam, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, heated and auto-folding door mirrors, push-button start and rain-sensing windscreen wipers – click here to see the full spec list.

Arguably more comfortable than the firmer leather upholstery in the Touring spec, the base grade's fabric front seats come with power settings including lumbar support function for the driver.

The Outback has loads of leg and elbow room up front, and you’ll find a good driving position regardless of your size. The leather-trimmed steering wheel feels good in hand and the audio, cruise control and phone buttons are well laid out.

2021 Subaru Outback AWD review

A large centre console storage bin has a padded cover that doubles as an armrest and the obligatory two cupholders. It is void of clutter thanks to the electronic parking brake and most functions being operated from or around the portrait touchscreen.

I like the way Subaru has broken up the screen display so driving information and settings such as X-Mode and air-conditioning controls remain at the top and bottom respectively, so you don’t have to go delve into the menu to find and operate them. Considering it handles so many functions, the infotainment system is remarkably simple to operate.

Step through the back doors and you'll find the rear seats are also comfortable with excellent leg- and knee-room plus space under the front seats to fit your feet. The rear pew seats two adults comfortably, while a third can be accommodated for shorter journeys. Three children will fit easily.

Rear-seat passengers also benefit from 2x USB ports, air vents, map pockets behind the front seats, small door bins with bottle holders, and there are two ISOFIX child-seat anchor points and three top tethers. The rear seatbacks recline a little and there is a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders.

The 60:40 split seats fold down to increase boot space from 522 litres to up to 1267 litres – this can be done easily when standing at the tailgate using quick-release latches.

The boot is deep and wide but a little shallow if using the pull-out cover. There are pop-out hooks to secure your load, a 12-volt socket to plug in a car fridge or other appliances and a bright LED light.

At this spec level, the tailgate isn’t power-operated, but there is a handy grab handle to make closing it easier.

If you need to carry more items there are roof rails on which to install racks, and the Outback's 2000kg braked towing capacity is 500kg more than the previous model.

The Outback’s 138kW/245Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine has an official combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of 7.3L/100km. This is quite frugal for such a large vehicle, though expect real-world consumption to sit closer to 10L/100km when you’ve filled it bags and people.

Scheduled service intervals are 12 months or 12,500km, whichever comes first, and with pricing set at $344.96, $594.80, $351.14, $801.42, and $357.56 for the first five years when using a Subaru service centre, which is a little on the pricey side.

The Subaru Outback is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty for private use.

What is the Subaru Outback AWD like to drive?

The Outback's comfortable driving position and good all-round driving dynamics make it an enjoyable car to drive in a range of situations.

Its 2.5-litre Boxer engine is a revamped version of the previous model’s four-cylinder powerplant and brings an additional 9kW/10Nm to produce 138kW/245Nm. It drives all four wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto that has eight simulated steps to help keep the revs down when you press the right pedal, improving acceleration and fuel economy. That said it can be a screamer when pushed.

The performance is noticeably better than the previous model and more than adequate in most situations, but when loaded up you may wish there was still a 3.6-litre six-cylinder option.

That said, the 2.5-litre Boxer sits at highway speeds well and has enough power in reserve for overtaking. The ride is quiet and comfortable and, despite the new Outback’s size, it handles nicely thanks to the flat Boxer engine’s low centre of gravity, a stiffer body shell, and torque vectoring that distributes drive to the wheels where it's needed while cornering.

The Outback’s all-wheel-drive system and 213mm ground clearance gives it good off-road capability, though the long front and rear overhangs can limit things when it comes to negotiating steeper slopes or ravines.

It drives particularly well on gravel roads, and you can negotiate very steep and slippery terrain with the help of the X-Mode traction system.  

Subaru Outback Silt Jetty Gippsland Lakes

Driving along the picturesque Silt Jetty, a narrow strip of land that extends into Victoria’s Gippsland Lakes, the Outback’s all-wheel-drive system came into its own to provide stability and traction on the loose surface, with the suspension doing an excellent job soaking up bumps and corrugations.

What is the Subaru Outback AWD like for safety?

Even the cheapest Outback brings the full suite of features from Subaru’s ‘EyeSight’ camera-based driver assistance package that brings AEB, which works at city and highway speeds and detects pedestrians.

EyeSight also supplies adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, brake light recognition that provides an additional sign that the car in front is stopping, and lane-drift assistance – alerting you if you start to drift out of your lane on the highway, perhaps from distraction, and gently attempting to steer the car out of trouble.

Other active safety features include driver attention alert, blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert. The Outback takes the latter a step further with reverse automatic braking that stops the vehicle to help prevent collisions while parking or when backing out of a driveway.

There are now eight SRS airbags, a new passenger cushion airbag supplementing the dual front, dual front side, dual curtain and driver's knee bags.

The 2021 Subaru Outback is yet to receive an ANCAP safety rating, but we’d be very surprised if it earned anything less than five stars.

The Verdict

Like its predecessor, the Subaru Outback doesn’t have a standout feature that gives it a knockout blow against its rivals. But it does tick plenty of boxes to make it a big winner on points for those seeking a safe, comfortable, practical and attractive wagon that can travel far beyond bitumen.

While the 2.5-litre powertrain does the job well, it would be good if prospective buyers were offered more powertrain choices as used to be the case when the Outback also had a choice of 2.0-litre diesel and gutsy 3.6-litre V6 petrol. There is a turbocharged version available in the USA and the new platform is capable of hosting a hybrid powertrain, so perhaps there’s hope for the future.

The entry-level Outback we’re reviewing here comes with all the important stuff and is a lot of car for around $40,000. Apart from gaining a few more niceties, there aren't too many reasons to spend more on the Sport or Touring versions.

Score: 8/10

PLUS: Value, space, practicality, ride comfort, safety, off-road capability
MINUS: Timid powertrain, pricey servicing

Subaru Outback AWD specifications

Body: 5-door, 5-seat wagon
Drive: all-wheel

Engine: 2498cc boxer-4cyl, DOHC, 24v
Bore/stroke: 94.0 x 90.0mm
Compression: 12.0:1
Power: 138kW @ 5800rpm
Torque: 245Nm @ 3400-4600rpm
Transmission: CVT
Power/weight: 85kW/tonne
Weight: 1629kg
Fuel consumption: 7.3L/100km (combined/claimed)
L/W/H: 4870/1875/1670mm
Wheelbase: 2745mm
Tracks: 1570/1600mm
Suspension: Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
Steering: Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes: 316mm ventilated discs, 2-piston calipers (f); 300mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r)
Wheels: 18 x 7.0-inch (f/r)
Tyres: 225/60 R18 (f/r) Bridgestone Turanza
Price: $39,990


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