2017 Subaru Outback Review

2015 Subaru Outback 2.0d

Priced From $35,740Information

Overall Rating

0

4 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
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Safety, value & features

5 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

4 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

4 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

4 out of 5 stars

Technology

4 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProEyeSight active safety; great to drive.

  2. ConNo seven-seat option.

  3. The Pick: 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i 4D Wagon

What stands out?

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The Subaru Outback is a five-seat alternative to bulky, big SUVs. It has a smart all-wheel drive system and an elegant interior that accommodates adults comfortably in the rear. Based on the Liberty medium car, the Outback rides higher and handles gravel roads well. Most Outbacks have auto emergency braking.

What might bug me?

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Banging your head on the tailgate: tall people may find it doesn’t rise high enough.

What body styles are there?

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Five-door wagon only.

All Subaru Outbacks drive all four wheels. Even though it is based on the Subaru Liberty medium car, the Outback is classed as a large SUV, lower priced.

What features do all Outbacks have?

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Bluetooth connectivity for phones and audio streaming. An MP3 and iPod compatible sound system with an AM/FM radio, a CD player, and Aux and USB inputs. Touchscreen control of audio and phone functions.

Cruise control, and a reversing camera.

A leather-wrapped steering wheel that is adjustable for height and reach, and which carries buttons for operating the cruise control, the audio system and your phone.

Dual-zone air-conditioning (which lets you set different temperatures on either side of the cabin). Windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains, and headlamps that switch on automatically in low light.

Aluminium alloy wheels, which are lighter and more stylish than steel wheels, and a full-size spare wheel.

Tinted windows at the back: they keep the cabin slightly cooler on a hot day and make it harder to see in.

Metallic or pearl paint finishes. There are nine colours to choose from, at no extra cost.

Seven airbags: one directly in front of each front occupant; an airbag to protect the driver’s knees; two protecting the bodies of front occupants from side impacts; and side curtain airbags that protect the heads of front and rear occupants from side impacts.

Electronic stability control, which can help control a skid. All new cars must have this feature.

Every auto-gearbox Outback comes with an advanced active safety system that Subaru calls EyeSight. Eyesight includes adaptive cruise control – which matches your speed to that of a vehicle ahead – and automatic emergency braking that works at city and highway speeds.

All Outbacks are covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

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The 2.0-litre turbo-diesel that powers the Outback 2.0D is the most fuel efficient engine, using as little as 5.7 litres/100km in the official test (city and country combined).

In the real world, a diesel Outback will approach that figure when cruising gently on the open road but consumption rises around town or when the car is worked. An Outback 2.0D averaged 8.7 litres/100km in comparison testing of popular diesel wagons for the July 2015 issue of Wheels magazine, using about five per cent more fuel than the least thirsty of four cars reviewed, the Mazda6 GT.

One reason you might not choose this engine is that to cut pollution, diesel Outbacks are fitted with a particulates filter and therefore are not suited to predominantly urban driving. You need to spend half an hour at country-road speeds every week or two, so that the filter can clean itself.

The most fuel efficient alternative engine, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, uses 7.3 litres/100km in the official test – a good figure given the size of the car. It comes with a stop-start system, which saves fuel in heavy traffic by switching off the engine when the car is stationary.

The most powerful engine in an Outback is the 3.6-litre six-cylinder that powers only the most expensive model, the Outback 3.6R. It provides about 50 per cent more power than the 2.5 petrol in most driving conditions, but uses significantly more fuel.

Subarus are unusual in that their horizontally opposed engines lie flat in the engine bay rather than standing vertically. That means more of the engine weight is carried low in the car, which helps handling.

All petrol-powered Outbacks are automatics, using a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. Rather than driving through a fixed number of gear ratios, the CVT responds steplessly to the driver’s demands, improving performance and decreasing fuel use.

Diesel Outbacks give you a choice between the CVT auto and a six-speed manual transmission.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

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For those looking for more luxury, 2.5i and 2.0D Premium models are available.

In addition to the equipment on all Outbacks, Premiums have smart key entry, which allows you to unlock the front doors just by grabbing a handle if the key is nearby (for example, in a pocket or bag). There are leather seats, with the front seats heated and power-adjusted. The touchscreen is slightly bigger, at 7.0 inches, and there is satellite navigation, a sunroof, and a power-raised tailgate.

As well, Premium models come with headlamps that dip automatically for oncoming drivers, and more active safety features. Chief among the latter are Blind Spot Monitoring, which alerts you to nearby cars that are out of view, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which lets you know, when you are reversing, that other vehicles are about to cross behind you.

The most expensive Outback, the 3.6R, has the much more powerful, six-cylinder, petrol engine and all the equipment from Outback Premiums. It also has a better-sounding, Harman Kardon, audio system.

All petrol Outbacks and the Premium diesel have 18-inch wheels. (The less costly of the diesels has 17-inch wheels.)

Does any upgrade have a down side?

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Choosing a manual gearbox for your diesel-powered Outback deprives you of the EyeSight crash-avoidance system.

As well as using more fuel, the six-cylinder 3.6R Premium costs more to service.

How comfortable is the Outback?

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The Outback has an inviting and cleanly presented cabin with great head room up front, and the driving position has a wide range of adjustment.

The touchscreen is easy to navigate, with additional buttons and control knobs that help. Steering wheel controls are logically laid out.

Even the electronic park brake button is elegant – and its operation is intuitive, in so far as it mimics a traditional handbrake: up for on, and down for off. Large temperature controls complete a good ergonomics package.

Vision is good from the cabin, too, while the seats are broad and supple, with enough lateral support to hold you in place when cornering.

