Car reviews - Subaru - Outback - 2.0D Premium
Roomy and well-appointed cabin, smooth diesel and automatic combo, decent ride quality and refinement, off-road ability
Room for improvement
Lacks power while economy suffers, seats lack support, rubbery dynamics, mute steering
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11 Aug 2016
Price and equipment
KEEN pricing and high equipment levels are partial drivers of this fifth-gen Subaru’s sales success.
This $44,990 (plus on-road costs) Outback 2.0D Premium asks $3000 more than its petrol-engined Outback 2.5i Premium equivalent. Only the diesel comes with a manual transmission option at $2000 less than this automatic-equipped model, while losing the Premium tag from our test car would save another $6500 – but there is no shortage of additional kit for that extra cash.
Standout Premium additions include electric sunroof, heated mirrors, self-levelling LED headlights, power-assisted tailgate, 18-inch (replacing 17-inch) alloy wheels, 7.0-inch (replacing 6.2-inch) touchscreen with Pandora internet radio connectivity and satellite navigation, auto-dimming rearview mirror, push-button start and leather trim with heated, electrically adjustable front seats.
Every Outback (except manual transmission models) gets Subaru’s EyeSight safety swag including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, pre-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), while Premium models further add a blind-spot monitor and auto high-beam.
Stretching 4.82 metres long, the latest Outback is no longer the medium-sized wagon it once was. It even squeezes – somewhat unconvincingly – into the large SUV category according to industry sales body VFACTS.
The upside is the cabin feels genuinely roomy, front and back. The downsides are front seats that feel marginally too thin for backrest support, and a rear bench that appear flat and lack side support in particular.
A similarly sized and similarly priced (but rear-wheel-drive) Holden Calais Sportwagon is ultimately far more cossetting.
Nice touches abound the well-built cockpit, though, including soft-touch dashboard plastics, soft mood lighting, a nicely sized leather-wrapped steering wheel and even plush door armrests, which help deliver a semi-premium feel to almost match the Premium model designation.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen delivers a high-resolution display teamed with intuitive operation and an impressive blend of modern connectivity options (such as smartphone-linked Pandora internet radio) with hard-disc-driven satellite navigation (so there is no need to use phone data).
Cargo volume of 512 litres is not the most sizeable in its segment, but the Outback boasts a full-size spare wheel underfloor and it is worth noting the all-wheel-drive system does sap space. The cavity itself is square and usable, and this Subaru sits high enough off the ground for parents who want to use the rear bay as a nappy change table – anecdotally, we know SUV owners who do.
Engine and transmission
All that space and a high-riding off-road-capable promise has a great effect on the Outback diesel’s kerb weight, which totals a portly 1723kg. It is also 95kg heavier than its cheaper petrol sibling.
To go along with the heft, the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine manages below-average outputs by today’s standards, including 110kW of power (at 3600rpm) and 350Nm of torque (between 1600rpm and 2800rpm).
The automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) does its best to wring the most out of the engine and disguise the 2.0D Premium’s weight, being impeccably smooth and intuitive in holding up or lowering the tachometer needle. Indeed, a CVT is at its best in low-revving, low-power applications such as this one, and particularly here because this diesel is refined.
There is no escaping the Outback’s ultimate lack of urge, however, even by diesel standards. When up to speed the drivetrain is relaxed as is typical of the breed, but whether moving from standstill at traffic lights or attempting to overtake on a country road, the strain is regularly felt.
Although some light off-roading was included, this Subaru managed 10.5L/100km on test, well up on its 6.3L/100km combined-cycle claim.
We would certainly consider saving $3000 and selecting the 129kW/235Nm 2.5-litre petrol version.
Ride and handling
Subarus sell particularly well in rural areas where the Japanese brand’s reliable reputation and all-wheel-drive-only range (other than the rear-drive BRZ coupe) is highly valued.
This Subaru is certainly at its most convincing off the beaten track. With broad 60-aspect tyres and an impressive 213mm of ground clearance, the 2.0D Premium feels capable and rugged through muddy trails and rocky hillclimbs.
On our test the on-demand all-wheel-drive system had the uncanny knack of picking the traction each wheel required over a variety of surfaces.
On the road the Outback’s suspension strikes a decent balance between compliance and control, and is certainly a more convincing than its lumpy yet floaty Liberty sedan sibling. Both share nicely weighted and smooth steering, but it struggles to communicate what the front wheels are doing.
General dynamics are of the rubbery variety, although while there is nothing sporty about this wagon, equally there is nothing soggy about it. It is secure and capable up to its relatively modest limits, while remaining quiet and composed across all surfaces.
Given its name references a place beyond the ‘burbs and not a racetrack, that is probably as it should be.
Safety and servicing
Seven airbags (including dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee protection), ABS, switchable electronic stability control (ESC), lane departure warning, pre-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and a blind-spot monitor are standard.
ANCAP has awarded the Outback a five-star rating with a score of 35.99 out of a maximum 37 points.
Subaru offers a capped-price servicing program over three years or 75,000km – however intervals are every six months or 12,500km when annual or 15,000km checks are the benchmark. Over those six scheduled check-ups the average cost is a reasonable $407 each.
Although technically a wagon, the Subaru Outback’s genuine off-road ability combined with its roomy interior makes it a more versatile performer than many similarly priced, but smaller and less all-surface-capable SUV models. Clearly, buyers are switching on to the concept.
It is, however, ultimately best to think hard about how often all-paw traction might be needed and how far off the beaten track the family wagon will go. The 2.0D Premium is a solid performer in most situations, but rarely is it an outstanding one.
If on-road rather than off-road ventures are the greater focus, the aforementioned Calais Sportwagon or – at a pricing stretch – the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack provide several extra shades of bitumen-based brilliance but with capability significantly reduced on the red stuff.
Holden Calais Sportwagon from $43,290 plus on-road costs
If all-wheel-drive is not required, the V6 petrol Calais creams the Outback.
Volkswagen Passat Alltrack from $49,290 plus on-road costs
More potent diesel in more premium package, but reduced off-road nous.
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