Subaru Outback VS BMW X1
- Strong value
- Great practicality
- Lots of safety tech
- No hybrid option
- No turbo engine
- Not as fun as some rivals
- Potent engine
- Nice handling
- Massive interior
- Ride way too firm
- Missing essential active safety
- Some awkward trim bits
It never used to be like this. Families used to choose a station wagon or estate car because that body style was the smartest choice. Maybe not the most desirable choice, but wagons were, and always have been, pragmatic.
And then SUVs came on the scene. People thought they needed these stylised hatchbacks to sit higher in traffic and live out their “weekend warrior” image. Oh, those “active lifestyle” types. And in recent times, SUVs have become the go-to – accounting for half of all new vehicle sales in 2020.
But the Subaru Outback 2021 is here to stand up to those wannabe SUVs, with its own take on the up-high recipe. Admittedly it’s not like the Subaru Outback approach to the SUV formula is new – this is the sixth generation version of the venerable high-riding wagon, but this new model is apparently more SUV than ever. Subaru Australia even calls it a “true blue, mud in its blood all-wheel drive SUV”.
So does it have what it takes to stand out in the crowd? Let’s dive a little deeper and find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
I like it when a car subverts expectations.
It sounds like BMW is just playing a dangerous game of badge-swappery. Yet, after a week behind the wheel, I had to admit there’s more to the X1 than the numbers and specs might suggest. It admittedly won me over.
How, exactly, did this little SUV manage to charm this doubting critic? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The sixth-generation, 2021 Subaru Outback has incrementally improved the large wagon-slash-SUV, with a number of important steps forward including better safety tech, a more powerful engine and smarter cabin. A turbo or hybrid powertrain would sweeten the deal even further.
I don’t know that you’d really need anything other than the base model Outback AWD, which seems like a truly great value offering. It’d be our pick of the range.
BMW’s X1 won me over mainly because of its raucous engine, signature handling, and suspension characteristics.
It is perhaps a little harsh for some family drivers though, and still has some notable spec omissions this far into its lifecycle. So, keep these factors in mind when considering it against its premium competition, particularly given there are some serious rivals arriving in the coming months.
It’s an all-new car. It doesn’t necessarily look like it, and in fact – to my eye – it’s not as attractive as the fifth-generation model, which was an expert in being inoffensive, where this model has a few more design-lead changes that might divide opinions.
You won’t mistake it for anything other than an Outback, as it has that typical rugged high-riding wagon look that we’ve come to expect from it. But it’s almost like this is a facelift rather than an all-new car.
Like, literally – the features have all been cinched back at the front, and the wheel-arches have been tweaked so they stand more at attention… it literally looks like an age-denying citizen’s approach at looking younger. A bit too much Botox? Tell us what you think the comments below.
But there are still smart design highlights, like the roof rails with integrated roof racks that are stowable/deployable in the base and top models, while the mid-spec model has a fixed roof rack system.
The fact all models have LED lighting all-around is nice, while the 18-inch wheels… well, none of them are to my taste. To me, they just aren’t as youthful as some of the other elements of the car are trying to elucidate.
And the rear-end treatment? Well, that’s the only spot where you’re most likely to confuse it with another car… and that doppelganger would be a Forester.
On the inside there are some really nice design changes, though. Check out the interior pictures below.
From the outside, the X1 totally owns the BMW design language. It somehow comes together so well over the frame of a small SUV, from the traditional BMW double kidney grille, to the chiseled LED headlights, squared-off profile, and cleanly resolved rear.
It’s miles better than its first-generation X1 predecessor, at least from the outside.
I found the inside to be a mixed bag. I liked the seats, steering wheel and multimedia system, but it just doesn’t feel cohesive.
It’s like a bunch of parts have been plucked off the shelf and shoved together. It has a strangely compact dash cluster from the outgoing 2 Series, but at the same time, the brand’s latest touchscreen, as well as a collection of old-looking controls on a cascading dash which for some reason eats an uncomfortable amount of the front occupant’s space.
It’s been made to work together, but still feels a little chaotic. Like parts and buttons have just been plastered all over. This extends down to the centre console, where BMW gives you the option of controlling the media suite through a dial and buttons.
All the fittings are undeniably quality though, with everything from leather-clad surfaces to switchgear all having a solid, satisfying feeling. The feeling of this car being more expensive for a reason. There’s also an abundance of padded surfaces, and comfortable seats in every position.
Subaru has taken some pretty big steps when it comes to changing the interior of the Outback, with the most prominent change being front and centre of the cabin – that huge new 11.6-inch touchscreen media system.
