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Subaru Outback


Toyota Fortuner

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 turbo
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats

Toyota Fortuner

Lots of things happen by accident. Children, the discovery of penicillin, putting a kiss at the end of an email to your boss. We’ve all been there.

But nobody buys a Toyota Fortuner by accident. Yep, they may well buy other large seven-seater SUVs, like the Kia Sorento, or Toyota Kluger, without thinking it too much about it, but not the Fortuner.

That’s because the Fortuner isn’t particularly good looking, nor is it wonderfully comfortable to drive. So it’s nothing like a Sorento or Kluger,  apart from having the same number of seats.

See, the Fortuner is good at other things, such as being highly capable off-road, because it shares its underpinnings with the Toyota HiLux 4x4. Really, Toyota should have called it the HiLux 7 or the HiLux SUV. 

So, if you’re going to compare the Fortuner with anything, it should be other ute-based SUVs such as the Ford Everest, or Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, even an Isuzu MU-X.

We’ll cover the Fortuner’s strong, and not so strong points in this review of the new and updated range including what safety equipment comes standard, the fuel economy, practicality, price and features, plus what it’s like to live with in the city and drive off the road.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.8L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency8.6L/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.


Toyota Fortuner 7.5/10

The Toyota Fortuner really should have been called the HiLux 7 or the HiLux SUV, because it is a seven-seat SUV based on the HiLux off-road ute. Sure, its not the most comfortable SUV out there, but this vehicle can go places the Sorentos and Klugers of this world can only dream about.

Like the Ford Everest, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and other ute-based SUVs, the Fortuner is ideal for the family which lives remotely and off-road driving is part of daily life. Or for those who may live in the suburbs and head away on regular adventures towing a caravan or trailer behind.

That’s why nobody buys an SUV like the Fortuner accidentally, the ride and looks will put a Kia Sorento buyer off, but for the right people it’s exactly what they need – a ute with seven seats and a boot.

Picking the sweet spot of the Fortuner range is easy... it's the GXL. Stepping up to the Crusade buys you items you don't need such as a power tailgate. The GXL comes with roof rails, privacy glass, a proximity key and if you want leather seats you can option the premium interior pack which my test car featured. 

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 Fortuner 7/10

The Fortuner isn’t beautiful, but it is rugged and ready looking. Those tough looks aren’t just for show either, see the Fortuner shares the same underpinnings as Toyota’s HiLux 4x4 ute.

So, the tall ride height and high front end starts to make sense knowing that this is a SUV based on an off-road ute, right down to the ladder frame chassis and the many other components it shares with the HiLux.

The Fortuner is about 530mm shorter end-to-end than a HiLux at 4795mm long, but the same width at 1855mm across and about 10mm shorter in height – although the roof racks see it stand 1835mm tall.

Matching the Fortuner’s rugged exterior is a cabin with a fairly basic design and robust feel. So, while it’s plush in places such as the leather seats that came as part of the premium interior pack on our (GXL grade) test car, there are also the chunky runner floor mats that don’t mind a bath with a garden hose (take them out first, okay?).

Side steps are standard on all grades, but the GXL adds roof racks, privacy glass and chrome door handles.

The Crusade adds more in the way of glamorous touches such as a premium grille finish, a grey coloured front ‘bash plate’, wood grain-look instrument panel and leather upholstery.

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 Fortuner 8/10

There are some super practical parts to the Fortuner’s cabin, but also a couple of 'why-did-they-do-that?' areas, too.

First, the good points. The side steps are sturdy and meant my six-year-old could climb in and out despite the tall ride height. Also helping him were hand grips moulded into the plastic trim around the B-pillar at 'kid height' for children to hold onto.

Then there are the rubber floor mats, which after a week were covered in mud, sand and potato chips, but I could pull the entire rear mat out and hose off the evidence.

Cabin space is also good and while the third row is too cramped for me at 191cm (6'3") tall, I can sit behind my driving position with plenty of legroom in the second row.

