Subaru Outback VS Ford Escape
- Strong value
- Great practicality
- Lots of safety tech
- No hybrid option
- No turbo engine
- Not as fun as some rivals
- Sporty styling
- Plenty of standard features across range
- Grunty 2.0-litre petrol engine
- Overly direct steering
- Unsettled body control
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|
Ford is hoping its new-generation Escape will tempt you away from buying one of the current family favourites, such as a Toyota RAV4 or a Mazda CX-5.
Ready to meet the new Escape range? Let's go.
|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.
The Escape is one of the best-looking medium SUVs on the market, and more practical than its sleek lines would suggest. The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine makes it one of the most powerful among its rivals, although not the best to drive thanks to overly sharp steering – which may in turn unsettle the body at times if you're not expecting such directness. While the standard features list is hardly missing anything even in the entry grade, the Escape range could do with a lower priced grade to make the model more accessible. Maybe something like the smaller-engined 1.5-litre turbo as in the previous Escape Ambiente.
The sweet spot in the range is the entry grade Escape. Yes, you miss out on the digital instrument cluster and heated seats, but you're getting most of the upper grades' equipment at a lower price.
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.
Ooooh, Mumma, this is a good-looking SUV. In the video above I mention how the Escape could maybe even pass for an Aston Martin's DBX SUV (you might have to squint) in the styling of the grille and headlights, and even in profile. Well, Ford did own Aston from 1991 to 2007.
The previous Escape was boxy and full of angular shapes and sharp creases. This new one looks sleek and smooth. Yup, it doesn't have the tough appearance of the old one and has less of an upright, traditional SUV profile, but with its low, long bonnet and set-back cabin the Escape looks slippery and fast.
The new Escape is longer than the old one, too, by about 100mm with the entry grade being 4614mm end-to-end and the ST-Line stretching 4629mm and Vignale 4626mm.
The height has also been reduced from a maximum of 1749mm to 1680mm including the roof rails, and it's wider as well at 2178mm with the mirrors folded out.
So wider, lower, longer and sleeker. You're wondering what it's like to drive now aren't you? We'll get there.
There are some big differences in the way each grade looks, starting with the grilles – the entry Escape and top of the range Vignale have the same shaped grille but with different mesh inserts, while the ST-Line has a different grille design and a black honeycomb screen.
While the entry Escape has a roof-top spoiler, privacy glass and dual exhaust (although it doesn't quite come out of those chrome tailpipes), the ST-Line is fitted with a sports body kit which includes the front and rear bumpers, the side skirts, the large rear wing, a different style alloy wheel to the entry grade, plus proper dual pipes.
The Vignale is the posh one and gets plenty of shiny chrome looking trimmings to the grille and the window surrounds, and it's the only grade which has 19-inch alloys as standard and not 18-inch rims.
Inside, the grades vary as you'd expect, although even the entry Escape has a premium looking cabin with high-quality feeling materials and I'm a fan of the textured pattern on the door trims across the range.
The entry Escape has cloth seats, as does the ST-Line – although they have sporty red stitching. The hybrid has partial leather seats while the Vignale has what Ford calls 'leather accented', which means it's mainly leather but not completely so the legal department has advised them to go with 'accented'.
There are 10 paint colours to choose from (depending on the grade) including Agate Black, Blue Panther, Diffused Silver, Sedona Orange and White Platinum.
All grades comes with an eight-inch media display which looks small compared to those in new rivals and while the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in the ST-Line and Vignale is stunning, the rest of the cabin didn't wow me with the modern tech and styling many new cars do.
Still the Escape scores well for design, thanks mainly to its gorgeous exterior. But how practical is it? You're about to find out.
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 Escape scores well for practicality.
Rear leg and headroom is excellent. Even at 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position with plenty or room to move thanks to the 'scooped-out' design of the front seat backs.
That second row rolls on rails and locks into place and this means boot space can be contracted and expanded between 412 litres and 526 litres. This is a rarity in the medium-SUV segment. You can see in the video that I was able to stack all of the CarsGuide luggage in the boot.
Cabin storage is great up front with super-sized door pockets, three cupholders and a big centre console box, while those in the rear have two cupholders, but tiny door pockets.
For phones, tablets and other devices all grades come with four USB ports (two type-A and two type-C). There's also a wireless phone charger up front on all grades and two 12V power outlets.
As a parent who fastens a child into their car seat at least twice a day, I found it frustrating that the Escape's rear doors didn't open anywhere near as wide as a Mazda CX-5's to allow me more space.
I did like the low load lip on the boot and the gesture tailgate on the Vignale was convenient, if slow.
All grades come with brilliantly practical proximity unlocking, too, which is normally only offered on the higher levels in rivals.
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!
The Escape is expensive compared to its rivals – let me show you.
