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Subaru Outback


BMW X2

Summary

Subaru Outback

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.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats

BMW X2

As is often the case, BMW has come late to a really good party. One imagines there was some chatter about making a quick X1 but that would have been an answer to a question few people thought to ask. It's not a racy-looking machine and perhaps its more prosaic aims as a compact SUV ruled it out. Or the hangover from the weird first generation.

The X2's Paris Motor Show debut a couple of years ago signalled BMW's second entrant in the compact SUV segment, but this one looked fast standing still. Most of it made it to production - including the C-pillar BMW badges, sadly - but there was no promise of a fast one.

Weirdly, the Australian market hasn't really taken to the X2 as enthusiastically as I thought it might and I wondered if it was because there was no headline act - Mercedes has the guilty pleasure of mine, the AMG GLA45, and Audi the completely bonkers RS Q3. But the headline act has arrived in the form the of the X2 M35i - perhaps this will suddenly get us a bit more interested.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency8.4L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Subaru Outback7.9/10

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 X27.9/10

If the X2 M35i doesn't wake Australia up to the charms of the X2, then perhaps we're dead inside. This car is brilliant fun, reasonably practical and goes about the business of going fast with a childish glee.

Unusually for BMW it's extraordinarily competitively priced and by competitive I mean cheaper than its obvious rivals by quite some margin. One of its rivals is faster but it's also harder to live with and the other one is old and about to depart this Earth.

What this car also tells us is that despite BMW's smallest cars going to four-cylinders and front- or all-wheel drive, the fast stuff is in no danger of being boring.

Does the BMW X2 light your fire? Or does Audi or Mercedes have your heart? Let us know in the comments.

Design

Subaru Outback7/10

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.


BMW X28/10

The X2 is by far the prettiest of the even-numbered Xes. While it shares a lot of heritage with the X1, the shorter X2 is way cooler. Designed by Sebastian Simm, it's a bit more at the lifestyle end of things. The headlights are sleeker than the X1, it has its own distinctive rendition of the BMW kidney grille (it looks like it's upside down) and on the M35i, it's satin grey rather than chrome. Like other BMW SUVs - sorry, SACs - the wheel-arches are squared off a little, for more "stance" according to Simm. I'm a big fan of the shapely rear lights, too. 

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The nose is quite high and bluff, but the efforts to stop it from being too square-rigged has worked wonders - only from some angles does it look a bit like it kissed a wall.

The M35i features a huge set of 20-inch alloys that look the business, deeper front and rear bumpers and those dud silver caps on the mirrors.

Inside, it's pretty familiar and the tail-end of BMW's long-standing design philosophy. Lots of grey plastic, a small, hooded instrument pack and a decent-sized screen perched on the dash. I liked the Alcantara trim on the seats but wasn't a fan of the 90s-looking blue pattern on the seats.

Practicality

Subaru Outback9/10

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.


BMW X27/10

The X2 is smaller than the X1 and if you step out of the latter, you'll notice. The roof is lower and its shorter overall, meaning some compromise. But only a little. The rear seats have plenty of room for people up to 180cm, with the roof lining thinning for that extra bit of headroom and just enough legroom, as Richard Berry discovered when he first drove the car.

The boot starts at 470 litres with all seats in place and then 1355 with the 40/20/40 split-fold rear seats down.

Front seat passengers have two cupholders under the centre stack and a couple of slots for odds ends. All are covered by a sliding two piece cover. The armrest contains the wireless charging cradle and, as I've already said, won't hold an iPhone XS in its sliding plastic jaw - it won't open wide enough.

Rear seat passengers score a further two cupholders and each door has a bottle holder and pocket.

Price and features

Subaru Outback9/10

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!


BMW X28/10

I often find that those late to a party bring the cheapest bottle of wine, having been caught short by their own tardiness. BMW has done something similar here - the X2 M35i is $16,000 cheaper than the RSQ3. It's a whopping $23,200 cheaper than the GLA45. Context: you could get a top-spec X2 and a Suzuki Swift Sport for similar money to the flagship GLA.

Obviously it's not cheap, and it isn't as powerful as the AMG, but it's a lot of money saved and little, if any, performance lost.

Standard on the Australian-delivered X2 M35i are 20-inch alloys, a 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, electric tailgate, keyless entry and start, power everything, electric and heated front seats, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, Alcantara on the seats, auto parking, head-up display and run-flat tyres.

