Subaru Outback VS Skoda KAROQ
- Strong value
- Great practicality
- Lots of safety tech
- No hybrid option
- No turbo engine
- Not as fun as some rivals
- Charming to drive
- Great space utilisation
- Super flexible
- Optional safety gear
- Thirstier than expected
- Gets pricey with all the options
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|
The Skoda Karoq is a small SUV, but it has big advantages over some of its rivals.
It's compact, tech-heavy, and has seats that you can remove. How good is that? I mean, if you've ever thought to yourself: "Geez, those back seats are really in the way!", then you'll get my drift.
The Karoq has been on sale in Australia for about 12 months now, and is still available in just one spec. In that time, the smallest Skoda SUV has only amassed the same number of sales as Mitsubishi racks up for the ASX in a single week. Yes, you read that right.
But despite the fact its popularity has been quite limited to this point, there's one thing you need to know - it should be on your shopping list.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The sixth-generation, 2021 Subaru Outback has incrementally improved the large wagon-slash-SUV, with a number of important steps forward including better safety tech, a more powerful engine and smarter cabin. A turbo or hybrid powertrain would sweeten the deal even further.
I don’t know that you’d really need anything other than the base model Outback AWD, which seems like a truly great value offering. It’d be our pick of the range.
The Skoda Karoq is a very worthy alternative to the mainstream players in the market, if your budget can stretch to include some of those options - and you might want to include some, if you plan to have an SUV that keeps up with the Joneses.... but add the lot and it starts to look pretty expensive. We wouldn't be surprised if some of the option-only safety items are made standard at some point in order to keep up with other players in the space.
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.
It launched about a year ago here, and it still looks more modern than some its competitors. It isn't rugged like a Subaru XV, nor is it as aggressive as a Hyundai Kona. No, it's a bit more like a Nissan Qashqai - inoffensively attractive. That's if you consider it in the same part of the market as those cars.
Skoda pitches the Karoq as its mid-sized SUV - so it should actually be up against the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester and Nissan X-Trail. Based on its dimensions, that's not really the case - it's 4382mm long, 1841mm wide and 1603mm tall - and that makes it smaller than any of the models in this paragraph, and indeed closer to the ones in the paragraph above. But on price, it's definitely in the upper bracket; we'll get to that soon.
It's a smart and very European design outside, arguably understated - even with optional 18-inch wheels as featured on our car. The LED headlights on our car are optional, but LED daytime running lights are standard. And how about that colour? How good is it to see green again? It's Emerald Green, officially, and it'll cost you $700.
Inside there are new options for the version we're driving, as opposed to the previous version, including the availability to option of the Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch information display for the driver (which costs $700). Check out the interior images in the next section.
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 only other car that offers up this sort of practicality in such a compact footprint is the Honda HR-V. And we get why that mightn't appeal to you - the shape of that car is more hatchback (or hunchback, according to some!) than SUV.
So if you want that (slightly more) rugged look, the Karoq might be your next best option. It has a really clever interior, with three rear seats that can be slid, folded or even removed individually. That's right - you can essentially turn this in to a van, if you need to.
With the seats in their most passenger-friendly setting, you'll still have 479 litres of cargo capacity to play with. While if you slide them all the way forward, you'll see the boot expand to 588L. Fold them down, and that jumps to 1605L. Remove them and you've got a staggering 1810L available. All that, and you still get a space-saver spare wheel, too.
This is clearly a family-friendly boot, with enough room to store our umbrella pram quite easily. It also coped with three suitcases. It even managed to fit the largest case and the pram in together. Unprecedented!
In the cabin there is enough room for someone my size (six feet tall, or 182cm) to sit behind a driver of the same size. Knee room is a little tight, but headroom, toe room and shoulder room is surprisingly good.
The back seat includes dual map pockets, good door pockets and rear seat air-vents, too. And if you need cup holders in between the seats, you can fold down the centre seat backrest. A nice note for parents - there are three top-tether points, and ISOFIX attachments for the two outside rear seats. Plus there are standard tablet holders for rear seat occupants that buckle on to the front headrests.
Up front there are big door pockets and a few decent loose item storage pockets, but the cupholders are smaller than average. The controls all fall to hand logically, and the materials are mostly pretty good, though there is quite a bit of hard plastic throughout (easy to wipe down if you have youngsters, I guess).
The media screen in our test car is the optional one, a 9.2-inch display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, sat nav, Bluetooth - all the stuff you'd want, excluding a volume knob. Instead you've got to use the 'button' elements on the screen, which is annoying (yes, there is a steering-wheel mounted scroller, but what if the passenger wants to turn something up or down?!).
It's a crisp and lovely display, it's easy to learn, and it links well with the (also optional) Virtual Cockpit screen in front of the driver. Both add to the 'almost an Audi' feeling you get in the Karoq, but at a price.
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!
You know what would be really great? If Skoda Australia put a Karoq on fleet that wasn't laden with optional equipment. We get it - the company is trying to showcase everything you can get in a Karoq.
