Is it a wagon? Is it an SUV? Questions asked of the sixth-generation Subaru Outback are now overshadowed by the question we’re asking today: is it good?
The updated Outback now comes in three variants, being AWD, AWD Sport, and AWD Touring, all of which now use the same naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre boxer engine (developing 138kW and 245Nm), all-wheel drive, a CVT automatic, and arrive in Australian dealerships in March 2021.
Subaru does call it a wagon, by the way, but it’s the list of additions and changes to the Outback we’re here to investigate, and to do so we’re driving the range-topping Outback Touring to get the full experience. Urban driving, highways, B-roads, and some gentle offroading are on the cards.
Price and Features (Score: 8/10)
With the Outback Touring sitting just over the $50K mark driveaway (its MRSP is $47,790, but driveaway is listed, for example, as $52,808 in Victoria), it’s well-placed to compete with top-spec variants of the aforementioned cars you could consider its rivals, as well as being less expensive than mid-sized premium SUVs from Europe.
As the top spec, the list of goodies on the Outback Touring is almost daunting. Your $50K gets you the new interior that, across the range, features a tablet-like 11.6-inch touchscreen (that annoyingly displays Android Auto horizontally across a third of it), Subaru’s SI-Drive system to toggle a more responsive engine mode, the brand’s EyeSight assist tech that has quite a noticeable lane-centring function as well as Autonomous Emergency Steering and Lane Departure Warning, plus a driver monitoring system.
The Outback can also now tow 2000kg braked, up from the 1500kg of its predecessor, plus the Sport and Touring grades get a power tailgate, sat-nav, roof rails, heated seats and additional sensors for a Front View Monitor and Side View Monitor to aid visibility. All rather useful on road trips.
Finally, the little comforts the Touring grants aren’t vital, but definitely nice to have. A nine-speaker Harman Kardon system, auto driver’s seat adjustment, an electric sunroof, Nappa leather accented seat trim, auto-dipping door mirrors, 18-inch gloss alloys, heated second-row seats and steering wheel, and the all-important CD player for your trips back to 2001.
Ownership costs (Score: 7/10)
Now that the Outback is built on the Subaru Global Platform shared by Impreza, XV, and Forester models, it moves to a 12-month/12,500-kilometre servicing schedule under the brand’s capped-price model, though specific pricing hasn’t yet been confirmed. The previous generation’s maintenance costs ranged from around $300 to $550 per service.
While towing will likely put more strain on the running gear and fuel consumption of the Outback, the claimed 7.3L/100km combined-cycle fuel usage figure seems to be achievable after our initial test.
Subaru’s five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty covers the Outback.
Comfort and Convenience (Score: 8/10)
Despite looking decidedly mid-sized from the outside, the Outback’s interior would probably please Doctor Who upon inspection. It’s more than spacious enough, and the Touring’s lovely Nappa leather seats provide a balance between cushioning and support that makes long trips easy on the body.
Cupholders and storage space is fairly standard, though the console bin does have a handy smaller section that latches to the lid for storing little loose items, and the cupholders feature a removable insert for keeping shorter items like coffee cups from falling too deep into them. The seats are electrically adjustable and have two saved positions available, though it’s unlikely you’ll need to change it much as the driving position is quite pleasant.
The rear seats are similarly comfortable, a tall adult able to relax even on a long haul, and two USB charging points plus door-mounted bottle holders should keep passengers entertained and hydrated.
A 522-litre boot is already spacious, but fold the rear seats flat (there’s no seven-seat Outback) and the space available seems to triple. That’s because it just about does. Subaru says 1782L is available for either home moving, long voyages, or really big grocery trips.
Safety (Score: 8/10)
While the Outback hasn’t yet been ANCAP tested, its list of safety features takes up more than one page of Subaru’s press information about the new model. All the usual features like ABS and AEB are present, with the EyeSight suite providing more than enough active assistance for the driver to keep the Outback on track, intervening to avoid or at least mitigate lane departures or frontal collisions.
