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Subaru Outback 2018 review

EXPERT RATING
7.9
It’s hard to think how Subaru could improve the popularity of the Outback. The current-generation model is easily the most successful version ever.

It’s hard to think how Subaru could improve the popularity of the Outback. The current-generation model is easily the most successful version ever - but, as sure as dessert follows dinner, it’s time for a mid-life update for the high-riding wagon.

And this is it: the Subaru Outback 2018 model, a facelifted and tweaked version of the Japanese SUV that has just launched in Australia.

While at first glance the changes appear to be fairly minor, let's go through it in detail and take a good look at what’s changed. 

Subaru Outback 2018: 2.5i
Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$31,777

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

How much does a Subaru Outback cost? Well, that depends on the variant and the drivetrain. But here’s a guide, a sort of price list because the range spans quite a large bracket. The prices below are all before on-road costs (rrp), not drive away - you might find deals on the company’s site, or at your friendly Subaru dealer. 

There are five variants in the range, so let’s compare models from the bottom to the top.

Opening the line-up is the 2.5i, which is priced from $36,240, and the list of included equipment is extensive. There’s Subaru’s 'EyeSight' driver assist system with adaptive cruise control and auto emergency braking (AEB) (plus a lot more - see the safety section below), a reversing camera, the brand’s 'X-Mode' traction control system, and dual-zone climate control air conditioning with rear vents.

There are rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights (halogen - not even projector beam, HID or xenon - not great if you do a lot of night driving) with daytime running lights, front fog-lights, rear window tint and an electric park brake.

The exterior has a small spoiler on the tailgate, roof rails in black, silver underbody protection and 18-inch wheels. 

If you want a bit more kit for your money, then you might want to opt for the 2.5i Premium, which starts at $42,640, and aside from wheelarch cladding, most of the changes are inside.

The 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i. Most of the changes are inside. The 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i. Most of the changes are inside.

You get inclusions such as electric front seat adjustment, heated front seats (but no heated steering wheel, unlike our friends in the US), a sunroof (not a panoramic sunroof, just a regular front-seat-benefit-only one), powered and heated side mirrors, keyless entry with push button start, and leather seats.

You also step up to LED headlights (including auto high-beam and steering responsive light) in this spec, and you get a powered tailgate.

As with the four-cylinder boxer petrol models, there are two derivatives of the four-cylinder diesel to pick from.

The more affordable version is the 2.0D available with a CVT auto at $38,740. You used to be able to buy an Outback diesel with a manual transmission, but that version has been dropped due to low demand. 

The Outback 2.0D is the only variant that rides on 17-inch wheels (an inch smaller than the rest), but otherwise it almost mirrors the spec of the 2.5i.

Then there’s the 2.0D Premium, which is automatic only, and has a list price of $45,640. It largely mirrors the 2.5i Premium spec.

The flagship model is 3.6R, which has a list price of $49,140.

The 3.6R carries a $49,140 price tag. The 3.6R carries a $49,140 price tag.

It is definitely the most premium package of this bunch. Its sound system is upgraded with 12 harman/kardon speakers plus a subwoofer and amp, as well as model-distinct styling elements such as a chrome side-sill garnish and silver roof rails. The 3.6R also gets a three-mode 'SI-Drive' drive mode selector, where other petrol variants get a two-mode set-up.

In terms of infotainment, there is a 6.5-inch multimedia screen in the lower grades (2.0D and 2.5i), while the 8.0-inch touch screen in the Premium versions and the 3.6R includes a built in GPS / navigation system.

But buyers of the base models shouldn’t fear - every Outback comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, meaning you can use your iPhone or other smartphone as a sat nav system. 

There’s Bluetooth phone and audio streaming for MP3 playback, a CD player (not a CD changer, though), and the new media system has NFC connection, so you don't even need to go through the pairing process with a suitable phone. 

Of course there is AM/FM radio, but DAB radio (digital) isn’t fitted and there is no DVD player. And as advanced as the media unit is, there’s no Homelink app to open your garage smart door. 

