Car reviews - Subaru - Outback - 2.0D
Cabin space, quality, comfort, off-road ability
Room for improvement
Size, expensive capped-price program
4 May 2015
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
SUBARU has launched an aggressive attack on its price list, delighting prospective buyers and cheesing off more recent owners.
The Outback has had cuts of up to $14,000 – remarkably, enough for a new Suzuki Celerio including on-road costs and $1100 left over – as it refocuses the model range, finds corporate savings and accepts a discount from the Japan-Australia free-trade agreement.
In the case of the entry-level diesel, the Outback 2.0D, the price falls by $5500 to $37,490 plus on-road costs.
That’s a significant discount and puts the new wagon up against the Skoda Octavia Scout at $32,990, itself the subject to a $7000 reduction over the previous model.
But it’s an awkward comparison. Though the Skoda and Subaru aim at the same traffic, the entry-level Czech diesel is only available as a manual.
The Subaru has a strong feature list but undeniably puts more effort – and money – into the mechanical components.
It now comes with the clever X-Mode off-road traction program that controls engine, brakes and transmission to improve its performance in the dirt.
There has been important, yet unseen, changes to the engine, body and suspension with the aim to create a quieter, smoother ride with better handling and fuel economy.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels with a full-size spare, dual-zone air-conditioner with rear airvents, a 6.2-inch touchscreen, a six-speaker audio with Bluetooth for streaming, voice command, roof racks with cross rails and a reversing camera.
That’s a decent equipment level and is basically on par with its peers. The main difference is Outback’s five seats compared with many rivals that offer seven.
For a spare $6000 you can move up to the more inviting Premium version of this wagon, kitted out with items including sat-nav, leather, a sunroof, 18-inch alloys, a bigger touchscreen, better connectivity and heated front seats with electric adjustment.
The Outback reflects the style and cabin space of early station-wagons, offering seating for five adults with plenty of leg and headroom. Behind is a long cargo area.
The relatively low window line allows a bright and airy cabin and together with seats that have been raised slightly from its predecessor, aims the new model straight at families and especially those with smaller children who crave a view from within the vehicle.
The amount of space around the driver is commendable, making the Subaru well suited to larger-framed owners. Though the body structure is almost identical to its predecessor, changes include pushing the A-pillar forward by 50mm to give more space around the front occupants.
There is a bit more elbow room, the front seats have been moved apart and the cushions are longer and wider.
So it’s all about space and an uncluttered dashboard and cockpit.
The dashboard is neater and retains Subaru’s minimalistic approach to switches and gauges.
But it never appears to be cheapened by the austere design thanks to a high level of quality both in how components feel when operated and the aesthetics of the materials used.
Personal storage is excellent. There are cavernous door inserts, a large centre console area behind a flip-down lid, the expansive lidded bin between the seats and a decent glovebox.
Compared to the 2014 model, the boot is now bigger by 22 litres at 512 litres with the rear seats in place and the gap beneath the cargo blind is 407mm, up 20mm.
Fold down the split rear seats and there’s a huge 2000 litres of storage space.
In perspective, the Skoda Octavia Scout has 1718 litres, the Alltrack has 1716 litres and the Hyundai Santa Fe has 1615 litres.
Engine and transmission
Subaru morphed the flat-four petrol engine into the world’s first volume production flat-four diesel. It was expensive to design and make but meant Subaru could satisfy European demand for a diesel and easily share components with the petrol variants.
Launched in 2009, the 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel has a modest 110kW/350Nm output and is shared with the Forester.
More recently, the engine has come in for some improvements but none have changed the output.
There is, for example, a faster cold start because of new glow plugs, a lower compression ratio, a higher fuel pressure and a move to a chain-driven oil pump instead of gears.
The changes appear academic but should make life easier for customers and improve durability.
There are also upgrades to the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the inclusion of the X-Mode off-road drive-assistance program that comes across from the Forester.
Only available with the CVT, X-Mode targets three areas – engine, brakes and drivetrain – to ensure the power to each wheel is delivered to maximize traction. The press-button operation makes it so simple to engage it will make any driver look off-road savvy.
Subaru runs a constant all-wheel drive system with a central viscous coupling and a rear limited-slip differential. These two functions are mechanical – with no electronics involved – while the X-Mode uses electronics to tinker with the finer points.
The diesel is also considerably stronger in the mid-range, getting in early with its peak 350Nm torque at 1600rpm and remaining flat until 2800rpm.
Subaru claims 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres but on- and off-road testing averaged 7.9L/100km. To save weight – a mere 7kg – Subaru has reduced the fuel tank capacity to 60 litres from 65 litres effectively shaving 80km off the range, down to 952km from 1032km.
