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Subaru Outback


Jeep Wrangler

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

Jeep Wrangler

A fast-setting sun, the temperature poised to plunge from 10 degrees, zero phone reception, we were halfway up the remote west coast of Tasmania at least an hour away from our destination and there was a Jeep Wrangler bogged up to the axles halting us in our tracks.

If we were in a LandCruiser, Patrol or Defender, this would signal an opportunity to score some brand brownie points by saving the day with a snatch strap. But given this was our first taste of the new JL Wrangler on Australian soil and we were among almost a dozen other Wranglers queued up behind the bogged lead car, you’d forgive our hosting Jeep executives for feeling a tad nervous at this point. This sort of thing seldom happens on media events thanks to impeccable planning of every possible contingency.

But reality couldn’t have been more contrary, with smiles all round as snatch straps, Maxtrax and a shovel were mobilised and all hands hit the deck to get us out of there.

This is the thrill of off-roading and Jeeping at its very core, adhering to the popular mantra that you’re not going properly off-road until you get stuck.

It probably sounds mad to 95 per cent of the car-buying public, but the anxiety of apparent failure followed by the elation of extrication can be one hell of a buzz.

The longer this recovery takes, the greater the thrill, and this one took the best part of an hour, in professional hands, so we’d been pretty damn stuck.

Given the new Wrangler had proven itself as arguably the most capable off-road vehicle straight out of the box at it’s international launch on the infamous Rubicon Trail in the US last year, we should also take pride in the fact that it took Aussie soil to halt it.

But how does it go on Aussie bitumen, in local spec? Read on.

Safety rating
Engine Type3.6L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency9.6L/100km
Seating4 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.


Jeep Wrangler7.8/10

The new Wrangler is a rare example of a new product that's been designed from the start to be exactly what it is, without outright sales as the number one priority.

Yes it brings some compromises for everyday use, like the on-road ride and handling and that question mark over its safety.

But this is all so it can be uncompromised off the road, and there isn't anything else on the market so capable, straight out of the box.

It's impossible to nominate a sweet spot of the range without having driven two-thirds of it, but it's hard to imagine the Rubicon not being it. 

Could the new Wrangler tempt you into the world of Jeeping? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.

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.


Jeep Wrangler9/10

More than 13 years after the previous JK first appeared, you’d certainly hope the new model brought improvements across the board.

And it has, with more off-road cred, better fuel efficiency, power, tech, refinement, and a few kilos off its beltline. What’s most impressive though is how it’s stayed true to its core values after what's arguably the most comprehensive redesign in its 77-year evolution.

Key to this core is the continuation of solid axles and coil springs front and rear to maximise off-road articulation.

This combo is notoriously difficult to tune for on-road handling, and even the Mercedes-Benz G-Class has given up the ghost for an independent front end.

The Wrangler’s classic removable doors and folding windscreen also remain, even though both are illegal to use on Australian roads because each makes the driver’s mirrors redundant.  

The all-new ladder chassis have scored longer wheelbases mainly to allow room for the new eight-speed auto, with the two-door growing 35mm to 2459mm and the four-door by 61mm to 3008mm.

To lower the kilo count, the JL uses aluminium for the bonnet, doors, hinges, fenders, windscreen frame, and tailgate skin, with the latter also boasting a magnesium frame. Australian Wranglers were tipped to use a steel bonnet for pedestrian safety reasons, but clearly the lighter bonnet ended up passing ADR certification anyway.

Other weight-reduction steps include hollow suspension bars, aluminium engine mounts and steering gear and a lighter brake master cylinder. Net savings are up to 90kg, with tare weights ranging from 1762kg for the two-door models, to 1900kg for the four-door Sport S and Overlands, to 1992kg for the petrol Rubicon and 2160kg for the diesel.

The external bonnet latches have been moved closer to the front of the car to meet pedestrian safety requirements and now feature a winch cable retention slot to keep it tidy during off-road recoveries.

The windscreen has been slightly laid back to improve aerodynamics, which may sound futile for a car of this shape but among numerous other detail changes they’ve resulted in a nine per cent improvement to a still brick-like 0.54 Cd.

