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Subaru Outback


MG HS

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

MG HS

Here in Australia we really are spoiled for choice when it comes to the sheer number of manufacturers on offer.

While prices for the big players like Toyota, Mazda and even Hyundai seem to be ever-increasing, there's apparently no shortage of upcoming challengers like MG, LDV, and Haval to take advantage of the vacuum created at the lower end of the price scale.

Indeed, the results speak for themselves, with Chinese giant SAIC's two brands in our market, LDV and MG, continually putting stellar sales performances on the board. The question many curious consumers will be asking though, is a simple one. Are they better off paying less and driving away in a car like the MG HS today, or should they put their name down on an exceedingly long waiting list for the segment's most popular hero: the Toyota RAV4?

To find out, I've sampled the whole MG HS range for 2021. Read on to see what's what.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.5L turbo
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Subaru Outback7.9/10

The sixth-generation, 2021 Subaru Outback has incrementally improved the large wagon-slash-SUV, with a number of important steps forward including better safety tech, a more powerful engine and smarter cabin. A turbo or hybrid powertrain would sweeten the deal even further.

I don’t know that you’d really need anything other than the base model Outback AWD, which seems like a truly great value offering. It’d be our pick of the range.


MG HS7.3/10

The HS is a curious mid-size SUV competitor, entering the Australian market not just as a proposition for budget-conscious buyers who can no longer afford or want to wait for a Toyota RAV4, but also as an unlikely tech leader with the plug-in hybrid.

The range offers big-ticket safety and spec items with attractive looks at an enormously appealing price. It's easy to see why the HS is proving a hit with customers. Just be aware that it's not without its compromises when it comes to handling, ergonomics, and lots of less obvious areas where it's easy to take the polish of its rivals for granted.

Our pick of the range, oddly enough, is the top-spec PHEV, as it is the most competitive with rivals and the highest scoring against our metrics, but there's also no denying the entry-level Core and Vibe are excellent value in a tough marketplace.

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.


MG HS7/10

If the price wasn't enough to get people into dealerships, the design certainly will be. It's tough to call the HS original, with some clear influence from popular rivals like Mazda in its flashy chrome-embossed grille and bright colour options.

If nothing else , the HS provides a swoopy and curvy solution where many of its Japanese and Korean rivals have turned to sharp angles and squared-off shapes in recent years. Most importantly for MG, as a fledging volume manufacturer, is that its designs are bright and youthful. It's a powerful cocktail made for sales when trendy looks are combined with accessible finance and appealing price-tags.

Inside the HS initially looks great. Things like its sporty three-spoke steering wheel have a European flair and the HS is certainly set to wow people with its array of big and bright LED screens and soft-touch surfaces, which extend from the dash into the doors. It looks and feels nice, refreshing even, compared to some of its tired rivals.

Look too closely, however, and the façade starts to fade. The seating position is the biggest give-away for me. It feels unnaturally high, and has you not only peering down on the steering wheel and instruments, it also alerts you to how narrow the windscreen actually is. Even the A-Pillar and rear-vision mirror eat into my line of sight with the driver's seat set in the lowest possible position.

The seat material itself also looks plush and chunky, and while it is soft it lacks the support you need when driving for long periods of time.

The screens, too, look nice from a distance, but when you start to interact with them, you'll hit some issues. The stock software is downright ordinary in both its layout and look, and the lacklustre processing power behind it makes it a bit of a laggy mess to use. It can take almost 30 seconds for the digital dash cluster in the PHEV to start up once you press the ignition switch, by which point you could be well out of your driveway and down the road.

So, is it all a bit too good to be true at the price? The look, materials and software all leave a lot to be desired, but if you're coming out of a car which is more than a few years old, there's nothing really sale-breaking here, and it ticks a lot of key boxes, just know the HS is not at the top of the game when it comes to design or ergonomics.

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.


MG HS7/10

The HS has a large cabin, but again, it's not without its issues, which reveal an automaker new to a mainstream-market position.

As already mentioned, that front seat is spacious enough for me at 182cm tall, although it was tough to find a driving position with the absurdly high seat base and surprisingly narrow windscreen. The seat material and position leave me with the impression of sitting on the car rather than in it, and this remained true from the base Core to the faux-leather-clad Essence PHEV.

Storage in the cabin is good, though, with large bottle holders and bins in the doors, which easily held our largest CarsGuide 500ml demo bottle, similarly sized dual-cupholders in the centre console with a removable divider, a slot that should suit all but the largest smartphones running parallel, and a decently sized centre-console armrest box. On higher grades, this is air conditioned, good for keeping foodstuffs or drinks cooler for longer.

There is also an odd flip-open tray under the function-shortcut buttons. There's no storage space in here, but it houses the 12V and USB ports.

