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Subaru Outback


Skoda Kodiaq

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

Skoda Kodiaq

You don't hear the words 'performance' and 'diesel-powered, seven-seat SUV' together often, do you? Like Marvel and DC, the two things just feel like they're from completely different universes, one of which is filled with prams and groceries and weekend sport, and the other with twisting roads, plentiful fuel and burbling exhausts.

But Skoda is now attempting to merge these two distant worlds together with the launch of the new Kodiaq RS, blending the impressive practicality of the Czech car maker's (occasional) seven-seat SUV with the sporting promise of its performance sub-brand.

It's a delicate tightrope to walk, though. Too hard and sporty, and the Kodiaq RS will fail at its primary task of moving people and stuff. Too family focused, and it becomes an RS in badge only.

The question now, then, is has Skoda got the balance right?

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency6.4L/100km
Seating7 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.


Skoda Kodiaq8.1/10

It might not be the sportiest SUV on the market, but it balances its extra performance with its core family carrying duties with aplomb. 

Seven seats, plenty of equipment, practicality for days and with enough grunt to keep you smiling, the Kodiaq RS ticks plenty of boxes.

The only question mark really remaining is does it justify the extra spend over 132TSI model?

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.


Skoda Kodiaq8/10

A lot like a Skoda Kodiaq, just with more sportiness. It never screams "look at me", but in our humble opinion, that's no bad thing.

You do get a bespoke front bumper arrangement, and the grill, under bonnet meshing, roof rails and and side skirting are blacked out. The wheel arches are filled by those jumbo 20-inch alloys, and, stepping around to the back, you'll find two squared-off exhaust outlets.

Inside, I'm a big fan of the super-supportive front seats, finished in leather and Alcantara, but for mine, the carbon-look trimming is less effective, and feels thin and hard to the touch.

That said, Koda deserves props for sending the best front-seat design elements into the second row, and if you forget the RS stuff completely for a moment, you'll find the cabin to be a clean, comfortable and tech-focussed space, with the the big central screen especially giving the cabin a modern feel, and the switch gear all emitting a commendable sense of quality.

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.


Skoda Kodiaq9/10

The Kodiaq RS pulls of an incredible party trick in managing to not look like a cruise ship from outside the car, while also serving up a big and spacious-feeling cabin.

To be clear, the Kodiaq isn't small, stretching 4699mm in length, 1882 in width and 1685mm in height, but its crisp design ensures it never looks slab-sided, looking more like a five-seat SUV than it does a full-time seven-seater, like the Mazda CX-9.

Those riding up front have plenty of space to stretch out, with the two seats separated by a wide centre console toped by an armrest that slides backwards to reveal a really usable storage space below. There are pockets in each door and two cupholders between the seats, too.

The front seats are electronically adjustable, and there's wireless charging, a USB connection and everything else you might need to make your life a little easier (including umbrellas hidden in the front doors).

Space in the backseat is genuinely impressive, even for taller passengers. I'm 175cm (so no giant) and there was so much room between my knees and the seats in front I could cross my legs comfortably, and more than enough headroom, too.

Yes, space will get considerably tighter should you attempt to squeeze three adults in the second row, but should you instead deploy the seat divider (itself home to 2.5 tiny cupholders), you'll find the back seat a pleasant place to spend time.

For a start, the nicer cabin materials from the front make their way to the second row, and you'll also find air vents with their own temp controls, a 12-volt charge point, bottle holders in the doors and two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat.

The third row is tighter, of course, but these are intended more as occasional jump seats rather than a permanent solution, and because the second row is on rails, there can be a surprising amount of leg room, provided the seats in front are pushed as far forward as they go.

Step around to the auto-opening boot and you'll 270 litres of space with the third row in place, 630 litres with the Skoda in five-seat mode, and a huge 2005 litres (to the roof) with the second row folded flat, too.

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!


Skoda Kodiaq7/10

The go-fast Kodiaq will set you back a not-insignificant $65,990(+$770 for metallic paint) - or about $12k more than the second most-expensive model in the lineup, the 132TSI Sportline - but Skoda's first RS-badged SUV does at least arrive with enough kit to ensure you won't be troubling the limited options list.

