In Subaru’s own admission, this is the most important and significant car of its past decade. This, the diesel automatic version of its large-SUV category player, the Outback, is the first time the company has had a gun big and suitable enough to fight on equal terms with some powerful rivals.
“It’s the missing piece in the engine-transmission puzzle that we have longed to bring to the market," says Subaru Australia’s managing director Nick Senior. He says the biggest SUV sector is the "large" class, comprising players such as the Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Territory, Holden Captiva, Toyota Prado and Volkswagen Alltrack.
The petrol-diesel split is 45/55 and of the diesel models, a whopping 94 per cent sold have automatic gearboxes. Subaru’s Outback diesel has only a manual gearbox. Until this week. “It’s held us back," says Senior as an understatement. “But we predict the diesel auto model will lift monthly sales from 220 to 350." So though outwardly a variation of the existing Outback, this is a model carrying big expectations.
Keenly priced and with strong 55 per cent resale value, the Outback is almost always on the shopping list for five-seater SUV wagons. This new automatic model improves the odds. It costs $42,490 as the 2.0D version - with standard 17-inch alloys, paddle shift auto, sat-nav and cruise control - with the second model Premium adding leather, a sunroof, electric driver’s seat and larger colour monitor for $45,490. The CVT adds $2500 to the price of the manual.
The Premium is the best value here. Metallic paint is a no-cost option. Subaru has no capped-service program but Senior hints it may soon bow to the program that is now used by the majority of its rivals.
The US-origins of the styling don’t go unnoticed. The Outback is functional and bold but not particularly pretty. But that doesn’t matter to the pragmatist that buys a Subaru.
The cabin room is vast, functional with the flat folding rear seats, impressive in its quality of trim joints and subtle textures and fabrics, while neatly combining the presumption of durability with the sense of comfort. The bonnet scoop is the best giveaway to the diesel.
Space for five adults with excellent head and legroom in the rear and deep windows for great visibility. The tailgate lifts up high and the cargo bed is low and wide, helped by its flat floor
when the rear seats are dropped. Rear vents help airflow while extra sound proofing diminishes any diesel noise.
Leather is standard on the Premium and though the cloth is more durable, the value in the Premium may be too great to ignore. Lots of personal storage zones - helped by the electric park brake button - make it an easy car to fit the family’s needs.
The continuously-variable transmission (CVT) is a stronger version of that fitted to the petrol-fuelled Forester (which doesn’t get a diesel-auto combo until late 2014). This auto has been heavily modified and enhanced (including an oil cooler) so it offers a seven-speed stepped mode (like a conventional auto) with functions that assist downhill and engine braking.
The 110kW/350Nm 2-litre turbo-diesel - similar to the one fitted to the manual-transmission Outback and Forester - and claims an impressive 6.5 litres/100km. It can tow up to 1700kg. The extra weight of the diesel mill means the Aussie-tuned suspension and steering have been beefed up.
Subaru is consistently setting the standard in affordable car safety. It features a five-star crash rating, seven airbags, reverse camera, DataDot security, four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, electronic stability and traction control, constant all-wheel drive and a full-size spare. The brilliant EyeSight forward camera monitoring and autonomous braking system is not yet available on this car, though will come some time later.
No hiding that diesel clatter at idle, though it softens once underway and becomes almost inaudible while cruising. The Outback is a relative lightweight at 1606kg dry but the engine feels wanting in
some conditions, particularly off-the-mark acceleration. But the CVT is quick to maximise the power flow. It’s also pretty good at masking any slippery or vague manners.
Press the pedal more than 65 per cent and the CVT box sets up stepped gears, just like a normal automatic. Here it will run to 4000rpm in each gear before changing up. The best of both worlds. Handling and steering rate well, especially against some larger SUVs, while offroad users will appreciate the exceptional 213mm ground clearance. Fuel use on test was 7.2 L/100km.
Typical Subaru quality and driving feel. Love more power - but 2-litres is capped by European tax laws - yet few owners will complain. Shop against the Santa Fe and Kia Sorento while VW’s
Alltrack should also be considered.
Subaru Outback Diesel CVT
Price: from $42,490
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: No (but coming)
Service interval: 6mths/10,000km
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)