Subaru Outback VS LDV D90
- Strong value
- Great practicality
- Lots of safety tech
- No hybrid option
- No turbo engine
- Not as fun as some rivals
- Makes more sense as a diesel
- People-mover practicality
- Terrible software
- Cheap interior
- A bit unwieldy to drive
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|
It’s pretty hard to miss the LDV D90.
Mainly because it is gigantic; it's one of the biggest SUVs you can buy. In fact, I’d say what’s drawn you to this review is maybe you’ve seen one of these behemoths trucking past, and you’re wondering what the LDV badge is all about and how this relatively unknown SUV stands up against popular rivals and other notable newcomers.
To get one confusing thing out of the way, LDV once stood for Leyland DAF Vans, a now-defunct British company which has been brought back to life by none other than China’s SAIC Motor – yes, the same one which also resurrected MG.
So, is this MG big brother worth looking into? We took the recently released diesel version of the D90 on test for a week to seek some answers…
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
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.
Looking for a cheap, powerful diesel SUV with huge cabin space and a humane third row for adults? The D90 is a really sound offering, especially considering the price of entry for this top-spec diesel which should resonate with Aussies a bit better than the petrol version.
It has plenty of issues that could be ironed out, but they’re all so small and not sale-breaking it’s almost annoying how much better the D90 could be with just a little work. Rivals should be looking over their shoulder for what comes next.
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.
Some colleagues I’ve spoken to like the way the D90 looks. To me, it looks like someone gene-spliced a Hyundai Tucson with a SsangYong Rexton in a lab, then grew it in a stew of peptides and this was the result.
What can’t really be communicated in images is how truly massive the D90 is. At over five metres long, two metres wide and almost two metres tall, the D90 is certifiably huge. Given that’s the case then, it’s admittedly almost admirable that only the side profile makes this thing look a little goofy.
I think LDV has done a pretty good job on the front, and the rear is simple but well resolved for a vehicle that rides on a ladder chassis (just take a look at the Pajero Sport for how ladder-chassis rear designs can get… controversial…).
The wheels, garnishes, and LED headlights are all tastefully applied. It’s not ugly… just confronting… size-wise.
Inside shares some familiar characteristics with sister-brand MG. Look from a distance and it’s all quite nice, get in too close and you’ll see where the corners have been cut.
The first thing I don’t like about the interior is the materials. Apart from the wheel they are all pretty cheap and nasty. It’s a sea of hollow plastics and mixed trims. The faux-wood pattern, which is clearly just a print on a plastic resin is particularly gnarly. Reminds me of some Japanese cars from 20 years ago. It might work for the Chinese audience, but that’s not where the market is in Australia.
On the other hand, you could say “well, what do you expect at this price?” and that is true. Everything is here and works, just don’t expect the D90 to be playing alongside the established players when it comes to fit, finish, or material quality.
The huge screen works to finish the dash, but that darned software is so ugly you’ll wish it didn’t. At least all the major touch-points are ergonomically accessible.
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 D90 is as massive on the inside as it is on the outside. I’m talking better space than a minivan, and nothing says that more than the humane third row. At 182cm tall, I not only fit in the rearmost two seats, but I can do so in as much comfort as any other row. It’s staggering. There’s actual airspace for my knees and head back there.
The second row is massive and on rails too, so you can extend the amount of room available to third-rowers – and there’s so much room in the second row, you’ll have space even with the seats moved forward.
My only criticism here is that the giant rear door is far enough forward to make clambering into the third row a little tricky. Once you’re there though there are really no complaints.
The boot is even usable with the third row deployed, with a claimed 343L of space. That should be hatchback-sized, but the measurement is a little deceptive as the space is tall but shallow, meaning it will only allow you to place smaller bags (a few, if you can stack them) with the remaining space.
The boot is otherwise cavernous with a wild 1350L available with the third row stowed flat, or 2382L with the second row stowed. In this configuration, with the front passenger seat slid forward to its furthest position, I was even able to get a 2.4-metre-long benchtop in the back. Truly impressive.
Second-row occupants get their own climate control module, USB ports and even a full-sized household power outlet, with more legroom than you could possibly need. My only complaint was that the seat trim seemed a little flat and cheap.
Front occupants get large cupholders in the centre console, a deep armrest box (with no connectivity in it, just a randomly placed DPF cycle switch), pockets in the doors, and an awkward binnacle under the climate controls that houses the single available USB port. My phone didn’t fit in there.
No complaints about leg and headroom in the front either, though, with plenty of adjustability to boot. The driver’s seat offers a commanding view of the road, although it can be a little unsettling to be so far off the ground in corners… more on that in the driving section.
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!
On paper, the seven-seat D90 is immediately quite appealing. At $47,990, it is literally a lot of car for the money. This latest iteration, the bi-turbo diesel, is only available in Executive trim at this price, but you can pinch pennies further by choosing one of the lesser petrol turbo variants.