All Outbacks score Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. All Outbacks score Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

There’s a detailed trip computer with digital speed read-out in all models, and every version comes with a sunglass holder in the headlining. And because there are dual USB ports in the back of every model, there’s no need for a rear seat entertainment system - the kids can BYO.

In addition to the standard features, there are plenty of options on Subaru’s Outback accessories list, including a range of luggage pods, protective film for the paint, and bike and kayak holders.

If you were hoping for a nudge bar, bull bar or snorkel, you’ll have to shop around elsewhere: just make sure those items don’t void your warranty, and are airbag compliant. 

Surprisingly, you only get floor mats from the accessories catalogue - they’re not standard in any model - and we recommend the boot-lip and bumper protector if you use the boot a lot.

How many seats in the Outback? Simple - five! There is no third row, which could rule out this model for some buyers - maybe take a look at the similarly-sized Nissan X-Trail or Mitsubishi Outlander.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   9/10

It was already pretty attractive, and the minor changes made to the 2018 Subaru Outback - in my view - make it even more so.

LED headlights and auto high-beam is now standard on high-spec Outbacks. LED headlights and auto high-beam is now standard on high-spec Outbacks.

There have been plenty of subtle adjustments to the exterior styling, including a new grille, new bumpers, new headlights - including adaptive LEDs and auto high-beam on high-spec models like this one - and there are redesigned wing mirrors that help cut wind noise.

There are new alloy wheel designs for all models - the base model 2.0D retains its bump-friendly 17-inch wheels, while the rest of the trim levels have 18-inch rims. All models have those signature roof rails which will allow for a roof rack set-up, and of course the accessories catalogue includes things like bike racks, too. 

The high-spec models in Australia keep the wheel-arch cladding, while the lower-spec models miss out. An interesting tidbit - all US models miss out on the cladding.

Because the Outback isn’t a sporty model, there is no conventional body kit or chrome exhaust tips, but I guess you could consider the underbody protection, lower sill side skirts and hatch-mounted rear spoiler to be a bit sporty…?

Unlike Australia, all of the US Outbacks will not have the plastic cladding. Unlike Australia, all of the US Outbacks will not have the plastic cladding.

Plus there are new colours (or colors, depending on where you’re reading this) available - 'Crimson Red Pearl' and 'Wilderness Green Metallic' - which join the existing 'Crystal Black', 'Tungsten' (which almost looks gold in some lights), 'Ice Silver', 'Dark Blue', 'Dark Grey', 'Crystal White', 'Lapis Blue', 'Platinum Grey', and 'Oak Brown'. There’s no bright orange like the XV, though. A nice bonus for buyers is that none of the paint finishes cost extra. 

Helping differentiate the higher-spec models are redesigned LED headlights in the Outback 2.5i Premium, 3.6R and 2.0D Premium, and they are integrated with 'Steering Responsive Headlights' (SRH) and the 'Adaptive Driving Beam' (ADB) functions. So, the beam will move with the steering wheel, and they’ll dip for oncoming traffic, too.

The dimensions have not changed from the previous car. The dimensions have not changed from the previous car.

Nothing has changed in terms of interior dimensions or size, and you can see from our interior photos there have been some changes - the top-spec models still get leather, but the range now sees a few material changes here and there. Read on for more detail.

How practical is the space inside?   9/10

Across the Outback line-up there are some changes to materials used, including some piano black finishes here and there, and extra stitching as well. I’m a big fan of the new climate control knobs, which have little digital displays in them, a bit like an Audi. 

The interior material has changed across the range. An 8.0-inch touchscreen is available on high spec variants. The interior material has changed across the range. An 8.0-inch touchscreen is available on high spec variants.

There’s a new, brighter, and more impressive looking media system, which measures 8.0 inches in the top variants, while the entry-grade models have a 6.5-inch screen. 

The high-spec versions with the 8.0-inch screen get built-in sat nav, but all models now come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - and the media unit is a really impressive system to use, even though the old one wasn’t all that bad.

There is Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, plus two USB ports for connecting/charging devices. 

The back seat has been improved, too, with a pair of USB ports added there as well. And the essentials are all covered - you will find a cup holder or two in the front (between the front seats) and the back (in a fold-down armrest), and bottle holders in all four doors.