It’s also a cabin that provides excellent vision for shoulder checks and via mirrors, though could benefit from more parking sensors, particularly at the front where you need to manually turn on the camera.
Also up to the driver is the ability to avoid nasty situations, and thankfully the Outback’s braking and handling allows an alert driver to avoid or stop in the occurrence of danger.
Two sets of ISOFIX child seat anchors are present in the rear seats.
Power and Performance (Score: 7/10)
Across the Outback range, Subaru says its 2.5-litre engine is 90 per cent new, with a little more power and torque than previously, and a CVT that mimics eight gears in an effort to seem less monotonous under acceleration. Though the drivetrain isn’t necessarily the major appeal of this car, it’s definitely part of the formula that makes the Outback a pleasant car on a journey.
While it’s by no means fast, the 138kW and 245Nm does a respectable job hauling its 1661kg around, and even its CVT, often a red flag for keen drivers, is fit for the task. In fact, it’s much better than the CVTs of old and is worth experiencing if the idea of that transmission type still puts you off.
One small bugbear with driving the Outback is its stop-start system, which is deactivated via a menu rather than a simple button. It’s not the smoothest at a set of lights, and the engine is efficient enough that it feels unnecessary.
But on the topic of smooth, the Outback is otherwise a composed and calm drive, its engine relatively quiet and the mimicked shifting of gears almost unnoticed most of the time. Hard acceleration is not the Outback’s friend, but it’s not something that should be a regular concern, nor is it particularly grating to experience.
How does it drive? (Score: 8/10)
With a mixed round-trip of suburban, highway, backroad, and offroad (see next section) driving, the Subaru Outback doesn’t surprise. It’s much like you’d expect if you’ve driven a passenger-focused Subaru before. The Outback's ride is extremely comfortable and its suspension soaks up sharp bumps then settles quickly, though it might initially seem a little floaty at low speeds.
Even at a relatively brisk pace on backroads, the Outback handles itself with the poise of a smaller car and will obey some rather un-SUV requests as long as inputs are kept smooth.
How does it go offroad? (Score: 8/10)
To truly test the Outback in a manner that’s befitting of its name, we took the Touring around Victoria’s You Yangs Regional Park track, a 12km dirt and gravel road that features ruts and inclines that’d get most city cars out of shape.
After traversing the entire track at the posted 40km speed limit, slowing for narrower sections or rougher terrain, the Outback proved its ability with no struggle. Subaru’s switchable X-Drive system’s dirt and snow mode should have been useful here, but it turns out the setting self-switches back to ‘normal’ at around 40km/h.
Thankfully, the standard drive mode was perfect for keeping the Outback stable and its 213mm of ground clearance more than enough room to traverse dips and avoid scraping over jutting rocks.
As we didn’t take the Outback into any truly tricky territory, it’s difficult to pinpoint quite where its limit is, but we’d comfortably say most owners won’t be tackling anything more treacherous than it can handle.
Verdict (Rating: 7.7/10)
Versatility is a useful trait in a car that’s likely to be used as a weekend warrior, and the Outback has it in plentiful supply. Long stints on the freeway are comfortable, it hustles through back roads with ease, rough terrain doesn’t bother it in the slightest, and it’s packaged in a way that accommodates an active outdoor lifestyle.
On top of this, if the top-spec Touring seems excessive, even the base model will supply the capability and most of the comfort an Outback can offer. A better SUV than a RAV4? A better wagon than a Mazda 6? It doesn’t matter, because the Outback can do both.
Pros: Versatility and practicality abounds; Comfortable and composed; Drivetrain will make you reconsider CVTs
Cons: Excitement not really in the equation; Infotainment still not perfect; No front parking sensor
Subaru Outback Touring Specifications
Engine 2498cc horizontal 4cyl, DOHC, 16v
Max power 138kW @ 5800rpm
Max torque 245Nm @ 3400-4600rpm
Economy 7.1L/100km (claimed)
Price $47,790 MSRP
On sale from March 2021