But with a list price of $32,290 plus on-road costs, and an as-tested price of $41,590 (plus on-roads) for the model we're testing, it's a little difficult to judge it on its actual merits. I mean, there's almost 30 per cent additional cost on our test car.
First, we'll have a look at what you would get if you bought a standard car, then we'll go through what's optionally fitted to our test vehicle.
The Karoq's standard gear list includes: an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera, USB input (only one, though...), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, an eight-speaker sound system, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, keyless entry and push-button start, and adaptive cruise control.
The standard wheel setup is a 17-inch pack with a space-saver spare, and there are roof rails, LED daytime running lights and LED tail-lights (but not LED main beams), auto headlights and wipers, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors with auto-stop (to avoid back-up bumps). More on that in the safety section below.
The cabin is usually trimmed with fabric seats, but you still get a leather-lined steering wheel and gear selector, plus a reversible floor mat for the boot.
Now, the option packs. Our car has the Premium Tech & Travel Pack, which is a combined dealio with a $7900 price tag.
It includes adaptive LED headlights, front parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels, an electric tailgate, leather seat trim, electric driver's seat adjustment with memory settings, heated front seats, auto-dimming side mirrors with auto folding, stainless steel pedals, drive mode select, a 9.2-inch media screen with DAB digital radio and gesture control, wireless phone charging, a 10-speaker Canton sound system, semi-automated parking, and extra safety gear in the form of blind spot monitoring, 'Emergency Assist' which can pull the car over if it thinks you're unresponsive, and Traffic Jam assist that can take over most of the driving at speeds below 60km/h.
Sure, it's expensive, but you get a lot for the money. The other options on our car include the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, which is new, and costs $700. Plus metallic paint, at $700.
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.
This grade of Karoq is called the 110TSI, and it has a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, and it produces 110kW of power (from 5000-6000rpm) and 250Nm of torque (from 1500-3500rpm). That's plenty for this size of car, and indeed more torque than plenty of the Karoq's rivals.
We've heard from Skoda that a Karoq 140TDI 4x4 diesel variant is coming in 2020, if that interests you.
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.
Official combined cycle fuel consumption for the Karoq 110TSI is listed at 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres, and you might see that if you do a lot of country driving... but we didn't, so we didn't.
Instead, our test - which incorporated plenty of city running and a couple of highway stints - returned 9.6L/100km.
It's interesting to note that relatively high number (well, it is 65 per cent over the claim!) was despite the fact the Karoq's cylinder deactivation technology - which allows it to run on two cylinders under light loads - was in use quite a bit. There's an 'eco' display on the dash and an almost imperceptible rumble from the engine when its running in this mode.
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.
That's because it's built on the same platform as the likes of the Audi A3, Q2 and Q3, and the VW Golf and Tiguan, among others. And the overarching goodness of those models spreads across to the Karoq, because it's a really nice car to drive.
The ride is quite well sorted, with only a bit of sharp-edge thump because of those larger-than-standard alloy wheels. Around town over speed humps and roads riddled with pockmarks and lumps it was very nicely controlled and comfortable, while on the open road it felt like a bigger vehicle, with a really secure feel to it.
The steering is accurate and easy to judge, not too heavy when you're trying to park it, and not to light when you're on the open road.
And the drivetrain is mostly pretty good, too. There is some hesitation when you initially apply throttle, which is a common complaint for cars with dual-clutch automatic transmissions like this one. It does take some getting used to - and if you think you'll be able to just jump in and gun it away from the traffic lights without any lag, then you'll be disappointed because there is lag to contend with.
But I honestly found it fine, and accustomed my driving to suit. The benefits of that transmission are evident in other situations, because it offers really crisp and clever shifts at speeds from 10km/h to 110km/h.
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 standard safety spec of the Karoq is good, but not class-leading.
You get a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, auto emergency braking (AEB), driver fatigue monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring, multi-collision braking (to stop you careening into other road users in the event of an accident).
You'll need to option advanced safety gear like blind spot monitoring and lane keeping assistance. But while it lacks traditional rear cross-traffic alert, it does have Manoeuvre Assist, which can auto-brake the car when reversing if an obstacle is detected at speeds below 10km/h.
The Karoq has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee), and there are three top-tether and two ISOFIX child-seat anchor points.
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!
Skoda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for all of its models, which is bang-on par with the rest of the mainstream makers, but not as good as you'll get at Kia or Toyota, which offer seven years warranty (Kia as standard, Toyota if you service your car on time).
The brand offers the choice of pre-purchasing your maintenance, or paying as you go, with intervals set every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The PAYG option will set you back an average of $447 per visit, before additional items.
If you pre-pay, you can choose either a three-year pack ($790, or about $263 per year) or a five-year plan ($1650, or $330 per year). So pre-purchase. Do it. It's totally worth it. And you can roll it in to your finance plan, so you'll barely even notice it.