USB ports have been added to the convenience of back seat passengers. USB ports have been added to the convenience of back seat passengers.  

As for space, there’s enough toe, leg and headroom for 183cm (six-foot) adults like me, and if you have small children the dual ISOFIX points and three top tether points will be handy. If you’re a shorter driver, if your seat is a long way forward, you may wish for a seat belt extender - but there isn’t one.

A lot of buyers choose the Outback because its wagon body offers a more family-friendly storage size than some of its rival SUVs, which cost as much (or more) but have smaller boots. The Outback’s boot dimensions allow for 512 litres of boot space (VDA) with the seats up and 1801L of luggage capacity with the seats down - is a super practical option for mums and dads. 

 

Plus, if you actually plan to venture to the outback you will appreciate the full-size alloy spare wheel under the boot floor. Sales reps might like to invest in a cargo barrier (there are two types available from Subaru) or boot liner, and there’s a cargo / tonneau cover included.  

So the cabin is very family-friendly - but on the whole, the Outback is pretty friendly on the wallet, too.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

As mentioned above, there are three options to choose from in the Outback range - two petrols, and a diesel. Horsepower outputs of all three engines remain the same as they were before - but there’s still no turbo petrol motor. 

The entry-level 2.5-litre four-cylinder ‘boxer’ horizontally-opposed engine produces 129kW of power and 235Nm of torque. It can only be had with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic transmission, which has a seven-speed manual mode.

The 2.5-litre drivetrain have been tweaked for better response and economy, and the CVT auto has seen some changes, too. 

The entry-level 2.5-litre boxer puts out 129kW/235Nm. The entry-level 2.5-litre boxer puts out 129kW/235Nm.

At the top of the range (and with the biggest engine size) is the single 3.6R model, with - you guessed it - a 3.6-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder as in the Liberty, which still has 191kW of power and 350Nm of torque. It only comes with a CVT.

Models bearing the 2.0D suffix are powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder boxer engine with 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque. There used to be a six-speed manual transmission, but not anymore - so if you’re still going through the manual vs automatic argument in your head, you might have to seek out a pre-facelift manual version. 

The 2.0D models have a diesel particulate filter, and anecdotally I’ve read a few things about diesel engine problems as a result - but nothing to lose sleep over. 

You may have heard about older Subarus and some expensive major services and thought to yourself, “I wonder if the 2018 Outback has a timing belt or chain?” Then you’ll be happy to learn it has a chain, which never needs to be replaced … but items like the battery will still need the occasional replacement. If you’re quite a hands-on owner, you’ll be able to find out the oil type and capacity in the owner’s manual.  

Every Outback is all-wheel drive, where some other SUVs against which it will compete have cheaper front-wheel drive options. But, obviously, the AWD system of the Outback is an advantage - it mightn’t be as hardcore as a proper 4x4 or 4WD, but it can handle more than you’d think. 

At this point in time, there is no LPG, plug-in hybrid or EV version of the Outback, so it’ll boil down to diesel vs petrol. 

When it comes to towing capacity, the load hauling ability of each of the Outback models is relatively low.

Fit a tow bar to your Outback 2.5i model and you will be limited to pulling a 1500kg trailer with brakes, while the carrying limit for the 2.0D model is 1700kg, leaving the 3.6R as the best bet, with 1800kg of capacity.  All models have a 750kg limit for un-braked trailers. 

The gross vehicle weight / tare mass depends on the variant: the 2.5i is 1557kg, the 2.5i Premium is 1588kg, where the 3.6R tips the scales at 1662kg. The 2.0D weighs 1645kg, where the better-equipped 2.0D Premium is 1684kg.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Fuel economy, fuel consumption figures - no matter which way you want to address it, there’s one Outback that’s better than the others for mileage - it’s the diesel. 

The Outback 2.0D is claimed to use 6.3L/100km. If you do a lot of highway distance, this is the one for you - it isn’t unusual to sit below the 6.0L/100km mark in such situations.

The 2.5i petrol model uses 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres. The changes made to the engine and transmission haven’t affected its claimed consumption, and during our time in this spec model we saw 8.0L/100km. 

