2016 Subaru Outback review | first drive

Subaru is banking on a refreshed version of the fifth-generation Outback – the company's "stand-out performer" of 2015 – to build on the model's positive sales milestones.

A record number of all-new Outbacks – 10,927 – were sold last year. bringing it to fourth place in the very competitive large SUV segment behind Toyota Prado, Kluger and Jeep Cherokee.

"Customers ranked Outback's safety, design, value for money, reputation, reliability and on-road dynamics as key drivers of their purchase," says Subaru Australia boss Nick Senior.

The refresh, aimed at consolidating Outback's success, comes with a stack of extras, not the least of which are a host of safety tech. EyeSight active safety system is now in diesel Outbacks for the first time. Previously petrol-only, the system is now standard on all but manual versions of the diesel.

The EyeSight system has also been expanded to include new Vision Assist features. These include blind spot monitoring, lane guidance, auto-dimming rear view mirror and high beams, and rear cross traffic alerts. 

Other key functions of EyeSight include adaptive cruise control, auto emergency braking, Pre-Collision Steering Assist, lane departure warning and Front Vehicle Start Alert.

Another safety addition is Emergency Stop Signal (ESS), which detects an emergency brake situation and flashes the hazard lights automatically, to warn following vehicles.

There is a real feeling of improved quality to everything inside; leather trim and more.

Prices have risen between $500 and $1500 across most Outback variants, along with several detail changes.

These include free map updates for three years on the satnav-equipped Premium and 3.6R Outback variants, a new Dark Blue Pearl paint option, a new grille insert on Premium and 3.6R Outbacks, electric folding mirrors on base Outback variants, and the base diesel Outback now gets auto headlights and wipers, aligning it with the base petrol version.

The Outback range includes Outback 2.5i CVT, Outback 2.5i Premium CVT, Outback 2.0D manual, Outback 2.0D CVT, Outback 2.0D Premium manual, Outback 2.0D Premium CVT, and Outback 3.6R.

We drove the Outback 2.0D Premium (CVT) at its Australian launch, and its fit and finish is nice and slick for something of this ilk. There is a real feeling of improved quality to everything inside; leather trim and more. The MY15 interior was a class above anything that had been done before in an Outback and that's carried through into this rejuvenated version: soft-touch surfaces all around, nicely designed and easy to get comfortable in. It's not luxurious, but it's not supposed to be – it's an Outback.

The power leather seats are heated, and there's also an electric sunroof.

The instrument panel and multimedia touchscreen system are both easy to see and use and very well integrated.

The Outback has a nice balance between looking rugged enough to tackle logging trails and ‘hip' enough to tackle Paddington

There's plenty of room for five adults – with plenty of legroom in the second row – and storage abounds as well.
The boot is big enough to swallow 512 litres of your gear; with seats down that grows to 1801 litres. In the last gen, Subaru really took onboard family tourers' input and brought that to the mix.

Visibility is king at the best times but even more so when you're heading up and down steep, slippery bush tracks in the rain: you want to see potholes, obstacles and kangaroos before you've hit them. And the Outback has the driver's eye view well and truly covered. Visibility is great with thin pillars and open glass every which way.

On the outside, the Outback has a nice balance between looking rugged enough to tackle logging trails and ‘hip' enough to tackle Paddington; we reckon it can do both with ease. It sits low like a car but has a tempered SUV presence without that typical generic bulkiness.

The Outback is 4815mm (length), 1840mm (width), 1675mm (height) with a 2745mm wheelbase. For those wanting to head off road (a bit), it has a respectable 213mm minimum ground clearance. It rides on 18-inch alloys and has a full-sized alloy spare.

On the road

This Outback's 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine – producing 110kW@3600rpm and 350Nm@1600rpm – is partnered with a Lineartronic CVT.

From the start, it's a livelier drive than past-generation diesels. It's still no rocketship, but it can get off the mark without too much swearing from this driver.

The steering is sharp for something aimed at the city-country middle ground.

Visibility is great: there is heaps to the rear, no blind spots.

It does well on the bitumen but the bonus is the Outback, even though its name suggests it might be a rough rider, is a real goer on the bumpy stuff. It's nice and settled over corrugations, shallow potholes, and stony outcrops. The suspension, tuned and re-tuned to suit Aussie conditions, does its job supremely well.

For something that provides its drivers with a gateway into the the slow-going off-road (or at least soft-road) world, the Outback offers nice driving dynamics.

The Outback can be driven over and through stuff its rivals can only dream of.

There's no bodyroll, no pitching – it was "dead flat" said my co-driver. There was no pitching through the worst of bush track whoop-de-doos – it stayed as stable as something a horse might sleep in.

It travelled comfortably on a stretch of dirt road at speeds of between 90km/ and 100km/h that any normal vehicle would travel at around 70km/h.

Its AWD system offers up that expected Subaru all-paw reliability, on roads and tracks, holding a balanced, confident position through corners, sweeping and tight.

It also retains a degree of off-road ability that an AWD has no right to exhibit. With X-Mode engaged and 213mm of ground clearance at your disposal, the Outback can be driven over and through stuff its rivals can only dream of. Considered driving is necessary though.

One point though: there was a fair amount of tyre noise as soon as we hit the dirt tracks around Mt Gambier. My co-driver guessed at too-high tyre pressures on heavier-ply tyres. He might have been right, or he may have just been hungover and talking nonsense. We'd just climbed out of a Liberty so maybe we'd been spoilt. I thought NVH wasn't too bad.

Also, the lane-departure warning tends to be a bit over-sensitive – it beeps if you even look at the centre-line. Not really, but you get the picture. It can be switched off.

The fuel tank is 60 litres; fuel consumption (combined) is a claimed 6.3L/100km.


The Subaru Outback is a near-perfect family soft-roader for the price. Fit and finish is admirable, ride and handling is great and the latest round of safety tech add-ons only make the Outback more appealing.

Check out the Subaru Outback in action

Would you consider an Outback over other large SUVs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

At a glance

Price from: $44,990 (as tested)
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited kilometres
Capped servicing: 3 years/75,000km
Service intervals: 6 months/12,500km
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, ISOFIX child-seat points (rear seat)
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cyl diesel Boxer, 110kW/350Nm
Transmission: auto – AWD
Thirst: 6.3L/100km
Dimensions: 4815mm (L), 1840mm (W), 1675mm (H) , 2745mm (WB)
Weight: 1602kg