It’s a really interesting looking piece of technology, and like the existing media screen in the Outback, is crisp, colourful and offers quick response times. It’s something that takes a little bit of getting used to – the fan controls are digital, for instance, but there are buttons either side of the screen for temperature control – but once you’ve spent some time with it, you’d be surprised just how intuitive it all is.
The Apple CarPlay worked a treat, connecting up without hassle. And while it isn’t wireless CarPlay, we haven’t yet tested a car with that tech that’s worked as it should… so, yay for cables!
There are two USB ports below the screen, and two additional charging ports in the back seat centre section as well. That’s good, but there’s no wireless charging pad at all, which isn’t great.
And while the big screen has done away with the multiple screen layout and the huge number of buttons in the old car, the new one still has a number of buttons on the steering wheel, which are easy to learn too. I had some trouble acclimating to the blinker stalk, with the one-touch indicator trigger seemingly being a bit too hard to activate at times. It’s a quiet “ticker”, too, so there were a few times when I was driving with my indicator on for ages without realising it.
Storage is mostly really well considered in the Outback, with bottle holders and storage sleeves in all four doors, plus a pair of cup holders between the front seats (they are a little large if you prefer a small takeaway coffee), and in the back there’s a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders, too.
The front also has a small storage section below the media screen (not quite large enough for a large-format smartphone), plus there’s a covered centre console bin, and the dashboard design may have been inspired by the RAV4, as there’s a neat little rubberised shelf in front of the passenger where you could put a phone or wallet.
In terms of space for occupants, taller people will be fine in the front or the rear. I’m 182cm or 6’0” tall, and I managed to find a comfortable driving position, and was able to sit behind it with ample knee room, toe room and head space, too. The width is great, too, with plenty of room across the cabin. Three of me could easily fit side by side, but if you have children you’ll be happy to know there are two ISOFIX and three top-tether points for baby seats.
The back seat occupants should be kept happy as there are directional vents in all grades, while the top two specs score rear outboard seat heating, too. Nice.
There are some other nice inclusions for rear seat occupants, including recline adjust for the backrests of the seats, and the seatbelts are set in such a way that they should never get in the way when you lower the back seats down (60:40 split fold, actuated by triggers in the boot area).
Speaking of the boot space, there’s plenty. The new Outback offers 522 litres (VDA) or cargo capacity, with is 10L more than before. Plus, as mentioned, the seats fold flat to allow 1267L of luggage capacity.
Equivalent mid-size SUVs priced close to the Outback can’t match it for practicality, and the cabin’s look and feel is greatly improved over the previous model. It’s a very nice place to spend time.
The X1’s hidden trick is in how big its interior space is.
It’s voluminous – or as Richard Berry pointed out in his 2018 review of the pre-facelifted X1 – it has more head and legroom than an X3 and almost as much luggage space.
Impressive, right? Especially for something which is quite a bit smaller when it comes to its exterior dimensions.
A lot of that is down to the X1 sharing its platform with space-efficient and predominantly front-wheel drive Minis. But there’s more, too!
The back seats are foldable and on rails, letting you choose luggage over passengers if need be. While this is pretty impressive, the X1’s 505-litre boot space is under threat.
Audi’s new generation Q3 offers 530 litres, while the incoming Mercedes-Benz GLB will offer 570-litres in five-seat form. If it’s boot space (or seven seats…) you’re chasing, it is worth factoring in to your premium small SUV decision making process.
The back seat, as already mentioned, has plenty of leg and headroom, plus dual USB ports and directional air vents on the back of the centre console.
Front seat occupants are pretty well treated, with some cool turbine-design cupholders in the centre, smallish trenches in the doors, as well as a large bin under the armrest. There are a selection of USB ports to choose from as well as a wireless phone charging bay.
Seat comfort is good all-round, although it took me a long time to adjust to the odd upright seating position which seems to be the only ‘right’ way to have everything adjusted, at least for my preferences.
Price and features
The Subaru Outback range remains a value-focused option for customers out there who want a lot of car for their money.
It still starts under forty grand in sixth-generation guise, though prices have gone up somewhat compared to the old model, which Subaru says is justified by additional equipment and safety technology.
All models have the same powertrain, so it’s purely gear and goodies that separates the three variants: the entry-level Outback AWD ($39,990), mid-range AWD Sport ($44,490) and top-spec AWD Touring ($47,490). Those prices are MSRP/list pricing, before on-road costs.
Now, here’s a rundown of the range.
