SUBARU has played it safe but smart with the latest-generation Outback wagon.
Surfacing at the New York International Auto Show on the 20th anniversary of the debut of the original – based on a Liberty wagon – the sleeker fifth iteration is scheduled for an early 2015 launch in Australia.
Essentially a rebodied version of its 2009 predecessor, with smoother lines and subtler detailing, the newcomer is only slightly larger in every dimension.
Yet the Japanese crossover offers sizeable interior space improvements due in part to a more cab-forward silhouette that sees the windscreen pushed forward by a few centimetres.
Deeper side windows, thinner pillars, repositioned door mirrors and a higher seating position make for better all-round vision, while the total cargo area is also larger than before.
Controlling weight has been a priority, with the bonnet now made of aluminium, which in turn helps improve steering feel and response while aiding fuel economy.
An active grille-shutter system has been installed for reduced heat loss and less wind resistance.
Economy is also helped by an updated version of the Lineartronic six-speed CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with a more powerful and efficient yet quieter 2.5-litre four-cylinder horizontally opposed four-cylinder petrol engine.
CVT also makes a belated debut in the flagship 3.6-litre six-cylinder models, consigning the old five-speed torque-converter automatic transmission to history.
The all-wheel drive system features a new active torque-vectoring distribution arrangement to further enhance economy and improve traction, backed up by hill-descent and hill-start assistance as well as an X-Mode device for light off-road conditions. Ground clearance remains unchanged at 213mm.
Back on the bitumen, the new Outback’s electric rack-and-pinion steering now sports a quicker ratio, the MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension systems have undergone a number of modifications that Subaru says results in a softer riding but more dynamic driving experience, and the brakes are bigger on the base cars (with ventilated discs now fitted all round).
Still on safety, additional airbags have arrived in the form of front seat cushion restraints, the side curtain airbags can be deployed via a new rollover sensor for improved protection and a reversing camera is expected to be standard on all models.
Finally, a redesigned dashboard brings the usual array of bigger screens, improved multimedia connectivity and softer-touch material quality, while some models now offer the convenience and security of rear-vehicle and cross-traffic detection, blind-spot alert and lane-change warning systems.
The Outback’s role will step up significantly in Australia since there will be no Liberty wagon model offered in the foreseeable future.
Instead, Subaru is expected to import the Levorg – a smaller wagon between the Impreza and previous Liberty in size.