There are no tactile controls for the climate functions, only a button, which takes you to the relevant screen in the multimedia suite. Controlling such functions through a touchscreen is never easy, especially when you're driving, and it's made worse through the slow and laggy software interface.

I consider the rear seat to be a major selling point for the HS. The amount of room on offer is excellent. I have leagues of space for my feet and knees behind my own seating position, and I'm 182cm tall. There is also ample headroom regardless of variant, even when the panoramic sunroof is in place.

Storage options for rear passengers include a large bottle holder in the door, and a drop-down armrest with two large but shallow bottle holders. Higher grades also score a flip-open tray here where objects can be stowed.

The more entry-level cars don't get power outlets or adjustable rear air vents on the back of the centre console, but by the time you get to the top-spec Essence there are two USB outlets and dual adjustable air vents.

Even the plush door trims continue, and the seat backs are able to recline slightly, making the rear outboards the best seats in the house.

Luggage capacity comes in at 451-litres (VDA) regardless of variant, even the top-spec plug-in hybrid. This lands around the middle of the segment. For reference it was able to consume our whole CarsGuide luggage set, but only without the retractable cover and it left no extra room to spare.

Under the floor in petrol variants there is a space-saver spare, but due to the presence of its large lithium battery pack, the PHEV makes do with a repair kit. It's also one of the few cars to feature an underfloor cutaway specifically for the included wall-socket charging cable, a clever inclusion.

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!


MG HS8/10

With prices starting as low as $29,990 drive-away it's easy to see why MGs have been flying off the shelves of late.

When it arrived in late 2020, the HS was MG's most important model, breaking the brand into the most mainstream of segments with a mid-size SUV. Prior to its arrival, MG had played in the cheap and cheerful space with its budget MG3 hatch and ZS small SUV, but the HS came packed from the get-go with a digitised cabin, a suite of active-safety features, and a European-style small-capacity turbocharged engine.

The range has expanded since then to cover even more affordable ground, now kicking off with the base model Core.

The Core wears the aforementioned $29,990 drive away price and comes with a relatively impressive suite of equipment. Standard stuff includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a semi-digital dash cluster, halogen headlights with LED DRLs, cloth and plastic interior trim, push-start ignition, and perhaps most impressively, the full active-safety suite, which we'll take a look at later. The Core can only be chosen as a front-wheel drive automatic, with a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Next up is the lower mid-grade Vibe, which wears a drive-away price tag of $30,990. Available with the same engine choice and largely the same specs, the Vibe adds keyless entry, a leather steering wheel, leather-look seat trim, electrically auto-folding and heated wing mirrors, an air conditioned centre console box, and a set of roof rails.

The upper mid-grade Excite can be chosen in either front drive with the 1.5-litre engine at $34,990, or as a 2.0-litre all-wheel drive at $37,990. The Excite gains 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with animated LED indicators, interior ambient lighting, built-in sat-nav, alloy pedals, an electric tailgate, and a Sport mode for the engine and transmission.

Finally, the top-spec HS is the Essence. The Essence can be chosen either as a 1.5-litre turbo front-wheel drive at $38,990, a 2.0-litre turbo all-wheel drive at $42,990 or as an interesting front-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid at $46,990.

The Essence gains power adjustable and heated front seats, a puddle light for the driver's door, sportier seat designs, a panoramic sunroof, and a 360-degree parking camera.

The plug-in adds a 12.3-inch digital dash cluster, as well as a completely different transmission to go with its hybrid system, which we'll also take a look at later.

The range is undeniably good value and coupled with the flashy look even on the base Core, it's not hard to see why MG has soared into the top 10 automakers in Australia. Even the top-spec PHEV manages to undercut the long-standing Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV by a decent margin.

When it comes to the raw numbers then, it seems as though MG's HS is off to a good start, especially when you consider a full array of safety equipment and a seven-year warranty.

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.


MG HS7/10

The MG HS is available with three drivetrain options across its four-variant range. The base two cars, the Core and the Vibe, can only be chosen with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, producing 119kW/250Nm,  which drives the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The Excite and top-spec Essence can also be chosen in this layout, or as an all-wheel drive with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 168kW/360Nm. This combination still has a dual-clutch automatic, but with only six speeds.

Meanwhile the halo variant of the HS range is the Essence plug-in hybrid. This car pairs the 1.5-litre turbo from the more affordable variants with a relatively powerful 90kW/230Nm electric motor, also on the front axle. These combine to drive the front wheels via a 10-speed traditional torque-converter automatic.

The electric motor is backed by a 16.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which can be charged at a maximum rate of 7.2kW via a European-standard Type 2 AC charging port located in a flap opposite the fuel filler.

The power figures on offer here are pretty good across the board, and the technology is contemporary and geared for low emissions. The dual-clutch automatic transmissions raise an eyebrow, but more on that in the driving section of this review.

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.