There are three grades in the Escape line-up. The entry grade is simply called the Escape and lists from $35,990 before on-road costs, then above that is the ST-Line from $37,990, and then the Vignale tops out the range from $46,590. The entry grade only comes in front-wheel drive but if you're looking for an all-wheel drive then add $3000 to the prices of the ST-Line and Vignale.
In 2021 a plug-in hybrid variant will be offered in the ST-Line grade and will cost $52,940. It too will be front-wheel drive only.
The most affordable new Escape is between $2000 and 5000 more expensive than the entry grades of rivals such as the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5. Given it does offer substantially more power and torque than either, and is well equipped, one could argue it verges on their mid-level grades (GXL and Maxx Sport). The all-wheel drive Vignale, however, costs about the same as the top-of-the-range RAV4 and CX-5 in all-wheel drive, bringing parity back to the Escape line-up.
The value in terms of equipment isn't bad. Coming standard on the entry Escape are 18-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, silver roof rails, an eight-inch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a wireless phone charger, sat nav, an embedded modem, dual-zone climate control, push-button start, six-speaker stereo with digital radio, and a reversing camera. There's also a smart key which lets you unlock and lock the doors just by touching the door handle.
The ST-Line has a performance feel to it and adds a menacing-looking black grille, 18-inch alloys, sports suspension, black roof rails, a large rear spoiler and dual exhaust tips. Inside there are sports seats with red stitching, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, a fully digital instrument cluster and metallic pedals.
The Vignale adds matrix LED headlights, leather heated front and rear seats, a Bang and Olufsen stereo, head-up display, a power driver's seat, auto parking and a gesture activated tailgate.
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.
The Escape comes with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine making 183W of power and 387Nm of torque, which is more powerful than any engine in the RAV4, CX-5 or everything else in the class for the same money.
This is the only engine on offer for the Escape, apart from the 2.5-litre petrol engine in the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) which will be available in 2021. The power output for the hybrid is 167kW.
The hybrid is front-wheel drive only and so is the entry grade Escape, while the petrol-only ST-Line and Vignale can be had in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configurations.
The petrol Escapes have an eight-speed automatic transmission while the PHEV features a continuously variable transmission, commonly known as a CVT auto. It's there to help save petrol... which neatly brings us to consumption.
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.
Ford says the all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive Escapes with the 2.0-litre petrol engine should use 8.6L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads. In my own testing I found the difference between the two to also be almost negligible, too, with the FWD's mileage being 9.4L/100km and the AWD's being 9.7L/100km. These were both taken from the trip computer and the test course was identical for both, taking in motorways and urban roads.
The plug-in hybrid is the true fuel super saver with Ford saying it can achieve 1.5L/100km. The hybrid was not available to the Australia motoring media to test, but you can absolutely expect the fuel economy to be outstanding.
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 plugin-in hybrid wasn't available to drive at the Australian launch of the Escape, but I tested all grades with the petrol engine. The entry level Escape and ST-Line I drove were front-wheel drive and the Vignale was all-wheel drive.
There are good things to report, but also a few-could-be-better points, too.
First the good. That 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine is truly responsive, with almost zero turbo lag and stacks of oomph and you'll be hard pressed to find another SUV in the size and price bracket that has this much grunt.
Plenty of SUVs out there can feel breathless when it comes to overtaking or needing to move quickly, and if anything there were times in all the Escapes I drove where it was more a case of 'whooah' slow down there. Sport mode was for the most part unnecessary.
The transmission is a regular eight-speed automatic, which was good for acceleration, whereas the CVTs found in some other SUVs can have a lacklustre effect on getting you moving, while dual-clutch autos aren't known for their smoothness at low speeds.
That said, the automatic in the Escape seemed to 'clunk' at low speeds sometimes as I accelerated away in traffic.
Steering is one of the parts which could be better. I found the steering in all three of the Escapes I drove to be overly direct and quick, meaning the wheel only needed to be turned slightly for a fairly sudden change in direction. That, in turn, would unsettle the car causing a 'wobble'. It's not unsafe, but passengers might turn green in the back.
But the more I drove the Escape the more I adjusted to its sporty characteristics and the ride was comfortable.
The all-wheel drive Escape felt more planted and stable to drive, particularly in the wet where I found the front-wheel drives spun their wheels under acceleration due to all that torque, with a hint of understeer at times.
Visibility was great, the reversing camera was clear and the auto parking feature on the Vignale worked well apart from that one time it tired do a perpendicular park in a parallel spot.
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.
The Escape was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2020, but this was under 2019 standards from the otherwise-identical European Kuga-badged version tested that year. This shouldn't put you off, as all grades come with an outstanding level of standard safety tech such as AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning with cross traffic alert and traffic sign recognition.
Front and rear parking sensors are also standard across the range, so is a reversing camera and auto headlights.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts across the second row.
A space-saver spare wheel is under the boot floor.
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!