- Max Speed
What do we have here?
Subaru's latest Outback, something of a forgotten TG favourite. You get the space of a family estate, full-time all-wheel drive, some extra ride height and general sense of invincibility without the brash image of a posh SUV.
What you don't get, for the thick end of £30,000, is a posh badge. Which is why, in the face of the VW Passat Alltrack and Audi A6 Allroad, Subaru expects to shift fewer than 1000 Outbacks in the UK this year.
Lots. Subaru said its loyal Outback buyers demanded the same silhouette and reliability of the outgoing model, but a dollop more refinement and lower running costs. So the shape is now more slippery for reducing wind noise, and the three drivetrain options are more frugal.
The usual boxer engines, I suppose?
Yes. Subaru's mantra of offering all-wheel drive and boxer engines in every car (forget the BRZ anomaly for a second) remains in force here, with the choice of a 2.0-litre turbodiesel and 2.5-litre n/a petrol sitting low down behind that redrawn, bluff grille. The 163bhp petrol is (sigh) CVT-only, but the 148bhp diesel gets a six-speed manual as standard. Most economical is the manual diesel, which claims around 47mpg and 145g/km.
CVTs are always pants. Why does Subaru bother?
Because the anti-CVT lobby here is a whisper compared to the sales racked up elsewhere. In 2014, Subaru managed record sales in the USA, Japan and Australia. In North America, total sales were over ten times that shifted in the whole of Europe.
And guess what: those countries are CVT evangelists. The smoothness in traffic and simple, rugged technology has buyers clamouring for the belt-driven transmissions, while we dual-clutch happy Europeans complain the elastic-feeling response and droning noise spoils the package. Fact is, we're in the minority.
And in fact, the Outback's isn't a bad CVT execution. True: uphill gradients and hard acceleration still leave either engine pitched in a constant moo of high revs and modest forward motion. In the petrol, it's not really a deal-breaker, but the diesel feels a bit strangled by the CVT, as if robbed of the meaty slug-of low-down torque you'd normally expect. Decently judged ‘steps' in the transmission can be manually selected with the paddleshifters if you're really struggling, but 9.9seconds to 62mph is the official getaway speed.
How's the rest of the drive?
Wow, is this car comfortable. Tall, squidgy tyre sidewalls and a refreshing refusal to make any aspect of the car ‘sporty' means the Outback is one of the most comfortable cruisers you can buy.
Niggly ridges that'd have you wincing in a Nurburgring-honed German simply don't register in the Outback, which feels tough enough to join a mission to Mars as NASA's choice moon buggy. An S-line Audi A6 Avant rides like a track car in comparison, likewise an Allroad wearing fashionable 20-something-inch footwear.
The diesel's a touch more fidgety because Subaru has tightened up the damping to cope with the extra 100kg of nose weight. Of more irritation is the diesel's rough grumble, which is still present in the cabin even at a 75mph motorway cruise. Your dog will do its nut trying to work out where the threatening growl is emanating from.
Can it rally?
No. The Outback isn't the sort of wagon you can grab by the scruff of the neck and hurl down a road with real aplomb. There's plenty of grip even when hustled, but there's no real pleasure to be gained from driving it like a tall WRX STI.
If the lack of tyre-squeal and relative lack of body roll is impressive on the road, the manners off it are frankly remarkable. You can attack an unmade, gritty, muddy or snow-covered road with gusto and the only real giveaway is the patter of debris in the wheelarches and a quickly opaque rear window.
Sure, it's no Land Rover Discovery, but with 200mm of ground-clearance and full-time all-wheel drive, not a reactive, part-time system, the sense of go-anywhere unstoppability is brilliant.
One note of caution - we drove a car specced with winter tyres, while UK-bound Outbacks get regular ‘summer tyres' as standard. The dealership will still sell you winters or all-season rubber as an option.
Any tech on board?
All CVT models get a camera-based safety system called EyeSight as standard, which peers 110m into the distance to give you super-smooth adaptive cruise control, auto city braking and errant pedestrian detection.
It's been around in Japan since 2012, and even that less advanced version has apparently prevented 50 per cent of owners from having a shunt, according to buyer feedback. Quite a gadget then, if strangely at odds with the Outback's rough'n'ready, farmyard-hack character.
Good car, then?
Overall, yes. Fit for purpose. The Outback nails its design brief, to offer all-weather, all-road security in a practical, good-value package, and is usefully more refined , safer, and kitted-out than the old version.
It might not be all the car you could ever want, but the Outback is probably most of the car you'll ever truly need. And for that, TG still likes it.
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