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Subaru Outback 3.6R 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Subaru's Outback started life over twenty years ago as little more than a Liberty on stilts and some cladding to mark it out as the one for the rugged go-(almost) anywhere crowd. It hasn't really look

SUVs are the thing now, but the Outback is something they aren't – based on a normal car, with just enough extra ride height to qualify it as an SUV in the swinging buyers' mind to add to the almost literally rusted-on Outback fans.

Value

The Outback benefited from an update in February with a few minor tweaks to keep things fresh. Being a Subaru it's all-wheel drive, so the only decisions you have to make are which engine you'd like to drive them – petrol or diesel four-cylinder and a petrol six.

The 2.0 diesel opens the range at $35,490 for the manual, $35,990 for the six-speed CVT 2.5i petrol with the 2.0 diesel Premium ending the four-cylinder range at $44,990. The 3.6R flat-six is auto-only and based on the Premium spec, topping the range at $48,490 (bizarrely, that's cheaper than the range-topping Forester XT Premium).

That buys you a 12-speaker harmon/kardon stereo with USB and Bluetooth, 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, Subaru's EyeSight safety system (standard on all automatic Outbacks), active cruise control, electric heated front seats, leather trim, satnav, LED headlights, auto headlights and wipers, keyless entry and start, electric tailgate, full-size alloy spare, sunroof and tinted windows.

Bizarrely, there's no front or rear parking sensors but metallic paint is free.

Design

The current Outback certainly isn't hiding its SUV light under a bushel. It rides 213mm off the deck and is covered in all sorts of cladding to suggest family-friendly, dusty/muddy weekend pursuits are on the cards.

The chunky roof rails are actually useful and you could sensibly lash things to it without having to perform microsurgery to thread everything through. There's some Audi-like daytime running lights and a set of delightfully old-fashioned fog lights low in the bumper.

It's not overtly wagon-ey, Subaru preferring to go with that halfway-house look so beloved of SUV designers and, presumably, buyers.

Inside is dark and a bit dreary. The design is almost completely conventional and is almost entirely grey, with just a few highlights in aluminium. The screen sits flush in the central part of the dash and doesn't look as big as its seven inches.

The front seats appear shared with the Forester XT and is the only genuine problem in the cabin – they're small but are not very comfortable or even slightly supportive. This isn't the sort of car you'll go corner-carving in but having to tightly grip the steering wheel to stay in your seat is very tiring.

Long-term comfort aside, everything is well designed and feels good, something original Outback users couldn't say with any confidence – Subaru has banished squeaky plastics and iffy fit and finish forever it would seem.

The interior is cavernous, too, with plenty of space for occupants, the rear seats being particularly generous for leg and knee room. Boot space is 512 litres and a massive 1810 when the rear seats are dropped.

Safety

Seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), ABS, brake assist, blind spot sensor, high and low speed forward collision mitigation, stability and traction controls, brake force distribution, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic warning contribute to a maximum five star ANCAP rating.

Features

The seven-inch screen, which luxuriates in the name Starlink (sounds better with a Zsa Zsa Gabor accent), runs the stereo, limited app connectivity, satnav and some vehicle information.

The sound from the stereo is a bit disappointing but is easy to use and set up, including a rare simple method of switching Bluetooth devices. The app connectivity isn't as easy as it should be and is pretty much limited to Pandora. The touchscreen is unusually responsive, too and the physical interface easy to keep clean.

Engine and transmission

The 3.6 litre horizontally-opposed six cylinder develops 191kW and 350Nm of torque. The torque figure is identical to the diesel but the power figure significantly up from the oil burner's 110kW and the 2.5i's 129kW.

Hauling 1702kg, Subaru claims 9.9L/100km on combined cycle and 14.2 on the urban. We nudged 16L/100km in mostly city driving.

Driving

As the figures show, the 3.6R is a thirsty machine, eclipsing the BMW M4's rather more powerful (and thrashed) turbo straight six, a car it shared the driveway with for a week. Having said that, it's incredibly smooth in the least aggressive of its three modes – S, SI and S# (that's S Sharp for those not familiar with Subaru's oddities). The CVT, a transmission not normally known for its refinement, is a seemingly perfect fit in the Outback, doing a far better job than the similar unit in the Forester. When you turn up the wick with SI or S# the response from standstill or coming back on the throttle is indeed very sharp and takes some getting used to. The power and torque are put to good use in these modes, with the attendant jump in fuel usage.

S mode, then, is pretty good for the whole time. That's partly because this is one of the least sporty cars on the planet. The suspension, while delivering an unusually firm ride for a car of this type, can't keep the car from understeering in even mildly fast cornering, all-wheel drive notwithstanding. Body control is a bit lurchy on turn-in but calms down once the car settles into the corner.

Another discouragement from rapid progress is the EyeSight system. Again, it's a big improvement on the Forester, but it's still a work in progress. Any white line sets it off and cars that are clearly on the other side of the road can send the system into a bleeping panic. It can be frustrating, but not so bad you're tempted to switch it all off.

Verdict

As a family car, it's got a lot going for it – great space for even lanky teenagers in the back, a good collection of gadgets and plenty of safety features. The 3.6R might be a step too far for the family budget though with its dizzying fuel consumption – as an around-town car, it's going to cost a fortune in fuel to run.

It's also unique in this segment – there aren't many six cylinder SUVs for this money and there certainly aren't any of this quality. It's easy to see why Outback owners love them and thankfully the flat-six isn't mandatory.

Click here to see more 2016 Subaru Outback pricing and spec info.

Check out the five features Peter Anderson likes about the Subuar Outback 3.6R:

Pricing guides

$26,895
Based on 270 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$14,980
Highest Price
$35,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.0D 2.0L, Diesel, CVT AUTO $14,980 – 29,948 2016 Subaru Outback 2016 2.0D Pricing and Specs
2.0D Premium 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $16,950 – 33,990 2016 Subaru Outback 2016 2.0D Premium Pricing and Specs
2.5i 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $15,950 – 28,990 2016 Subaru Outback 2016 2.5i Pricing and Specs
2.5i Premium 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $22,990 – 33,990 2016 Subaru Outback 2016 2.5i Premium Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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