Back in 1996 Subaru Outback was one of the pioneers of vehicles that were a cross between conventional station wagons, Liberty in this case, and dedicated 4WDs that would take on the American name of Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) and spread spectacularly in popularity.
Interestingly, the name Outback was chosen by the vehicle’s US designers, at a time when Australia was the flavour of the month in the States, to conjure up images of the Australian way of life – a nation of adventurers with a free and easy lifestyle.
While the majority of Outbacks serve their time in the harsh world of suburban shopping centres and family transport it also appeals to those who want the extra traction of all-wheel drive together with higher ground clearance, bigger wheels and tyres, and a tougher body and suspension.
This latest Outback also takes on the rugged, semi-4WD look that had been a feature of the original model. The upgrade also included the addition of roof rails with integrated cross bars, side sills and cladding on the wheel arches, front and rear under body guard protectors and front mud flaps. These are complemented by a dark grey front grille, a black background to the headlights and dark grey alloy wheels.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
Although Outback has been a consistent seller it has missed out on many more sales due to the absence (until 2009) of a diesel engine and (until March 2013) of the combination of an automatic transmission with that engine.
As well as the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel Outback comes with the choice of two petrol engines, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder and 3.6-litre six. All engines are of the distinctive Subaru horizontally-opposed Boxer design with the 2.0D said to be the first diesel engine of this type ever fitted into a passenger car.
Peak power from the diesel is a useful 110kW, but it's the torque that counts. In the Subaru engine 300 Newton metres of torque is there when the engine reaches just 1600 rpm. It rises to a maximum of 350Nm when it gets to 1800 revs and remains at that peak until 2400.
The official fuel consumption as measured to the Australian standard is just 6.0 litres per hundred kilometres with the manual transmission and 6.5L/100km with the CVT. CO2 emissions are 158 and 172g/km respectively.
The comparative figures for the petrol-powered Outbacks are 127kW/235Nm / 8.0L/100km and 185 g/km from the 2.5-litre and 191kW/350Nm / 10.3L/100 km and 242g/km from the 3.6-litre six.
The 2.0D is the only variant that’s available with a manual (six-speed) gearbox. Both it and the 2.5i get CVT while the 3.6R has a conventional five-speed automatic.
The interior is spacious and comfortable. Although it lacks the extra height of the typical SUV there’s good visibility all round although, because our test car came with Subaru’s EyeSight system with its large enclosed safety cameras mounted at the top centre of the front windscreen, we regularly found ourselves being distracted by its presence although we did adapt to it within a day or so.
We were delighted to find that there was plenty of front headroom despite the standard sunroof in our 2.0D Premium model and there’s comfortable head and legroom in the rear for the normal load of two adults or three children. Rear storage space is good with 490 litres available when the rear seatbacks are in place and 1690 litres with them folded flat.
All Outback variants come standard with a small rear spoiler; roof rails with integrated crossbars; 17-inch alloy wheels; leather wrapped steering wheel; reversing camera; auxiliary and USB sockets; Bluetooth phone and audio streaming; and steering wheels controls. The Premium models add electric sunroof; front fog lights; leather seat trim; powered driver’s seat; satellite navigation; and EyeSight technology.
Subaru Outback 2.0D with the CVT is one of the smoothest and quietest cars that we’ve encountered. Even driven hard noise intrusion into the cabin is minimal, even at high speeds on quiet country roads.
The CVT comes with a seven-step manual mode that uses steering wheel paddles. To placate those drivers who get annoyed by the ‘slipping-clutch’ sound of a CVT, if you press the accelerator hard the CVT jumps out of auto mode into the manual mode.
The diesel engine has the inevitable ‘clatter’ at idle, particularly when the engine is cold although it’s really only noticeable from outside the car. Once on the move the engine is all but indistinguishable from a petrol engine. While there is some turbo lag, clever design has reduced this to a minimum.
Subaru is a company that prides itself on placing engineering excellence ahead of style but we’re pleased to see it restore the semi-rugged look of the original Outback. Especially so because Outback is a versatile vehicle that combines the practical qualities of a refined family wagon with reassuring stability in off-road conditions.
2014 Subaru Outback diesel auto
Price: from $45,490
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, ESC, EBD, TC
Crash rating: 5-star
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 110kW/350Nm
Transmission: CVT auto; constant 4WD
Thirst: 6.5L/100km; 172g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.8m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.6m (H)