The 3.6R six-cylinder version has a claimed consumption figure of 9.9L/100km, and you can expect to see around that 10.0L/100km mark in most situations.

And if you’re concerned about long-distance driving, every Outback has a fuel tank capacity of 60 litres. A decent size, but you’ll need to go for the diesel if you want the most out of it. 

What's it like to drive?   8/10

As is the case with the 2018 Liberty, the 2018 Outback has seen quite a few changes made to the way the car drives, too, and the most noticeable is the transmission in the petrol four-cylinder model. 

The 2.5i variants are the biggest-selling versions, accounting for three-quarters of sales, and as such it’s no surprise that this drivetrain has seen the most attention from the company - in fact, the diesel and six-cylinder versions are unchanged in terms of their powertrains.

The 2.5i has seen the most tweaks to the drivetrain, while all variants have tweaked suspension. The 2.5i has seen the most tweaks to the drivetrain, while all variants have tweaked suspension.

The 2.5i’s engine has been tweaked for better response and economy, and the CVT auto has been adjusted for quicker response. And in regular driving, the powertrain is much improved.

There is better response when you put your foot down suddenly, and it also feels more like a ‘regular’ transmission than a CVT, with the ‘steps’ as you gather speed a little more noticeable.

That said, it isn’t a powerhouse engine - you won’t struggle up hills or anything, but there is no denying the gruntier six-cylinder is more rewarding to drive, and more effortless. 

Still, if 0-100km/h times, speed and acceleration really matter to you, the 2.5i is claimed at 9.9 seconds, and so is the 2.0D. The 3.6R can do the jump to highway speed in 7.6sec, according to Subaru. Told you it was rapid!

It is slightly quieter than we remember the existing version of the Outback 2.5i to be, so when you do call on the drivetrain (namely the CVT) to rev out a bit, you’re not deafened by it. There is little to complain about in terms of road noise or cabin noise, too. 

Subaru says the brakes have also been improved with better pedal feel, and they do offer better confidence to the driver than before.

The 3.6R is capable of storming to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds. The 3.6R is capable of storming to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds.

The car has a lot of great safety equipment which can assist with the drive experience, including the adaptive cruise control system that uses cameras rather than a radar. 

But it includes a few things that might frustrate you, such as the fact the system beeps whenever a car is detected in front of you - that’s unnecessary - and also the cruise control can exhibit quite a bit of variance: so, say you set the cruise at 100km/h, you might find the car doing as little as 91km/h, or as much as 110km/h. I’m not making that up - I experienced those exact speeds when set on 100km/h - it could be a real concern if you live in a state like Victoria where speeding tolerance is quite low.  

All that said, the  pedestrian and collision warnings work well (I had a dumb pedestrian run in front of me on a busy road, and the car warned me and cautiously braked, too), as does lane watching system, which will tell you if you’re zig-zagging.

In fact, the electric power steering has been tweaked for more linear response and it is generally a little better at higher speeds, though the difference around town is hardly noticeable. The turning radius is 5.5m, meaning the minimum turning circle is 11.0m.

Furthermore, the suspension in all Outbacks has been tweaked a little as well, with the aim of reducing the ‘push-up’ from the road - that should help it ride better and handle better, according to Subaru. And it does, but the Outback was already impressive in its road manners, and the changes don’t seem to have meddled with that too much because it still copes with pockmarks and potholes very well at high speeds and in urban areas.

Now, to the Outback’s off road capabilities. And while this review isn’t specifically focused on the rough stuff, I can assure you the Outback offers better ability than many competitor SUVs.

For you hardcore off-road readers, here are some numbers to digest: 213 (ground clearance mm); 18.4 (approach angle degrees); 22.7 (departure angle degrees). And it manages that without air suspension - it has MacPherson-type front suspension and double-wishbone rear suspension. 

Subaru doesn’t boast a particular wading depth ability, but I wouldn’t go fording the Murrumbidgee after a storm in it.