Passenger visibility has also been improved through enlarged glass openings and the lowering of the tailgate-mounted full-size spare tyre.

You probably wouldn’t expect Star Wars to influence Wrangler design, but the LED headlight internals on the Overland and Rubicon have been styled to reference the electrobinoculars from the original trilogy.

The new vents behind the front wheels are functional, with the role of reducing under-bonnet air pressure at speed. The Rubicon’s bonnet vents are also designed to extract heat during lengthy low-speed off-road climbs.

Overall clearance has also been improved, with all variants boasting a 34.8-degree approach angle, 26.2-degree breakover (for the two door Overland, 20.8 for the Rubicon) and 29-degree departure angle, with 252mm of ground clearance (Rubicon). All versions also carry a competitive 760mm wading depth rating.

Clearance levels:

 Sport S 2dr Overland 2drSport S 4drOverland 4drRubicon
Running clearance235mm260mm232mm242mm252mm
Approach34.8 deg34.8 deg 19.2 deg 34.8 deg34.8 deg
Breakover23.9 deg26.2 deg19.2 deg20 deg20.8 deg
Departure 29.2 deg29.2 deg29.2 deg29.2 deg29.2 deg

Roof options have now grown to three, with the soft top and hard top to be joined later this year by the Sky One-Touch powertop, which folds its soft centre section back to open the whole roof turret at the touch of a button.

Previous Wrangler interiors have felt like a bit of an afterthought, stripped back for simplicity, but every inch of this new one has been considered to pack in all of the modern conveniences while still being tough as nails and able to hose it out if you need to.

The material quality seems to be excellent for a Jeep product, and there's some nice touches like the rubberised surround for the multimedia screen.

Another Jeep design tradition that continues with fervour are the design ‘Easter eggs.’ With JL, the Torx bit size required to remove the doors is embossed into each door hinge, there’s three little notches on the steering wheel centre that refer to the tri-spoke wheel of the original Willys, there’s a little climbing Willys printed on the base of the windscreen, another Willy’s on the gearknob, and info plaques in the tailgate that mimic the Willys.

One you may not heard of though is the tiny pair of thongs (or flip flops) subtly etched into the left-hand side of the windscreen surround as a nod to notorious Jeep tragic and hot rodding legend David Freiburger’s preferred footwear.

Payload ratings are about average for an SUV of this size, with two-door models able to carry 551kg, while four-door Sport S and Overlands step up to 560kg, the petrol Rubicon notes 570kg, but the heavier drivetrain of the diesel Rubicon drops its payload down to 570kg.

Two-door Wranglers carry a braked tow rating of 1497kg, while four-doors step up to 2495kg.

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.


Jeep Wrangler8/10

As I found at the Wrangler’s international launch, the JL has taken big strides in terms of passenger comfort and practicality.

One highlight up front is the rubberised gap between the cupholders to hold your mobile phone, which comes in very handy when you’re rock hopping.

Instead of bottle holders in the doors, there’s flexible nets to grasp all sorts of things. Similar nets can be found on the back of the front seats.

The back seat has plenty of room for my 172cm height behind my seating position, although the backrest is a bit upright for an SUV. Taller drivers might also get a bit nervous about the overhead speakers poking out of the roof.

All versions score directional air vents in the back of the centre console, along with twin USB and USB-C connections, and the 230V inverter plug of the Overland and Rubicon is bound to come in very handy for all sorts of power needs.  

There's the usual two ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat anchorage points on the back seat, regardless of whether you’re in the four-seat two door or five-seat four door.

The back, the four-door’s boot is quite a decent size at 897-litres with the rear seats up and 2050 with the seats folded almost flat, with nice and squared off edges for cramming as many eskies and camping chairs in there as possible. Jeep Australia is yet to specify cargo capacities for the two-door versions.

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!


Jeep Wrangler8/10

Jeep announced local price and spec in January, and while prices have risen from the previous $38,990-$53,990 MSRP spread to now span $48,950-$68,950, there’s a whole lot every new Wrangler gets that wasn’t available in the past.

For Australia, the range is split into three trim levels and a choice between short-wheelbase two-door, and long-wheelbase four door bodystyles, as with the previous JK-generation.