The base model AWD comes with 18-inch alloy wheels and a full size alloy spare, roof rails with stowable roof rack cross bars, LED headlights, LED foglights, push-button start, keyless entry, electric park brake, rain-sensing wipers, heated and power-folding side mirrors, fabric seat trim, leather steering wheel, paddle-shifters, electric adjustment for the front seats, rear seats with manual recline, and a 60:40 split-fold rear seat with boot release levers.
The AWD entry-level car – and both the variants above – have a new 11.6-inch touchscreen media screen in portrait layout, which incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech. There are six speakers standard, as well as four USB ports (2x front, 2x rear).
The next model up the range is the AWD Sport, which – like the Forester Sport model – gets a number of aesthetic changes to help split it from its stablemates.
They include model-specific dark 18-inch wheels, black exterior trim changes, fixed roof rails, a power tailgate, water repellent interior trim with green stitching, heated front and outboard rear seats, sports pedals, light-sensing headlights (auto on/off) and it gets sat nav as part of the media screen, too. This grade scores a front view and side view monitor for parking/low speed driving, too.
The top-end AWD Touring has a few luxury-focused extras over the other grades, including an electric sunroof, Nappa leather interior trim, a heated steering wheel, auto dipping passenger side door mirror, memory settings for driver’s seat, satin finish door mirrors, silver highlight roof rails (with stowable crossbars), and gloss-finish wheels.
The interior also upgrades the stereo in this grade to a nine-speaker harman/kardon setup with subwoofer and single CD player. All grades have DAB+ digital radio too.
All grades have an array of safety technology, including a driver monitoring system that will warn you to keep your eyes on the road and monitor for signs of drowsiness, and in the top-spec model includes face recognition that can adjust the seat and side mirrors for you.
All models come with a reversing camera, Subaru’s EyeSight forward facing camera system that incorporates AEB, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control and more. There are full details on the safety systems and their operability in the section below.
Things missing from any grade of Outback? It would have been nice to have a wireless phone charger, and there are no traditional parking sensors, either.
Overall though, there’s a lot to like across multiple grades, here.
If you’re interested in colours (or colors if you prefer), then you might be intrigued to know there are nine colours available. Two can’t be had on the AWD Sport grade - Storm Grey Metallic and Crimson Red Pearl – but it can be had in any of the remaining colours, as can the other trim levels: Crystal White Pearl, Magnetite Grey Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Crystal Black Silica, Dark Blue Pearl, and the new Autumn Green Metallic and Brilliant Bronze Metallic.
The best news? None of the colour choices will cost you any extra money!
Our X1 is the top-spec xDrive25i trim. That means it’s all-wheel drive, and gets the most potent four-cylinder engine available in the X1 range. Ours was also the M Sport version (with all the extra M bits) boosting the price to a total of $66,150, before on-roads.
Expensive? Maybe. The tricky thing here is we don’t know how much this car’s primary German rivals will cost when they arrive this year. I’m talking about the higher-spec Audi Q3 (currently you can only buy the entry-level version of the new one), and the Mercedes-Benz GLB isn’t set to arrive for a few months yet.
Of course, there are a plethora of non-premium options for much less, but I’m guessing if you’ve made it this far in the review, they will be of little interest.
Standard spec has some impressive items, including 19-inch alloy wheels, an impressive-looking 10.25-inch multimedia touchscreen with sat-nav as well as Apple CarPlay as standard (but still no Android Auto…), a head-up display, LED head and tail-lights, push-start and keyless entry, an ambient interior lighting package, and leather upholstery.
The M Sport pack added (to our car) an adaptive suspension package, the M Sport steering wheel and power steering characteristics, M-branded seat belt trim and M Sport brakes.
There’s a semi-digital dashboard, too, but not the super swish digital dash suite from the more recently released cars in BMW’s range. Keep in mind, this second-generation X1 is now almost five years old, despite a minor refresh in 2019.
It’s not a bad feature set, aside from the rather upsetting omission of Android phone mirroring, which is a real necessity in today’s SUVs. While the sat nav suite is a handy thing to have, you only get three years of updates included, and it lacks the really intuitive features now built in for free with Google maps for Android users.
The M Sport pack’s three-spoke steering wheel is the best one in BMW’s parts catalogue. It’s the perfect size, weight, and material. Bonus points for that.
Engine & trans
The engine in all Subaru Outback 2021 models is a “90 per cent new” 2.5-litre four-cylinder “boxer” horizontally opposed petrol engine.
The motor produces 138kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 245Nm of torque (from 3400-4600rpm). Those are modest increases – 7 per cent more power and 4.2 per cent more torque – compared with the old Outback.
It is only available with a “refined” Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic, but all grades come with paddle-shifters as standard, so you can take matters in to your own hands – Subaru says there’s an “eight-speed manual mode”.