Being all-wheel drive - not 4x4 or 4WD, but a symmetrical AWD system with X-Mode, which encompasses hill descent control and hill holder assist, and an electronically-controlled limited slip differential lock (no manual diff lock) - the Outback ensures good traction when you’re hitting the ol’ dusty trail. 

It’ll climb further than you expect, and with a better set of tyres I get the feeling it could be surprisingly capable.

The suspension performance is good, too, dealing with dirt-road bumps commendably, and the torque-vectoring system ensures there’s power where it needs to be.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

The Outback is a great choice for mums and dads - it’s packed with safety features. The facelifted model carries over the 2015 ANCAP crash test safety rating - maximum five stars for all models. 

Of course there is electronic stability program (ESP) on everything, and the entire range has Subaru’s 'EyeSight' safety kit, which uses a pair of cameras mounted on the windscreen to monitor the road ahead, and can warn the driver of pedestrians or cars, braking the car if it needs to - now up to a 50km/h speed differential, where it used to be 30km/h.

On top of that, there is, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with brake light recognition and a system that’ll tell you when the car in front has moved away from you (great for parents who have their eyes on the kids).

Blind spot monitor / lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert is fitted to the top models (2.5i Premium, 2.0D Premium and 3.6R), while there’s also a forward-view camera and side-view camera, as well as auto high-beam lights. 

While there is a reverse camera, there are a couple of notable omissions - no model comes with parking sensors or automated park assist, and while the smaller Impreza and XV models have been updated with a reverse auto-braking system with obstacle detection, the Outback didn’t get that as part of the update.

The Outback has dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points if you need to fit a baby car seat, and three top-tether hooks as well. Plus there are seven airbags (dual front, front side, curtain and driver’s knee). 

Where are Subaru Outbacks built? For the Australian market, they’re made in Ōta, Japan. For North America, they come out of Lafayette, Indiana.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   6/10

The Subaru warranty program doesn’t set any benchmarks, spanning three years/unlimited kilometres. There is the option of an extended warranty for five years/unlimited kilometres, and the terms of that plan are set out in the owner’s manual. 

Service costs and maintenance for the Outback depend on the drivetrain you choose. 

The 3.6R model requires a check-up at 5000km that will cost you just over $250, where the 2.5i and 2.0D variants don’t need that. After that, servicing is due every six months or 12,500km, which is quite frequent by modern-day standards - especially for cars that don’t have turbochargers. 

The capped price servicing costs aren’t overly tempting, either, with the brand’s capped-price coverage - three years/75,000km - costing you $2281.66 if you buy the 2.5i, $2519.84 for the 2.0D, and $2711.42 for the 3.6R. Some luxury European cars cost less. Like, a lot less.

Resale value for Outback models is typically quite good, with key advantages over competitor mid-size SUVs like more rear legroom and a full size spare tyre adding to the used-car value equation. 

We don’t issue a reliability rating, but if you’re curious about complaints, common problems, issues and faults with Subaru Outback models or specific components (automatic transmission problems, gearbox and clutch problems for the existing model, or CVT transmission issues), check out our problems page. 

Verdict

Subaru may not have really needed to make all these changes to its popular Outback model, but they sure have been worthwhile. 

In particular, in 2.5i Premium guise, this is a much improved model. It’ll be sure to attract plenty of SUV shoppers.

Do you like what the Subaru Outback offers in a segment full of mid-size SUV competitors? Let us know in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$40,888
Based on 386 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$31,777
Highest Price
$50,718

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.0D 2.0L, Diesel, CVT AUTO $36,490 – 43,213 2018 SUBARU OUTBACK 2018 2.0D Pricing and Specs
2.0D Premium 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $38,750 – 50,389 2018 SUBARU OUTBACK 2018 2.0D Premium Pricing and Specs
2.5i 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $31,777 – 37,990 2018 SUBARU OUTBACK 2018 2.5i Pricing and Specs
2.5i (FLEET EDITION) 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $30,250 – 36,410 2018 SUBARU OUTBACK 2018 2.5i (FLEET EDITION) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.9
Price and features7
Design9
Practicality9
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption8
Driving8
Safety9
Ownership6
Matt Campbell
Senior Editor

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