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Car reviews - Subaru - Outback - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Quality, ride comfort, quietness, full-size spare
Room for improvement
Some fussy styling cues, little steering feedback, VDC an expensive option

8 Sep 2006

DOES Subaru’s Outback overshadow the just-as-accomplished Liberty wagon?

The simple answer is yes. The Outback, for all its beefed up looks, is really just a hyped-up version of the Liberty wagon.

Clever marketing has imprinted in most people’s minds that it is a distinct model, completely separate to the Liberty wagon.

But in reality they share much – engines, suspensions, interiors and styling.

Even the revised 2007 price-points are much the same for the 2.5i and 3.0-litre Liberty and Outback models

What you get in an Outback though is the beefy side cladding, distinctive grille and under bumper treatment and 200mm of ground clearance.

These treatments transform the visual appeal of the car and give it a more muscular look that lifts the car into the “soft-roader” category.

The extra height may have its benefits when traversing off-road tracks and sandy beaches but the change in ride height does affect the car’s overall handling.

The 2.5i Outback is a tad less precise and slightly more floaty on the road than the equivalent Liberty wagon and like the Liberty, the steering is overly light. When pushed through mountain corners it will lean into corners more and understeer is more prevalent.

However, on the handling scale it is far better than some high-riding SUVs we’ve experienced and many buyers who opt for a Subaru do so because they do not need, nor want, a lumbering SUV.

Where the Outback stands out is its ride over rough, corrugated gravel roads. As we’ve experienced previously, it will glide across the worst country roads with a ride that remains composed and suspension that insulates occupants from the worst of the conditions.

Such roads are an ideal reinforcement of Subaru’s all-wheel drive system, which incorporates a viscous coupling on all manual transmission Outbacks to provide a 50:50 front and rear torque split, as well as low-range.

Automatic 2.5i Outbacks have a transfer clutch system, which uses a multi-plate fluid clutch to engage drive. In practice the system works without any discernable lag in all-wheel drive.

The Outback’s competent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension carries over from the previous car without change. It didn’t need any because the system is poised and well sorted.

Visually the wagon shares many of the 2007 model year updates of its Liberty sibling.

The front gets reprofiled headlights, different bumper and grille, new larger exterior mirrors and new alloys.

The next five-spoke alloys, previously only found on the 3.0R, are now standard on the 2.5i.

These replace the ordinary cross-hatched alloys of the old car and in our view their simple design looks even better than the new alloys on the 3.0R.

A welcome addition is the standard brake assist but Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamic Control remains an expensive option and is only standard on the range-topping 3.0R Premium. Likewise, high intensity discharge Bi-Xenon headlights are only available on 3.0R models.

As before, the 2.5i is available with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

The auto is a smoother shifter and also has a sequential manual function but no paddle shifts like the more expensive 3.0R. We found sequential mode more useful for extracting the best from the 121kW/226Nm 2.5-litre four, particularly given that the 2.5i Outback tips the scales at 1440kg.

The 2.5i is a sweet unit tough with peak power coming in at 5600rpm and peak torque from 4400rpm.

However, the newness of the engine meant that our 2.5i was a little “tight” and previous experience with Subaru’s boxer fours has proved that they need at least 10,000km to deliver their best, both in economy and performance.

Despite being fresh out of the box, the 2.5i performed well with a combined fuel figure of 9.7L/100km for the auto.

At highway speeds the cabin was quiet and despite the redesigned, and bigger, exterior rear view mirrors, there was little wind noise.

Like the Liberty, the Outback benefits from increased body rigidity, which explains the quiet interior.

The engine bay strut towers have been reinforced and the A pillar has also been toughened up in an effort to not only improve crash safety, but reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

As with the previous model, the cabin is pleasantly styled, reasonably accommodating and boasts good equipment levels.

There are some modest changes to the interior.

Inside the dashboard gains a neat brush silver accent across the dashboard that neatly extends into the console and breaks up the drab grey-black colour scheme.

The cruise control wand has now been deleted, in its place are steering wheel mounted switches, which are far easier to use. These complement the clearer instruments and now reach-adjustable steering wheel.

Other improvements for 2007 include a reversible, washable cargo floor, upgraded interior trim, improved trip computer and six-stacker in-dash CD stereo.

By dumping the previous car’s silver finished console around the audio and heating controls, the whole dashboard now looks more contemporary with its matt-black finish. The audio and heating controls too have a more harmonious and quality feel.

Perhaps the only significant issue with the Outback, and its Liberty sibling for that matter, is that the cabin feels narrow. The rear legroom is also quite squeezy for adults despite the car’s 2670mm wheelbase.

With a width of 1770mm, the Outback is narrower than a Mazda Tribute, Suzuki Vitara, Honda CR-V or Nissan X-trail.

However, we suspect that when the completely new Outback arrives in 2009 there will be more interior space and more legroom in the back.

Apart from that, there is little else to dislike about the Subbie.

It is an honest, solid performer that carries over the thorough engineering detail of past cars. The latest equipment upgrades are thoughtful and thoroughly well sorted.

The refreshed 2.5i now has enough ammunition to continue its battle with the ever-expanding soft-roader segment but if you do not need, nor want, the "crossover" wagon look, then opt for the Liberty wagon.

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