Towing capacity for the Outback range is 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 2000kg for a braked trailer, with a 200kg down weight for the tow bar. You can option a towbar as a genuine accessory.
Now, the elephant – or elephants – in the Outback are that it doesn’t launch with a hybrid powertrain, which means it’s falling behind the class leaders (yes, we’re talking about the likes of the Toyota RAV4, but even the Forester has a hybrid powertrain option!).
And the old diesel engine has been axed, plus there’s no six-cylinder petrol variant as there was in the previous model.
No complaints here. With 170kW/350Nm on tap from a four-cylinder turbo-petrol, you can’t make the argument the 25i needs more power.
BMW has stopped short of saying there will be a faster M version of the X1, and there probably shouldn’t be, what’s offered here is more than enough. BMW claims the 25i will sprint from 0-100km/h in just 6.5 seconds.
The 25i is ‘xDrive’ all-wheel drive only and drives power to the wheels via an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission.
The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure – that’s the claimed fuel economy the brand reckons you should achieve across a mix of driving – is stated at 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
That’s pretty good, and it’s aided by the engine’s start-stop technology that even has a readout that tells you how many millilitres of fuel you’re saving when it’s active. I like that.
In our real world testing we saw a return – at the pump – of 8.8L/100km across highway, urban, back road and traffic jam testing. That’s not bad, but in similar driving in a Toyota RAV4 hybrid I’ve seen economy of about 5.5L/100km.
We assume Subaru Australia will add a hybrid version of the Outback at some point (like it has with the XV Hybrid and Forester Hybrid), but at this point in time, the petrol engine is your only choice.
Fuel tank capacity is 63 litres, and it can take 91RON regular unleaded.
How much fuel you will consume will largely depend on how much the punchy engine will tempt your right foot, but the claimed/combined figure on the X1’s spec sheet is 7.1L/100km.
Despite enjoying the 25i more than I care to admit, my average fuel usage over a fairly representative ‘combined’ week came out as 7.9L/100km. Not bad at all.
The X1 requires mid-grade 95RON unleaded petrol and has a 61 litre fuel tank.
If you’ve driven a previous-generation Subaru Outback, you’re not going to feel like this is unfamiliar territory.
That’s because this version, well, it sticks to the formula. Even if you’ve driven the new Forester, it might feel pretty familiar.
Much of that comes down to the engine and transmission. The 2.5L four-cylinder boxer is a strong engine, but not a punchy one. It offers good response and smooth power delivery for the most part, and it will push you back in your seat if you plant your foot, but not in the same way a petrol-electric hybrid or a turbocharged four-cylinder might.
And while there is still some Subaru “boxer” rumble from under the bonnet, it’s largely a pretty hushed place to be when you’re driving it in normal circumstances. If you accelerate hard you’ll hear the engine more, and that’s down to the behaviour of the CVT automatic.
Some people will hate it because it’s a CVT, but Subaru does a pretty good job with these transmissions, and in the Outback it’s as inoffensive as they come. And yes, there is a manual mode with paddle shifters if you want to take matters into your own hands, but for the most part, you shouldn’t really need to.
The steering is direct and offers good weighting and response, pivoting pretty well in corners while also allowing you to turn the car easily when you’re parking. There’s not much feel to the steering, but that’s not what this car is about, and thankfully the trademark Subaru visibility from the driver’s seat means it is easier to park than some other SUVs out there.
The ride is mostly good, with a supple character that is more about comfort than anything else. It’s a little more softly sprung and a touch underdamped than some people might like, meaning it can be a little wobbly or jittery depending on the road, but I think it’s the right balance for the intent of the car – a family wagon / SUV that has some potential off-road chops.
It is all-wheel drive after all, and there is Subaru’s X-Mode system – with snow/dirt and deep snow/mud modes – that should be helpful if you find yourself off the beaten path. I did some light gravel track driving in the Outback, and found its 213mm ground clearance to be plentiful, while the suspension was pretty well sorted.
The X1 drives like a BMW – for better or worse.
There are some great attributes. The steering is a fantastic balance of weight and speed, the internal switchgear is all exactly the same as it is in the 2 Series sedan, and the suspension is firm, letting you feel every bit of the road.
That last one is possibly this car's worst attribute, though. While you’ll have an above average driving experience in the curvy stuff, the X1 is overly harsh for daily family duties.
I mean, seriously. I’m sure the average SUV buyer in this class is hardly going to be taking their kids to school via the Nurburgring every day.
