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Car reviews - Subaru - Outback - 2.0D 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Expected 2.0D economy, slick six-speed manual gearbox, refined and revvy engine, mid-range performance delivery, AWD handling and grip, value
Room for improvement
No auto/CVT option (yet), dreary low-spec Outback cabin presentation, not enough differentiation between model grades

2 Nov 2009

SUBARUS may be renowned for their affordable rally-blitzing all-wheel drive capabilities, but the only thing green about them have been the forests through which the competition cars whooshed during the brand’s competition heyday.

In fact, talk to owners of anything from the oldest 1400DL to the latest Tribeca 3.6R and fuel parsimony would not rate among a Subaru’s many and worthy virtues.

Enter, then, the 2.0D, in which motorists can now enjoy idiosyncratic Subaru motoring (or what’s left of it now that the frameless doors have gone the way of the Subaru’s works rally team) with some real-world diesel economy.

This is a towering engineering achievement for any car manufacturer, let alone a first-time diesel maker – particularly one that has stuck steadfastly to its long-time horizontally-opposed powertrain philosophy.

Armed with the latest direct-injection, common-rail and particulate filter devices, the 2.0D stands tall thanks to its smoothness and refinement. Only when you stand outside the Outback does the signature diesel clatter betray this car’s powertrain.

Slot the light but satisfyingly positive gear lever into first, and what follows is adequate rather than scintillating acceleration that builds up nicely as you row up through each ratio. This is one manual that would make a good case for forgetting about autos.

Some journalists at the launch complained that the Outback 2.0D was lacking in low-down torque, but drive any Subaru and there is always that initial momentary lag as the car overcomes that AWD inertia.

Indeed, quite contrary to being slow, we found that the diesel’s mid-range acceleration and power delivery to be deceptively strong, judging by the higher-than-anticipated cruising speeds we were doing. Luckily for us there were no police to pull us over!

Aiding this is a diesel engine that is willing to rev past the 4750rpm or so red line, while retaining much of the characterful boxer thrum. We reckon Subaru fans will love this!

Settling down to a legal 100km/h, we remained impressed with the general overall quietness and laid-back nature of the 2.0D.

Only some occasional road noise permeated an otherwise relaxed GT environment.

Then we hit the gravel roads, and the Subaru continued to win us over, keeping up that unruffled stride even over the more slippery bits.

And whether you’re barrelling down the bitumen or flying down a dusty track, the 2.0D keeps true to the brand’s dynamic template of safe handling and outstanding all-weather grip. Despite the 90kg-odd weight penalty over the front wheels, the diesel did not seem nose heavy at all.

At the petrol Outback’s launch in September we disliked the plain base model’s cabin ambience, but our test vehicle was the Premium SatNav flagship, which has an appealing and functional interior backed up by plenty of space.

Subaru says that the many rural inquiries it has already had for the 2.0D has been driven by positive consumer response to the latest Liberty and Outback’s larger overall dimensions, and so the combination of a gutsy and refined diesel powerplant seems to only enhance the series’ overall appeal.

But we cannot help but wonder how much more economical and responsive the anticipated CVT diesel Outback would be – if it actually does materialise: the 2.5i Lineartronic’s efficiency is quite outstanding thanks to that gearbox, and we would bet that the same would be true when married to the derv drinker.

Yet even with no auto option, we recommend that all potential Outback (and Liberty wagon) buyers try the 2.0D first, because this may be the most impressive and enjoyable new-generation Subaru this side of the lovely Liberty GT.

And, at the $2500 price premium over the well-priced Outback 2.5i, the 2.0D provides decent value for money to boot.

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