Away from the bitumen, on test through a series of harsh sand and limestone rock tracks, the Outback was comfortable, easy to manoeuvre and sufficiently powerful.
Ascents littered with loose rocks required the X-Mode to be engaged and some speed to clear taller obstacles. In the company of two LandCruisers, the Outback never failed to follow these more competent vehicles.
The CVT took some punishment when higher revs were needed to scale some hills, indicating there would be a lot of metal slippage in the gearbox. I have been assured by a Subaru technician that CVT problems are very rare.
Ride and handling
On the bitumen the Outback is a far better drive than its predecessor. The wagon feels more solid, turns in better to corners (it has a faster steering rack) and there’s subtle improvements to ride comfort and quietness. In fact, the diesel is just as quiet as the 2.5-litre petrol Outback variant.
The improvements can be attributed to a stiffer body – up 167 per cent in torsional rigidity compared with the old model – that has changes to the rear panels and the floorpan.
There has also been some tweaking of the suspension and upgrades to sound proofing.
Ride comfort is well within passenger-car criteria and Outback occupants enjoy one of the quietest cabins in the wagon’s class. That comes from new seats, the stiffer body and the high-profile 65-series tyres.
While ride and handling have been honed, the Outback isn’t a wagon that enjoys being thrown into a corner. It is still a big vehicle and its height affects body-roll and particularly exposes some understeer.
That’s not to say it’s bad, merely to suggest that in comparison with rivals including its bitumen-based sister the Liberty, it’s not as precise or comfortable through quick bends. The answer, of course, is to appreciate this and slow down.
Safety and servicing
Subaru’s Outback last month recorded Subaru’s highest ANCAP rating, a 35.99 score from a possible 37.00.
Unfortunately, the 2.0D tested here doesn’t share that accolade as it misses out on the EyeSight radar-camera accident avoidance system. The system isn’t available on diesel variants.
But the five-star rated 2.0D does get a reversing camera, seven airbags, the constant all-wheel drive, full-size spare wheel, DataDot security and child seat anchor points – two ISOFIX and three Australian standard points.
Subaru’s warranty is three years and unlimited distance, with one-year roadside assistance.
It has a lifetime capped-price service program which requires two services a year. That can be expensive compared with annual servicing.
Over three years, the cost will be $2444. Compare that with a rival such as the Skoda Octavia Scout at $1042 for the same period.
Subaru does, however, retain a strong resale value and by word-of-mouth, has a reputation for quality and reliability.
Glass’s Guide lists the Outback 2.0D as having a three-year residual value of 54 per cent. This compares with the Skoda at 52 per cent, the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack at 55 per cent and the Hyundai Santa Fe at 54 per cent.
The Outback looks more purposeful than before and has styling that bridges the desire to be attractive with the need to reflect its rugged potential.
The changes outside are bigger than the mechanical alterations, though the addition of the X-Mode greatly enhances its off-road ability – an unorthodox move as SUV makers tend to push to more bitumen-based attributes.
The Outback is better to drive and this base-model diesel shows that there’s been no skimping with engineering. However, some rivals offer more gloss in the form of connectivity and convenience features.
The relatively high cost of servicing is a concern. But as a spacious family station wagon with good off-road competency, it remains hard to beat.
SKODA OCTAVIA SCOUT 110TDI from $44,290, plus on-road costs
Back on the market again and with more features, more style and more room. The 110TDI is cheaper than the Outback but comes only as a manual. To get a two-pedal Scout diesel, the price starts at $41,390 for the 135TDI. Equipment levels are on par with the Outback but there’s more safety kit. Skoda claims 5.3L/100km from the 110kW/340Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel. The boot size is a large 588 litres and expands to 1718 litres.
HYUNDAI SANTA FE Active from $43,900, plus on-road costs
The diesel Santa Fe is the only one here with seven seats and broadens its family focus. It is also more typical in design and execution of an SUV, while the Outback and Scout are crossover wagons. The 2015 Santa Fe gets more features and yet retains the durable – if not a touch noisy – 2.2-litre engine with 145kW/421Nm. This powerful engine claims 7.3L/100km. Though taller, it has less cargo space than the Outback at 516 litres and with the second seat row flat, 1615 litres.
VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT ALLTRACK from $48,290, plus on-road costs
This is a bigger wagon than the Outback and gets a more powerful 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine rated at 130kW/380Nm. It has a fuel consumption of 6.3L/100km. The Alltrack arrives in only one, top-shelf specification, hence the high price. It has a sophisticated drivetrain and comprehensive safety equipment, together with features including leather and sat-nav. The boot space is 588-1716 litres.
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