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Subaru Outback


Toyota C-HR

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

Toyota C-HR

You can almost trace Toyota's renaissance back to a single day – the day the C-HR was revealed to the world as a production car. The company could have gotten away with jacking up a Yaris and calling it a compact SUV, but instead they went all out with a bolt-from-the-blue looker with some really interesting styling ideas inside and out.

I mean, yes, they have now jacked-up a Yaris and called it an SUV, but the C-HR was first and it's cooler, even despite the name meaning Coupe – High Rider. Absolute cringe-fest that, but one of the very few missteps in this changing of the guard for the Japanese giant.

Rolling on Toyota's excellent TNGA platform, the C-HR has settled nicely into its role as one of the bravest Toyotas in years (sold here in Australia, anyway). But with the arrival of the Yaris and Yaris Cross, it was time for a little tweak to the range.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.2L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.4L/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.


Toyota C-HR7.6/10

The two-tier C-HR range doesn't have a duffer in it and the great thing about it is that the base model is so good the temptation to spend up on the Koba is limited to cosmetic things (with one exception...). The GXL has lots of good safety gear and the only tangible missing thing is the Koba's reverse AEB and hybrid option. The hybrid uses half the petrol, so is worth considering as well as for the extra punch.

I find myself suggesting the C-HR without reservation to people I would never have recommended a Toyota to in the past – it's good value, beautifully-built and designed, great to drive and remarkably cheap to own and run.

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.


Toyota C-HR

The C-HR still looks box-fresh three years after its launch. I still have to remind people that it's a Toyota, it's so much more interesting than anything the brand has built for a long time. Show them a Supra and they have to be helped back to their feet. The big bluff front end with the huge headlights still cuts through the visual noise on the road. I still don't like the weird, clunky doorhandles on the rear doors which are ungainly and impractical, sited quite high for small children. The rear view is as polarising as ever, but I fall on the "yes, well done," side of the ledger.

The cabin is also virtually unchanged, which is the right thing to do because it really is very cool. It's a tad colourless like so many cabins these days, but with a consistent, coherent design philosophy, right down to the neat imprint in the headlining of the ovoid shape that dominates the interior design theme. The C-HR was one of the first cars to go without those big clunky rocker switches so beloved of Toyota for so long and it all feels really good.

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.


Toyota C-HR

Up front, a long, narrow bin is a good place for your bits and pieces while the two separate cupholders and bottle holders in the doors will free up your hands and knees from holding the beverages. The rear cupholders are in the doors because there isn't an armrest but also means there are no bottle holders.

The C-HR is surprisingly roomy in the back but it's also gloomy as the glass sweeps up to meet the roof. Legroom is not bad for me at 180cm when seated behind where I drive and the seat itself is comfortable. The front seats are excellent and look good even in the base model.

You can store 377 litres in the boot with the seats up and 1112 litres with them down, which is competitive if not outstanding in the segment.

You also have three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points for the very young folk.

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!


Toyota C-HR

For some reason, Toyota thought the model designation "GXL" would fit the C-HR despite being far more at home on a Land Cruiser, which is a car with a very 1980s vibe versus the C-HR's 21st century zeitgeist feel. The main changes for the 2021 model year are added to the safety column, but GXL buyers pick up keyless entry and start.

Apart from that, things are more or less as they were before – you can still choose from 2WD ($30,915 plus on-roads) or AWD ($32,915). Remembering, of course, that this is the entry-level machine that used to be known as plain old C-HR and is now about $750 more than the MY20. The manual version is long gone, if you're wondering.

You get 17-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, front and rear parking sensors, auto high beam, folding heated electric mirrors, power windows and a space-saver spare.

Toyota hasn't taken the opportunity to again improve the touchscreen, which went up to 8.0-inches last year along with a big improvement in the media system software. It still looks washed-out and stretched but does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The hardware really needs to be higher-resolution and the system itself really doesn't reflect Toyota's might in the industry. Better than it used to be, though and, with smartphone integration, less of a problem.

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.


Toyota C-HR

The GXL is powered by the a 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine with just 85kW and 185Nm available to drag the 1440kg 2WD GXL around (heavier if it's AWD). Power goes through either the front or all four wheels via continuously variable transmission (CVT).

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.


Toyota C-HR

Toyota claims a 5.7L/100km official combined cycle figure of 6.6L/100km and requires premium unleaded to run at its best. In my week with the car which was mostly suburban running with a little freeway dalliance returned an indicated 8.3L/100km. That's not a terrible distance away from the combined cycle and given I work C-HRs hard when I have them, that's not bad.

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.


Toyota C-HR

The only real complaint I have about the C-HR is the drivetrain. There's not anything wrong with it – far from it – it's just that everything else in the class has more power and torque and which helps haul their weight along – the C-HR's is considerable at more than 1400kg. My long-term loan Suzuki Vitara Turbo weighs 300kg less and has a stack more power and torque for about the same money. 

Added to that, the C-HR's economy-focussed continuously variable transmission (my second least favourite transmission after "community") means progress is fairly leisurely and can get a bit loud when you put your foot down.

Which I do a fair bit. While the 1.2-litre engine is a really nice piece of technology and still unusual for a Toyota – it just doesn't have the horses and twist to pull the C-HR along as quickly as even Hyundai's 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine in the Kona, or the CVT-equipped Seltos. But that's okay – it's not a criticism, it's not like it's dangerously slow, it's just slower than most of its rivals and feels it. The Hybrid, which can only be specced with front-wheel drive and the Koba spec, is a little more peppy and the electric motor covers up some of the CVT's lax approach to acceleration.

It's also mildly frustrating because, hot damn, the chassis under the C-HR is really good. I'm going to mention TNGA again because it's such a good platform and I haven't driven a TNGA-based car that I didn't like. It's more than that, obviously – Toyota's engineers have built a driving experience around it that encourages yobbos like me to enjoy the way it corners while your passenger will enjoy the ride, which is excellent on all but the worst surfaces.

The C-HR is also pretty keen when it comes to cornering, with a nice progressive steering feel and weight. It's not particularly chatty, but again, it's a lot of fun and more fun than a few of its rivals. The roundabout raceway is a good laugh in this car.

The lack of go does come back to you on single carriageways when you want to overtake. While the C-HR cruises quietly and comfortably, a floored throttle for an overtake produces rather more bark than bite, so you'll find yourself settling comfortably behind whatever is slowing you down until you've got a long line of sight. Given the C-HR's likely citybound life, this is probably not going to be a big problem. If it is, again, the hybrid has a bit more go.

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.


Toyota C-HR

The extra $700 or so over the MY19 C-HR has mostly gone into safety.

On board the GXL are seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, high- and low-speed AEB with pedestrian detection (day and night) and cyclists (day only), forward collision warning, trailer sway control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane trace assist (this keeps the car in the centre of the lane with gentle steering help), speed sign recognition (which can also change the cruise control speed if you want it to) and reverse cross traffic alert.

Added to that impressive lot is the intersection assist function, which warns you something is coming from the left or right at an intersection that you may not otherwise have clocked. That might seems a bit silly for the C-HR's stubby bonnet, but when your street is parked out and you can't see either way, it's extremely useful.

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!


Toyota C-HR

Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty along with a further two years on the drivetrain if you service with Toyota.

Servicing with Toyota seems eminently sensible because for the first four years or four services (intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km) you won't pay more than $200 per service, which is a dead-set bargain.