Because it is based on a passenger wagon, the Outback is less bulky than most large SUVs. That works well around the suburbs, where it is easy to manoeuver and park.

The steering is light, and well shielded from unwanted kickback, and it works well with the suspension to provide an agile and obedient vehicle.

That suspension is noticeably firm at slow speeds, which detracts slightly from the otherwise comfortable – and quiet – driving experience. The Outback is excellent at negotiating potholes and rough roads. The ride is marginally better on the less costly of the diesel models, because its higher-profile 17-inch tyres place more rubber and air between the wheel and the road.

The 2.5-litre petrol engine is quiet and responsive, with moderate acceleration. A steep hill on a country road will have it working hard. The CVT auto teams well with the engine, maintaining smooth progress. Occasionally it will fumble if you demand more power abruptly.

The 3.6R Premium feels noticeably punchier, and accelerates much harder in all situations.

The diesel engine feels more lethargic than either petrol when starting off but feels more muscly and relaxed than the 2.5 petrol once under way. The CVT auto helps you make the most of it, keeping the engine in its sweet spot.

What about safety in a Subaru Outback?

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The Outback has good airbag protection for all occupants, and seatbelt warning lights for all five seats.

The standard reversing camera is reassuring. Automatic windscreen wipers and headlamps add to the safety package, reducing demands on the driver’s attention and, in the latter case, responding reliably to poor visibility.

The EyeSight active safety system on all auto-gearbox Outbacks offers sophisticated auto emergency braking. A computer monitors images from two cameras mounted above the windscreen. If it detects an obstacle – typically another car that has slowed suddenly – it will warn you, and if you do not respond quickly it will brake the car for you. The system works at all speeds below 145km/h, although how much it can slow you will depend on your speed and the conditions.

EyeSight also warns you if you are drifting out of your lane (a sign of fatigue). A lead vehicle start alert tells you that the vehicle ahead of you in a queue has moved on.

Outbacks from February 2016 detect emergency braking and flash the hazard lights, as a warning for other drivers. Outback Premiums on sale since then, and the 3.6R, also monitor blind spots, and when reversing alert you to vehicles crossing behind.

(To see a list of the safety features on any model, select the model from the Cars Covered By This Review dropdown near the top of this page, and look under the features tab. Safety-related features are listed in red.)

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has rated the Outback at five stars for safety, its maximum rating.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

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There is plenty to like about the way the Outback drives, and if you enjoy twisting country roads you will be rewarded. Partly because it’s not as tall as some big SUVs, the Outback leans less through corners and therefore holds the road better.

Subaru’s all-wheel drive system works very well, too. While most highway-focused all-wheel drive SUVs rely primarily on the front wheels, sending power to the rear only if the front tyres begin to slip, the Subaru sends drive evenly to the front and rear wheels. That inspires confidence when driving out of tight corners.

In the 2.5i there is an SI-Drive system, for Subaru Intelligent Drive, which has an Intelligent mode (for saving fuel) and a Sport mode (for more spirited driving). The system adjusts throttle sensitivity, with the Sport mode the more enjoyable, even around town: you don’t have to press the accelerator as hard to get the power that you want.

Less enticing for spirited driving is the diesel engine, which runs out of puff sooner than the 2.5i when you want all the go you can get. But while the petrol engines are more enjoyable in most situations, the diesel is great for highway cruising, where it feels quite relaxed and is fuel efficient.

The much more powerful 3.6R petrol also gets SI-Drive but adds a third mode, Sport Sharp. It makes the accelerator – and the transmission - even more sensitive to pressure from your right foot on the pedal. It’s good on a twisty road where you’re changing speeds regularly, or if you want to drive fast, but otherwise the regular Sport mode is the best compromise.

The CVT auto in the 3.6R generally works well with the engine, providing smooth acceleration. With this engine the Outback is a brisk SUV, building pace effortlessly for overtaking.

The Outback is a light-duty off-roader, best limited to gravel tracks and snow-covered roads.

How is life in the rear seats?

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The Outback has one of the more accommodating back seats for adults in a large SUV. Head room is good and leg room is excellent, with good space for feet also.

The centre seat sits slightly higher and so the centre passenger has less headroom and side-support than the others. But the angle of the seatback can be adjusted.

There are rear air-conditioning vents and a folding centre arm rest.

How is it for carrying stuff?

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The Outback has a big boot that is long and fairly wide. The floor is flat, albeit quite high, and it’s easy to load things.

The luggage blind has to be retracted manually, and doesn’t rise automatically with the tailgate.

The back seats fold in a 60/40 configuration and there’s a choice of two levers to operate them: one on the top of the seat-backs (for pushing from behind), and one on the edges of the seats themselves (which are easier to get at from the seats).

Four-cylinder petrol Outbacks can tow 1500kg, which is on par with some medium SUVs but less than many large SUVs. The 3.6R lugs a more respectable 1800kg, while the diesel sits between them at 1700kg.

Where does Subaru make the Outback?

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All Subaru Outbacks are made in Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

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Perhaps the two extra seats that many big SUVs offer. Among seven-seater SUVs are the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Ford Territory, Holden Captiva, Toyota Kluger, Nissan Pathfinder and Mazda CX-9.

Among other cars you might consider are the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

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The 2.5i is a great car for the money. It’s loaded with features, including class-leading safety technology, and the petrol engine offers decent performance. The leather-laced luxury of the Premium would be nice, but the cheaper 2.5i does just fine.

Are there plans to update the Outback soon?

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The latest Outback went on sale in late 2014. A modest update in February 2016 added EyeSight to auto-gearbox diesel models (EyeSight remained unavailable on manual diesels), and brought minor suspension changes. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert were added to Outback Premiums and the 3.6R. Expect a new model about 2019.