Regardless, and much like its MG sister brand, LDV is good at making sure that essential spec boxes are ticked.
This includes screens galore as is popular in the Chinese market, including a massive 12-inch multimedia screen and 8.0-inch digital dash.
A screen is only as good as the software that runs on it though, and let me tell you, the D90’s software is not good. A quick flick through the weirdly small menu reveals barebones functionality, terrible resolution and response time, as well as possibly the worst execution of Apple CarPlay I’ve ever seen.
I mean, it doesn’t even use all of that screen real estate! Not only that, but in a recent overhaul to CarPlay, Apple released software to utilise wider displays – so the car’s own software must simply be incapable of supporting it. Inputs also proved laggy, and I had to repeat myself on multiple occasions to get any use out of Siri. Unlike every other car I’ve used, the software in the D90 wouldn’t return to the radio after you hang up or stop talking to Siri. Frustrating.
I’d rather have a far smaller display that actually worked well. The semi-digital dash was functional, although barely did anything that a small dot-matrix display isn’t capable of and had one screen which for my entire week said ‘loading’. I’m still not sure what it was meant to do…
At least it supports Apple CarPlay at all, which is more than could have been said for segment hero, the Toyota LandCruiser.
The D90 does tick some necessary items that are quite good. LED headlights are standard, as are leather seats with eight-way power adjust for the driver, a heated multi-function steering wheel, 19-inch alloy wheels (which still somehow look small on this huge thing), three-zone climate control, eight-speaker audio system, electric tailgate, keyless entry with push-start ignition, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, tyre-pressure monitoring, as well as a fairly substantial safety suite which we’ll explore later in this review.
Great on paper then, the bi-turbo diesel engine is a boon, as is the fact that the D90 rides on a ladder chassis with an electronically-controlled low-range terrain mode for the transmission, too.
You’d expect to pay more – even from Korean and Japanese rivals for this much specification. No matter which way you cut it, the D90 is good value.
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 diesel also gets its own transmission, an eight-speed torque converter automatic with computer-controlled ‘Terrain Selection 4WD’.
This gives the D90 diesel a max towing capacity of 3100kg braked (or 750kg unbraked) with a max payload of 730kg.
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.
The D90 diesel is said to consume 9.1L/100km of diesel on the combined cycle, but ours didn’t score near that with a figure of 12.9L/100km after a week of what I’d consider “combined” testing.
The D90 a big unit, so that number doesn’t seem outrageous, it’s just nowhere near the claim… All D90s have 75-litre fuel tanks.
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 D90 is easier to drive than it looks… to a degree…
It lacks some polish of its more established rivals, which results in a drive experience that isn’t bad, but occasionally frustrating.
The ride somehow manages to be soft and harsh at the same time. It undulates over larger bumps, while transmitting the worst parts of smaller, sharper ones to the cabin. It speaks to a lack of calibration between the suspension and dampers.
That having been said, the D90 masks its ladder chassis underpinnings well, with little of that typical body-on-frame jiggle that some rivals still struggle with.
The drivetrain is good, but a little unruly. As you’d imagine from the figures, there’s more than enough power on tap, but the transmission tends to have a mind of its own.
It will occasionally lurch between gears, pick the wrong gear, and off-the-line will sometimes be delayed before shunting the D90’s bulk forward with a sudden mountain of torque. It doesn’t sound particularly good either, with the diesel surging through the rev range with industrial crudeness.
By the time the D90 has reached cruising speed though, there’s really not much to complain about, with the D90 milling along with plenty of power in reserve for overtaking. The view of the road is commanding, but you really feel the D90’s high centre of gravity in the corners and under heavy braking. The physics of such a large object are undeniable.
I have to say, LDV has done a fantastic job of the D90’s steering, with a quick, light feel that betrays the SUV’s size. It manages to stray on the right side of lightness though, not being so disconnected that you lose a feeling of where the wheels are pointing. No mean feat in something this shape.
Overall then, the D90 isn’t bad to drive and has some genuinely great characteristics, it just also has a litany of small issues that get in the way of it being truly competitive with segment leaders.
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 LDV D90 carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of 2017, and has a fairly comprehensive active safety suite.
Included on the diesel is auto emergency braking (AEB) with front collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention alert, traffic-sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control.
Not bad for the price, and nice that there’s nothing optional. Expected items include electronic traction, stability, and brake controls, as well as six airbags.
The curtain airbags do extend to the third row, and there’s the bonus of a reversing camera and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
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!
LDV covers the D90 with a five-year/130,000km warranty, which is not bad… but falls behind sister brand MG, which offers seven years/unlimited kilometres. At the very least it would be nice to have the unlimited kilometre promise.
Roadside assist is included for the duration of that warranty, but there’s no capped price servicing offered through LDV. The brand gave us indicative pricing of $513.74, $667.15, and $652.64 for the first three annual services. An initial six-monthly 5000km checkup is free.
All D90s need to be serviced once every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first.