This time around, the base model has been renamed Sport S, and kicks off at $48,950 for the two-door and steps up to the four-door for $53,450.

The rough and ready Sport S makes do with cloth seats and a soft roof with plastic windows, but does have a leather steering wheel, carpet on the floor and alloy wheels, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for the first time, albeit in the smaller 7.0-inch multimedia screen. It’s also got auto headlights and rear parking sensors.

Note that the Sport S won’t get auto emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring until closer to the end of 2019.  

Sport S options include $745 for premium paint, the ($2250 2dr, $2750 4dr) Sport S Group and the $1950 Off-Road Pack.

The Sport S Group includes a black hard top with removable freedom panels up front, Alpine premium audio, tinted windows and remote start functionality.

The Off-Road Pack brings an upgraded Dana M220 rear axle with LSD, specific 17-inch alloys and all-weather floormats.

The more luxurious Overland is also available in either bodystyle, with the two-door costing $58,450 and the four-door follows the same $4500 premium to total $62,950.

It brings details like leather seats, colour-coded removable hardtop and wheelarches, 18-inch wheels, active cruise control, LED lights all round, proximity keys, nine-speaker Alpine audio, a bigger 8.4-inch multimedia screen with built-in sat nav, a 230V inverter in the back of the centre console and front parking sensors.

The Overland also comes with AEB and blind-spot monitoring straight out of the box.

Premium paint is still optional, but you can also add the $350 Trail Rail cargo management system to four-door models.

The top of the range and more rugged Rubicon is four-door only and the only trim level to offer the option of the new 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine. List pricing for the V6 petrol version is $63,950, but the diesel adds a full $5000 to cost $68,950.

The Rubicon scores hardcore off-road gear like BF Goodrich mud-terrain tyres, shorter 77.2:1 low range gearing, front and rear diff locks with stronger axles and a swaybar disconnect system and chunky mud-terrain tyres. It also comes with a winch-ready steel front bumper not seen on the early-build examples pictured here.

The Rubicon reverts to cloth seats, but comes with Rubicon bonnet, sturdy rock slider sidesteps, specific 17-inch alloys, black hardtop and wheelarches but retains the Overland’s AEB, bind-spot monitoring, active cruise control, Nine-speaker audio, LED lights, 230V inverter, bigger multimedia screen with sat nav, but adds off-road pages.

Premium paint continues as an option alongside the Trail Rail system, but you can also add the $1950 Rubicon Luxury Package, $750 Electrical Group, and an alternative Rubicon set of wheels for $950.

The Rubicon Luxury Package brings back leather seats, gearknob and handbrake handle, heated front seats and steering wheel, plus colour-coded wheelarches.

The Electrical Group brings integrated AUX switches for four extra aftermarket electrical accessories like driving lights or a winch, upgraded 240 Amp alternator and 700 Amp maintenance battery.

On top of these options, there’s 100 other MOPAR accessories available.

As with the international launch, we’ve only been given access to the Rubicon so far, but we’ll follow up with tests of the Sport S and Overland ASAP.

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.


Jeep Wrangler7/10

The default Wrangler engine is a revised version of the 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6 we’ve seen before, which now produces a healthy 209kW and 347Nm. However, the only revision seems to be the incorporation of a stop/start system in the name of efficiency.

The Rubicon is finally available with a diesel option, but this time it’s the only trim level to offer it.

The new unit is a 2.2-litre unit, which is significantly smaller than the 2.8 it replaces, but also much quieter and more refined and generates the same 147kW of power but 10 fewer Newton metres at 450Nm. The latter is available from a useful 2000rpm though.

The 2.0-litre turbo petrol four available internationally isn’t on the cards for Australia for now, but could be added if there’s sufficient demand.

The 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 also available overseas is a definite no-go though, as it’s only been engineered for left-hand drive.

All Australian Wranglers have stepped up to the familiar ZF-designed eight-speed torque converter auto found in the Grand Cherokee. The transfer case is still controlled by a stubby lever next to the auto selector.

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.


Jeep Wrangler7/10

This is another area of net improvement, with the petrol Rubicon dropping from the previous model’s 11.9L/100km to 10.3.

