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2020 Subaru Outback 3.6R review

By David Bonnici, 05 Mar 2020 Car Reviews

Subaru Outback 3.6R

It’s classed as a large SUV, but the most powerful Outback is an exceptional all-terrain wagon at its core

What is the Subaru Outback 3.6R?

An all-new Subaru Outback is on the horizon but this current model still feels fresh in its sunset year. And while the 3.6R’s flat straight-six cylinder engine seems a little archaic in this age of turbocharged and hybrid SUVs, it provides the Outback with a welcome power boost that manages to increase both practicality and driveability.

Subaru Outback 3.6R

What’s the Subaru Outback 3.6R like to drive?

It’s when you’re comfortably seated behind the wheel where you question if it’s right to categorise the Subaru Outback as a large SUV.

The Outback is actually based on the Subaru Liberty and, even with its handy 213mm ground clearance, it corners in kind, thanks to its relatively low overall height and flat boxer engine that contribute to a lower centre of gravity than your average SUV.

Subaru Outback 2020

Handling is also helped by light steering, a smooth ride and taut suspension that’s firm to cater to a variety of road surfaces, but rides over imperfections with little fuss.

READ NEXT: Next-gen Subaru Outback XT revealed with turbo power

The all-wheel-drive system even splits the engine's power to the front and rear axles, and you can tackle some pretty tricky terrain with Subaru’s X Mode system that helps safely negotiate slippery surfaces and inclines by constantly monitoring the traction available to each wheel and controlling the engine, transmission, brakes and other components accordingly.

With heaps of air between the ground and the Outback's underpinnings, it'll take you reasonably far off the beaten trail too.

Subaru Outback 3.6R engine

The 191kW/350Nm 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine provides about 50 percent more power than the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, which means you rarely feel like you’re running out of puff. Like the sporty Subaru WRX, it has a three-mode SI-Drive that allows you to set the transmission to provide a ‘Short Sharp’ rev burst on take-off instead of the more gradual standard acceleration.

That 350 Newtons of torque contributes to a 1800kg maximum braked towing capacity, which is 100kg more than the diesel Outback.

What’s the Subaru Outback 3.6R like to live with?

The term crossover tends to be applied small SUVs these days, but the Subaru Outback is one of the truest interpretations of the term. It looks like a high-riding wagon, like a Skoda Superb 4x4 or Holden Calais Tourer, but is deceptively large. which gives it a best-of-both-worlds mix of wagon dynamics, AWD traction,  and large-SUV practicality and ground clearance - albeit without a third row of seats.

The Outback makes use of its interior expanse well to provide a good blend of cabin comfort and cargo area. The 512-litre boot space is less than most large SUVs because of its lower roof height, but it’s wide and long, with 1.04m from the tailgate to the rear seats.

Put the seats down and you can fit 1.6m-long loads, though I managed to fit a 1.9m buffet in there by pushing the front seat forward a little. This brought my average frame a little closer to the steering wheel, but not uncomfortably so.

The boot floor is also lower than other SUVs which helps make loading and unloading a little easier.

2020 Subaru Outback boot

The Outback 3.6R sits at the top of the range with a $50,440 retail price that brings all the Premium-spec features including leather trim. It costs $6500 more than the four-cylinder petrol 2.5i Premium, and $3500 more the turbo-diesel 2.0d Premium, with the extra cost bringing an 11-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system as well as the more powerful six-cylinder engine.

READ MORE: Boot sizes of Australia's favourite SUVs

You also get: An 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, reversing camera with side and front views, roof rails, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels, powered tailgate, push-button start, smart key entry and power-adjusted and heated front seats.

Subaru Outback

Then there’s Subaru’s EyeSight active safety system that brings adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are also included.

IN DETAIL: 2020 Subaru Outback range review

The Outback’s interior is nicely laid out, with plenty of functions easily accessible on the steering wheel. The touchscreen is embedded in the dashboard, which is a little old-school these days, but it’s big and has sharp graphics.

I had an issue where Apple CarPlay occasionally didn’t connect even though the phone was charging via the USB connection, though I can’t say if this is a problem in all Outbacks.

The front seats are broad and comfortable and the rear bench can recline slightly and easily accommodate three adults who’ll have no issue with leg- or headroom.

Subaru Outback

Three child seats can be fitted across the rear seat using the standard top-tether anchor points, or you can fit up to two using ISOFIX anchors. The rear doors open wide, which helps with putting children in their seats.

Rear-seat amenity is further improved with air-conditioning vents, two USB ports and a folding centre armrest.

The Outback 3.6R’s additional oomph comes with an official combined fuel economy of 9.9L/100km which is on a par with other six-cylinder large SUVs.

That said, I found myself averaging around 8.7L/100km without leaving town. By comparison, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder version uses 7.3L/100km combined.

Subaru Outback

The six-cylinder engine costs a bit more to service, though, like all new Outbacks it’s covered by five years/125,000km capped price servicing.

The Subaru Outback is also covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Is the Subaru Outback 3.6R worth it?

The Subaru Outback doesn’t do much wrong and while it doesn’t have knockout showroom appeal, it’s likely to win you over on points once you start ticking boxes.  

Its $50,000 retail price is good value when you consider it includes the permanent AWD system and Eyesight active safety, and that you’d be hard-pressed to find a similarly-equipped and sized SUV for under $55,000.

Subaru Outback rear

But is it worth paying $6500 more than the four-cylinder 2.5i Premium? If most of your driving is around town than the smaller engine should do the trick, but the big six will rise to any occasion and provide you with an additional 300kg of towing power. Whatever you spend on a Subaru Outback you get what you pay for so you can be confident that you’re getting good value.

READ MORE: Subaru's X Mode system explained

Another thing worth considering is the Outback will be replaced by a new generation model within 12 months. While this is often cause to hold off your purchase, it’s highly likely the six-cylinder version won’t carry over so, if this engine is right for you, get in there while you can.