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

Launch Story

9 Sep 2009

SUBARU’S original modern crossover has scored the same physical, technical, efficiency, safety and refinement gains as the Mk5 Liberty range that begat it.

Out now, and priced from the same $37,990 as the last of the old models, the fourth-generation Outback since Subaru jacked up its Mk2 Liberty wagon and slapped on different badges and trim on it back in 1996, uses the revised 2.5-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder ‘boxer’ engine as its sister car, as well as the 3.0R-usurping 3.6-litre boxer six-cylinder 3.6R unit from the larger Tribeca SUV.

But the really big Outback news is reserved for the four-cylinder powerplant, as it gains an all-new stepless CVT transmission called Lineartronic.

Offering six artificial ratio points for manual control via the standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifts, the CVT uses a chain drive for better response and durability. Subaru says that this – along with a host of other innovations – give the Lineartronic driving characteristics more akin to a smooth-shifting conventional automatic.

As in the Liberty 2.5i, it replaces the outmoded four-speed automatic gearbox and serves as a $2500 option above the new standard six-speed manual that usurps the old five-speed manual.

The upshot is an 11.6 per cent carbon dioxide emissions improvement for the single-overhead-cam normally aspirated horizontally opposed four-cylinder petrol engine.

Tumbling from 220 grams per kilometre to 209 (manual), and 223 to 198 (CVT), it helps make the Euro IV-plus 2.5i capable of Euro V certification, according to Subaru.

With changes to the port, improved coolant flow, reduced piston weight, an altered cam profile, high ignition spark plugs and the implementation of a direct rather than sequential ignition coil, the 2.5i is a more efficient operator, releasing 123kW of power at 5600rpm and 229Nm of torque at 4000rpm – representing a 4kW drop and a 2Nm increase over the old four-pot Outback.

Also contributing to better fuel economy is a single muffler that cuts weight by about 6kg, along with a switch from a resin-based plastic intake manifold to a lighter aluminium item.

The end result is a 0.4 litre per 100km improvement for the 2.5i manual (8.9L/100km), and 1.1L/100km for the CVT (8.4L/100km).

Meanwhile, the 3.6R – delivering 191kW at 5600rpm and 350Nm at 4400rpm – achieves 10.3L/100km and 242g/km, bettering the previous Outback’s 180kW/297Nm 3.0R boxer unit’s 11.1L/100km and 263g/km tolls. The latter, by the way, is an 8.7 per cent drop in CO2 emissions.

All Outback models come with an ‘ECO’ gauge and gear shift up/down indicator to assist with more efficient driving habits. Plus, the big ‘6’ can run safely on just 90 RON unleaded petrol, for a two per cent deficit in performance and economy.

The 3.6R – like the latest turbocharged Liberty 2.5i GT – inherits the Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) system, delivering a trio of driving experience choices in the same car.

Subaru says SI-Drive can “… optimise fuel efficiency and ride comfort in stop-start city traffic, produce a lively response in flowing freeway or town traffic, or a rapid sporty drive on the open road” – all via a knob to the left of the driver.

The Outback 3.6R will continue to employ the old five-speed automatic gearbox until Subaru engineers its CVT to handle the extra torque of the six-cylinder engine.

On the safety front, a driver’s knee airbag is part of the Outback’s seven-airbag protection system, helping it to achieve a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating.

Aiding this feat is a cabin that has been strengthened in key areas, as well as an engine cradle that folds to better-absorb impact energy, while an energy absorbing steel bonnet area plays a big part in the Outback and Liberty’s competitive three-star pedestrian ANCAP result.

Also part of the car’s safety role call are breakaway pedals, an energy-absorbing footrest, and an upper cross member in the rear seats to prevent occupant submarining forward and underneath the front seat area.

Adding to strength and safety as well as refinement and practicality is the abolition of Subaru’s one-time trademark frameless door-glass construction, for conventional sash-frame glass.

Also to that end, the engineers have installed a new single-cradle engine bay – with the engine mounted to it – that is also said to benefit ride and stability properties.

Subaru’s chief engineer Takeshi Tachimori told GoAutoNews that there was a lot of cost-pressure related resistance to the cradle, but the significant comfort and driveability benefit it brings soon convinced all the doubting Thomases at Fuji Heavy Industries.

Nevertheless, the new car’s chassis is lighter, despite the cradle and bigger body.

Outback prototypes were sent (where else!) to Australia for testing and retuning – mainly to the suspension and involving the damper and spring rates as well as anti-roll bar size – to make the latest Subarus better suited to local buyer taste.

The front suspension uses a MacPherson strut-type construction that’s mounted to the cradle, while a new compact double-wishbone rear suspension set-up similar to that found on the latest Impreza small car is mounted to the sub-frame.

Besides a higher ride height – up 63mm to 213mm (itself a 13mm rise compared to the previous model), the newest Outback differs from its Liberty stablemate with its self-levelling rear suspension system.

The shock absorbers feature low-friction oil seals, guide bushes and hydraulic oil, for the betterment of ride comfort and quality, enhanced by a new type of initial valve structure.

Its Vehicle Dynamics Control device – deploying ESC stability and traction controls as well as anti-lock brakes, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and an LSD-like ‘limited slip device’ which works in concert with the ESC – cannot be fully disconnected as the Liberty’s can, keeping the stability control on. This is due to the Outback’s higher centre of gravity.

Braking is via a set of 16-inch solid discs, and has been improved thanks to a newly designed booster that includes a higher response valve for a 20 per cent performance increase. Aluminium callipers lop off 1kg.

A new electronic park brake has been incorporated, replacing the old mechanical item. It is automatically released when the driver moves off the line. There is also a hill holder system that kicks in if the Outback is stopped on a hill with a gradient over five per cent.

Unlike models sold in Europe, Australian-bound Outbacks mimic their Liberty sisters in having hydraulically powered rack and pinion steering. The more costly electric item in other markets is primarily fitted for marginally lower CO2 figures.

Bigger than before, the Outback grows in length (+65mm), width (+50mm), height (+70mm), and wheelbase (+75mm).

The larger and more aerodynamic body liberates space for cargo as well as passengers, Subaru says, thanks to 30mm extra width between the front seats and a 68mm length increase between the front and rear rows, which results in a 99mm and 62mm boost in rear legroom and shoulder room respectively.

Outback buyers now have an extra 31 litres of cargo space to play with, due to the 19mm gains in width at the wheel arch and an extra 35mm at the quarter panel. However, due to less rear overhang, the rear floor is not quite as deep as before.

Weight gains over the previous Outback are up to 94kg, depending on which model is being assessed.

Front seat comfort advances include longer sliding rails, an electronic lumbar support for the driver on premium variants, and larger seatback heights to accommodate bigger frame sizes.

Standard features include a full suite of safety gear including stability control, as well as dual-zone air-conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, DataDot security and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Factory fitted voice-activated satellite navigation with a reverse camera facility is now available, along with the availability of light-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers and keyless entry and start.

First servicing on the Outback 2.5i is 12,500km or six months.

Subaru is hoping to find about 950 buyers a month for Liberty and Outback combined, with 550 settling for the latter.

About 65,000 Outbacks have been sold in Australia from the time of the 1996 launch, compared to almost 130,000 Liberty models since 1989.

“The range will be completed in November with the introduction of Subaru Australia’s first diesel model, the turbocharged Outback 2.0D,” says company boss Nick Senior.

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