MG HS8/10

For a mid-size SUV, the HS has impressive official/combined consumption figures.

The 1.5-litre turbocharged front-wheel-drive variants have a combined official figure of  7.3L/100km, against which the base Core I drove for a week returned a figure of 9.5L/100km. A little off the official number, but it's impressive to get below 10.0L/100km in the real world in an SUV this size.

The 2.0L all-wheel drive cars miss the mark by a little more, scoring a real-world figure of ?? L/100km in Richard Berry's week-long test, against an official 9.5L/100km.

Finally, the plug-in hybrid has an absurdly low fuel-consumption figure, thanks to its large battery and capable electric motor, but assumes the owner will drive it in ideal circumstances only. I was still impressed to find my test week in the PHEV returning a figure of 3.7L/100km, especially given I managed to run the battery completely dead for at least a day and a half of driving.

All HS engines require the use of mid-grade 95RON unleaded petrol.

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.


MG HS6/10

The HS is a bit of a mixed experience from behind the wheel. It's brave for a manufacturer as recently rebooted as MG to have a complex emissions-beating small-capacity turbocharged engine mated to a dual-clutch automatic. There's a lot in this combination that can go awry.

I said at the launch of this car that the transmission was pretty ordinary. It was reluctant, got caught in the wrong gear frequently, and was just an all-round unpleasant experience to drive. The brand informed us that there has been a significant software update to the transmission to coincide with the arrival of the other HS variants, and credit where credit is due, there has genuinely been a change.

The seven-speed dual clutch is now much more compliant, shifting more predictably through its gears, and when decision-making is asked of it in the corners it's now a smoother experience, where previously it would shudder and skip gears.

However, lingering issues still remain. It can be reluctant to take off from a full stop (a common dual-clutch trait) and it seems to particularly dislike steep inclines. Even my driveway would have it choking between first and second gear, with a distinct loss of power if it made the wrong decision.

The ride of the HS is comfort tuned, which is a breath of fresh air from many sportier mid-size SUVs. It deals with bumps, potholes, and undulations around town remarkably well, and the abundance of noise filtering from the engine bay keeps the cabin nice and quiet. It's easy to take the handling prowess of its Japanese and Korean rivals for granted, however.

The HS feels frumpy in the corners, with a tall centre of gravity and a ride that is particularly prone to body-roll. It's a topsy-turvy experience if your suburb is full of roundabouts for example, and hardly inspires confidence when cornering. Even little calibration things like the slow steering rack and pedals, which lack feel, show areas where this car could be improved.

I only had a brief time behind the wheel of a 2.0-litre turbo all-wheel-drive variant. Make sure to read Richard Berry's variant review for his thoughts, but that car had more of the same issues, but with a slightly better ride and handling thanks to improved traction and more weight.

The most interesting HS variant is the PHEV. This car is by far the best to drive thanks to its smooth, powerful, and instantaneous electric torque. Even when the engine is on in this car it's far smoother, as it trades away the messy dual-clutch automatic for a 10-speed torque converter, which slushes through the gears with ease.

The best way to drive it, though, is as a pure EV, where the HS PHEV shines. Not only can it drive entirely on electric power alone (as in, the engine won't turn on, even at speeds up to 80km/h), but the ride and handling are improved by the weight of its batteries, too.

While there's still significant room for improvement in the HS range, it's impressive how far the brand has come in the short time since this mid-size SUV arrived in Australia.

The fact that the PHEV by far the best to drive bodes well for the future of the brand.

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.


MG HS8/10

It is impressive that MG has managed to pack the entire active-safety suite into every HS, especially the base Core.

Branded 'MG Pilot' the suite's active features include freeway speed auto emergency braking (detects pedestrians and cyclists at up to 64km/h, vehicles at up to 150km/h), lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, auto high beams, traffic-sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control with traffic-jam assist.

Sure, some automakers might pack some extra features in like driver attention alert and rear AEB, but to have the whole suite on even the entry-level variant is impressive, nonetheless. Since this car's launch, software updates have even significantly improved the lane keep and forward collision warning sensitivity significantly (they are less extreme now).

Six airbags come standard on every HS alongside the expected brake, stability, and traction controls. The HS scored a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the 2019 standards, scoring decently across all categories, although the PHEV variant is different enough to miss out this time around.

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!


MG HS7/10

MG takes a leaf out of Kia's book by offering an impressive seven-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty on every HS variant aside from the PHEV.

Instead, the PHEV comes with an industry-standard five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty, and separate eight-year and 160,000km lithium battery warranty. The brand justifies this by saying the hybrid game is “a different business” to its petrol range.

Capped-price servicing had not yet been locked in at the time of writing, but the brand promises us a schedule is on the way. We'd be surprised if it was expensive, but keep in mind brands like Kia have used higher service pricing in the past to cover a longer than average warranty.