The diesel Rubicon is rated at an impressive 7.5L/100km, while the rest of the petrol V6 line-up spans 9.6L/100km for the two-door Sport S and Overland, and 9.7L/100km for the four-door Sport S and Overland.

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.


Jeep Wrangler9/10

It was always going to be hard to match the Rubicon Trail as a launch venue for the new Wrangler, but Jeep Australia did a mighty fine job by pitting us against 17km of the iconic Climies Track on the west coast of Tasmania. 

Starting at the southern end, the track builds in complexity from easy 2WD progress, through high-range 4WD and ultimately low-range 4WD and very much needing the swaybar disconnect system and both diff locks. All aids were certainly active by the time we got stuck, right near the end of the track.

The surface is largely granite, but there’s plenty of muddy rutted sections, wheel-deep creek crossings, steep climbs, and sharp dropoffs. Trust me, it’s good.

It sounds cliched, but the Wrangler felt right at home here. Having said that, the undercarriage kissed the ground on numerous occasions, which you’d expect with such a long wheelbase, but it’s all well tucked and protected in between the wheels.

One weak point is with the export-spec rear bumper, where the plastic number plate mount extends beyond the rest of the bumper and forms a scoop when dragged along the ground. I can see a lot of Rubicon buyers taking to it with a sawzall shortly after purchase.

The 4WD High goes a lot further than you might expect, but the ultra-low range gearing also helps you to plan your wheel placement and path over obstacles carefully and enables heaps of wheel torque for adjusting your speed on the fly.

Some may bemoan the lack of a manual for really technical off-roading, but the eight-speed auto does a great job of putting the power down and isolating drivetrain shock.

When needed, the swaybar disconnect and diff locks are easily activated via the centre console switches, and the former makes a particularly big difference to the Wrangler’s ability to keep all four wheels on the track and simply amble along.

I had a steer of both petrol and diesel versions on the track, and the diesel does a really good job for such a little unit.

It'd also no doubt be a lot more efficient when you're off road, but I'd personally prefer the linear power delivery you get with the V6, not to mention the extra power. Did I mention that it's also $5000 cheaper?

Then when you're on the road, which is admittedly where any four-wheel drive will spend most of its time, it's a significant leap ahead of any Wrangler of the past.

It's more refined, more comfortable and more stable, but ultimately there's no disguising its off-road focus.

In the US I said that it felt like it was on par with one of the better dual cab utes, but Australia's bumpier roads reveal it to be a bit more jiggly, particularly through the solid front axle.

I also reckon the chunky mud tyres take a bit of the edge off the handling too, but I am a sucker for the sound of mud tyres rolling down bitumen at speed, and these rough edges are all there for good reasons. 

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.


Jeep Wrangler6/10

The new JL scored a significant blow with the announcement of EuroNCAP’s one-star rating, but it’s worth noting that the European model tested lacked the AEB and blind-spot monitoring of the top-two Australian models, which will also be applied to the base Sport S from later in 2019.

At this point, Jeep Australia hopes ANCAP will award it a higher score, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for five stars.  

The fact is, it’s just not possible to make a car with a fold down windscreen and removable doors and still score the same safety rating as a Volvo SUV.

Aside from these active features, all Wranglers come with dual front and side airbags, if not curtain or any rear bags, while the top models get full-speed collision warning and rear cross-traffic alerts.

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!


Jeep Wrangler8/10

The new Wrangler is the first Jeep to introduce the brand’s new capped price servicing program, which will be rolled out across the line-up with each model year update.

This caps servicing at $299 per service for petrol Wranglers and $499 per service for the diesel. Jeep claims the new pricing will bring savings of up to $850 over the five-year warranty period than the previous JK model.

Service intervals are now 12month/12,000km for the petrols and 12/20,000km for the diesel, which on one hand is a drop from the previous 24-month gaps, but the distance element has thankfully been extended from 10,000km.  

Jeep is in line with the new five-year warranty status quo among mainstream brands, with unlimited kilometres, five-year capped price servicing and lifetime roadside assistance when serviced through a Jeep dealer.