If nothing else it’s a point of difference for the Bavarian SUV, and after a week you’ll be used to it. Those who do will be rewarded with one of the more engaging small SUVs on the market.
The engine proved to be distinctly punchy, impressing with its responsiveness and linear power delivery. It has a lovely (partially artificial) raspy exhaust note, to boot, which makes hopping behind the wheel all the more enjoyable.
It has some other quirks worth noting, too. I couldn’t get used to its oddly high and upright seating position, the front two seats seemed a bit narrow despite familiar BMW leather trim, and there was an undeniable heft to the whole product which made it lose its confidence when really pushed in the corners.
The X1 won me over, though. By the time I was handing the keys back, I did just want one more go…
There is no ANCAP crash test safety rating as yet for the 2021 Outback range, but it has a lot of the technology and safety goodies that customers shopping for a family SUV or wagon would expect.
As standard there is Subaru’s EyeSight stereo camera system that reads the road ahead, and it incorporates forward/front autonomous emergency braking (AEB) for vehicles that works between 10km/h and 160km/h. There's also pedestrian AEB (1km/h to 30km/h) and cyclist detection and AEB (60km/h or less), and it has lane keeping technology with emergency lane keep assist that can swerve the car to avoid impacts with cars, people or cyclists (approximately 80km/h or less). Lane departure prevention works from 60km/h to 145km/h.
All grades also get blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a driver monitor camera that watches the driver and warns them if they’re not paying attention to the road or starting to get drowsy (the top-spec model’s version of this also includes seat and mirror adjustment memory based on your face!), plus there is speed sign recognition, too.
All grades have a reversing camera, while the top two specs have front view and side view cameras, but none have a 360-degree surround view camera. All models also have rear AEB, a system Subaru calls reverse auto braking (RAB) that can halt the car if it detects there’s something behind it when you’re backing up. It also doubles as reversing sensors for all grades, but none have front parking sensors.
And there are other elements to the safety matrix, including Lead Vehicle Start Alert (the cameras tell you when the car in front has driven off) and lane centring (to keep you in the middle of your lane), both of which operate between 0km/h and 145km/h, and there is adaptive high beam lights on all grades, too.
The airbag count for the Outback is eight, with dual front, front side, driver’s knee, passenger centre-front, and full-length curtain coverage.
In terms of active safety features, the X1 is a little light on.
Rather than full auto emergency braking (AEB), the X1 gets a system called ‘braking assist’ which will slow the vehicle (or as BMW says “reduce impact speed”) if an object is detected from three to 65km/h. Beyond 65km/h it will “precondition” the brakes but requires human intervention to apply them.
So... it will help, but won’t quite stop for you.
Active safety features it does really get include lane departure warning, forward collision warning, traffic sign recognition and high-beam assist.
The X1 does get the expected baseline safety items, like electronic stability and brake controls, as well as six airbags. Parking sensors for the front and rear across the range are a nice touch.
There are also two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
Despite its slightly underwhelming active safety suite, the X1 still caries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, as rated in 2015 before the stricter minimum active safety requirements came into force in 2018.
Subaru doesn’t go beyond expectations in the mainstream class, with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty now par for the course.
The brand also has shorter maintenance intervals than some, with services scheduled every 12 months or 12,500km (most are 15,000km intervals).
The costs of maintenance aren’t that low, either. After an initial free checkup at one-month, the services cost: $345 (12 months/12,500km); $595 (24 months/25,000km); $351 (36 months/37,500km); $801 (48 months/50,000km); and $358 (60 months/62,500km). That averages out at about $490 per service, which is high.
If you’re worried about budgeting for that cost every year, you can bundle a service plan into your financing – a smart move, if you ask me. There are two options available: a three-year/37,500km plan and a five-year/62,500km plan. Neither saves you money over pay-as-you-go, but these plans also include three years roadside assist and the option of a free loan car when it comes time to service your own Outback. And if you decide to sell, you can pass that service plan on to the next owner.
Just make sure you don’t smash the windscreen – the camera system integrated into the glass means a new windshield is a $3000 part!
BMW insists on a three-year warranty package, going so far as going on the record saying owners don’t want more (really… what kind of owner doesn’t want a competitive five-year warranty?). Regardless, it is the standard for cars in the premium segment, with the exception of Lexus which offers four years.
It would be nice to see premium automakers raise the game a little here, but the X1 is thankfully offered with a capped price servicing program.
Like other premium brands it is offered as a package at the time of purchase and covers five years of services. The 'Basic' program costs $1550, while the 'Plus' program comes in at $4420. The main difference between each program is whether wear items like brake pads, wiper blades, etc, are included.