The 8.8-inch screen on the dash runs BMW's iDrive 6.0 software with its impressive sat nav and easy-to-use rotary dial interface. Apple CarPlay is standard as a three-year subscription (ie you have to renew it), which is a start, at least. 

If you get the $2900 Enhance Package you get a big panoramic sunroof, metallic paint and wireless charging for your phone. That last thing is extra useful as CarPlay is wireless in BMWs (hurrah!) but bigger phones don't fit in the charging unit (boo!). Luckily there's a USB port to keep you going... but only one up front. In the rear there are two fast-charging USB-C ports.

My test car didn't have the package but had the sunroof ($2457 on its own), wireless charging ($200) and Driving Assistant Plus ($910, includes lane keep assist).

Engine & trans

Subaru Outback7/10

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.

Plus while other markets get a four-cylinder turbo engine (a 2.4L with 194kW and 375Nm), we don’t have that option here. So, it’s naturally aspirated 4-cyl petrol power, or bust.


BMW X29/10

BMW's B48 modular 2.0-litre four-cylinder can be found across front, rear and all-wheel drive cars in both BMWs and Minis. The X2's Mini origins means its engine is slung across the engine bay - sDrive X2s are front-wheel drive.

Developing 225kW and 450Nm, this engine might fall short of the AMG's hand-built 2.0-litre and Audi's 2.5 five cylinder, but it's more than enough for to send the M35i to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds. You can activate the launch control if you want, but the all-wheel drive system and eight-speed ZF automatic are perfectly capable of doing the job.

Fuel consumption

Subaru Outback7/10

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.


BMW X27/10

The usual government-approved lab testing produced a combined cycle fuel efficiency figure of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres, aided by stop-start and braking energy recovery.

Pops and bangs cost fuel, though, and they're fun and who doesn't like a poppy-bangy performance car? I certainly like it, which means I burnt through fuel at a rate of 9.7L/100km. On reflection, that's not terrible for the kind of performance on offer.

Driving

Subaru Outback8/10

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.


BMW X29/10

Down to business. The X2 M35i is terrific fun. 

The engine is a good place to start. Fitted with a silly farting and popping exhaust that appeals to my inner eight-year-old, it's a BMW with plenty of character from the get-go.

Flooring it from a standing start means a brief interlude while the twin-scroll turbo starts spooling up and then wham, you're in second and passing 100km/h. Once you're underway, the transmission keeps the M35i on the boil, giving you that lovely big slab of torque when you need it for overtaking or hauling out of the corners.

Speaking of which, the fitment of a proper mechanical limited-slip differential up front is inspired. You can pile into corners indecently quickly and then get back on the power very early, the front wheels sorting themselves out and drawing the car tightly to where you point it. It's a familiar feeling to the GLA45 but without the underpadded seats and hard-riding nonsense that goes with it. Both are on a different planet to the hilarious RSQ3.

The ride is a point worth dwelling on - it's really good and it all happens without adaptive damping like on the other two. It won't be winning any straight spine awards, no, but the combination of grippy seats and good compliance over lumps and bumps means the M35i is surprisingly comfortable. It rides no lower than an M Sport pack equipped X2 but the M magic has wrought a much more responsive front end, a sticky rear end and a good time lesser X2s don't have.

And of course, you want the brakes to back-up the power. The M Performance brakes are very strong and filled me with confidence. Some people complain about BMW brakes but that absolute hammering they need before these complaints arise seems churlish.

Safety

Subaru Outback9/10

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.


BMW X28/10

The X2 has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera, forward AEB (only at low speeds - it works at up to 50km/h, and can reduce the speed of the car to 15km/h, but won't stop it completely), with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, auto high beam, speed sign recognition and reminder. There is no adaptive cruise and no high-speed AEB, and no rear AEB, blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert.

There are three top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX points.

The X2 scored five ANCAP stars in February 2018.

Ownership

Subaru Outback7/10

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 X27/10

BMWs leave the dealership with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist tossed into bargain. Three years is a bit ho-hum for lesser machinery but appears fine up here in the German layer of the atmosphere.

You can prepay your servicing for five years. BMW has long called their service intervals "condition-based servicing." Basically, the car tells you when to come in for a service. You can buy the basic service package for $1550 upfront, which is the same as the lower models, so that's not bad.

By contrast, the GLA45 will cost you $2880 over just three years (second and third services are $1152 each) and the RSQ3 will shake you down for $2320 over three years or $3380 over five.