For that spend, you get that punchy diesel engine driving all four wheels, of course (and we'll drill down on that in just a moment), but you also get a host of performance kit, like a Dynamic Sound Boost amplified exhaust, adaptive dampers calibrated for the RS, and several drive modes, including Sport.

Outside, you'll find jumbo 20-inch 'XTREME' alloys, red brake calipers, LED automatic headlights, LED DRLs, rain-sensing wipers and a boot that opens automatically.

Inside, expect super-supportive leather-and-Alcantara sports seats, triple-zone climate control, an awesome 9.2-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Skoda's digital cockpit, wireless phone charging, heated seats in the first two rows and a solid Canton stereo.

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.


Skoda Kodiaq8/10

Skoda has fitted the Kodiaq RS with the most powerful diesel it has, a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder bi-turbo unit that produces a healthy 176kW at 4000rpm and 500Nm at 1750rpm.

It's pared with a seven-speed DSG automatic, and power is sent to all four wheels.

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.


Skoda Kodiaq8/10

It's here that the joy of diesel power makes itself clear. The Skoda Kodiaq RS, with its seven seats and half-tonne of torque, will drink a claimed 6.2 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. Emissions are pegged at 167g/C02 per kilometre.

It means you should theoretically get close to 1000kms out of the Kodiaq's 60-litre fuel tank.

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.


Skoda Kodiaq8/10

When it comes to performance vehicles, we're usually the first to begin waggling our fingers at a car that's not loud enough, angry enough, stirring enough, to wear the hallowed go-fast crown.

Usually the "hot" part of a car's description refers to a booming exhaust, super show-off looks and a suspension tune stiff enough to double as one of those weight-loss vibrating plates. And yet the Skoda Kodiaq RS really does none of those things. And to be honest, it's a better car for it.

The more subtle way the Kodiaq approaches its sportiness perfectly suits the nature of a car like this. This is, after all, a (sometimes) seven-seat SUV, and so it will likely be spending a lot of it's time with a family on board. And having kids in the back is even less fun if they're bouncing off the roof lining every time you hit a bump.

In the Kodiaq, they won't be. In its Normal drive setting (you can also choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Snow or Individual), the Kodiaq definitely lingers on the firm side of comfortable, but not so much so that it neuters its worth as a family hauler.

And even when you engage Sport, the Kodiaq remains comfy enough. The exhaust perhaps takes on a more noticeable, artificial timber (thanks to the Dynamic Sound Boost function) and the car tightens, but it's never feels overly aggressive or sharp.

Skoda's engineering team has done a terrific job of minimising body movement here, and you can legitimately throw the Kodiaq up and down a twisting road without ever feeling sea sick when you get to the other end. So much so, in fact, that you can forget you're driving a 1.8-tonne, seven-seat SUV,  the predictable steering and composed ride helping convince you you're in something much smaller and more nimble.

It's not lightning-quick, with the bi-turbo diesel propelling you to 100km/h in 7.0 seconds (1.2secs quicker than a 132TSI version), but there's more than enough punch to get you up and moving in a hurry, and the engine has a fine relationship wth the seven-speed gearbox, with shifts largely occurring when you want them to (though it can feel a tough jumpy when you first start it up in the morning).

It's like a performance for responsible adults, then. It won't blow your socks off, but it offers just enough of everything to keep you engaged on the right road.

The only lingering question you need to ask yourself, though, is does that make it worth the extra bucks over a petrol-powered car?

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.


Skoda Kodiaq9/10

There is a heap of stuff on offer here, with the Kodiaq RS really wanting for little on the safety front.

The regular Kodiaq already wears five-star ANCAP safety rating, which carries over to the RS, and you can expect nine airbags, adaptive cruise control, city AEB, a rear-view camera, Lane Assist, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and a driver fatigue monitor.

And if you're a nervous parallel parker, the Kodiaq RS will take care of that for you, too.

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!


Skoda Kodiaq8/10

The Kodiaq RS is covered by Skoda's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with servicing required every 12 months or 15,000kms.

You can also pre-pay your servicing at the point of purchase, with five years costing $1700, and three years setting you back $900.

Skoda also offers a nifty guaranteed value program, which allows you to settle on a kilometre window when you purchase your vehicle, then return it to the dealership after three years with no more payments to make.