The doors have bottle holders, there are cupholders, trays and hidey holes in all three rows, there’s a cooled glove box and a centre console bin large enough to store a small backpack.

All Fortuners have seven seats and this is where we come to the 'why-did-they-do-that?' moment. That third row doesn’t fold flat, instead the seats fold up towards the side windows and are fastened into position there.

Not only does this eat into your cargo space, but, if not fastened properly the heavy seats can fall back down and as a parent I was concerned about small hands or fingers being in the way.

The cargo capacity with third row folded that way is 716 litres, but with them in place you have 200 litres of boot space behind them.

USB ports are thin on the ground in all grades with just one up front, although there are three 12V outlets on board and the Crusade also gets a 220V power point.

All three rows have directional air vents, with fan speed adjustment in the very back seats.

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 Fortuner 8/10

There are three grades in the Fortuner range – the entry-level GX with a list price of $49,080, the GXL which is $54,350, and the Crusade for $61,410.

The GX comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, cloth seats, air conditioning, an 8.0-inch display with a reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a six-speaker stereo, plus front and rear parking sensors.

The GXL has the GX’s features including the 17-inch alloys, but adds 'Downhill Assist Control', climate control, sat nav, digital radio, privacy glass, power driver’s seat, roof rails, LED fog lights and a proximity key.

The Crusade has all the GXL’s gear but adds 18-inch alloy wheel, Bi-LED headlights, door puddle lamps, leather seats (heated up front), an 11-speaker JBL sound system and a power tailgate.

The pick for value here is the GXL and as with our test car you can option the premium interior pack which adds leather upholstery and power front adjustable seats.

Compared to its rivals, the Fortuner is more affordable than the equivalent Ford Everest, but more expensive than a comparable Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.

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 Fortuner 8/10

All grades in the Fortuner range come with the same engine – it’s a 2.8-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel which now makes 20kW more power and 50Nm more torque than before with its outputs of 150kW/500Nm.

Shifting gears is a six-speed automatic transmission.

All Fortuners are four-wheel drive. You can select from two-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive in high and low ranges.

The braked towing capacity is 3100kg.

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 Fortuner 7/10

Toyota’s official fuel economy claim for the Fortuner is 7.6L/100km and that’s after a combination of open and urban roads. My own testing delivered an average mileage of 10.1L/100km. The fuel tank holds 80 litres.

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 Fortuner 7/10

Right at the start of this review I said the Fortuner isn't wonderfully comfortable to drive and while that’s true my family and I quickly became used to it.

The Fortuner in the GXL grade came to live with us for a week and we used it daily for school drops off, supermarket runs, and a weekend trip to the beach. So, I can give you a pretty good idea what it’s like to live with in the city and suburbs.

If you want to know how it performs off-road take a look at our Adventure Editor Marcus Craft’s review. Crafty drove the GX grade of the Fortuner at about the same time I had mine and between the two of us we’ve covered what it’s like to live it the Fortuner in the city and ‘burbs, plus how it handles itself in the rough stuff.

Also, be sure to check out the video above where we team up to show you what it can do in and out of the city.

What I can tell you is that the Fortuner’s ride is firm. Stiff suspension and its ladder frame chassis meant jiggly journeys, while handling is nowhere near car-like.

If you’ve driven a HiLux, you’ll know what it’s like to drive the Fortuner. Both share the same platform, and have similar driving characteristics, right down to the upright seating position and steering wheel with limited reach adjustment.

Like the HiLux, the Fortuner was refreshed this year and received some excellent updates which improved the way it drives. Best of all is the steering upgrade.

A new variable-flow power steering pump now means low-speed steering is fantastic. I noticed this especially in car parks where I could pilot the Fortuner more easily than before.

The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel was upgraded as well with more torque and power, and this too makes the Fortuner a better SUV than the previous model which seemed to lack oomph.

There’s good forward visibility, although, when the third row is stowed away those rear side windows are blocked and that made parallel parking a bit of a guessing game at times.

There is a reversing camera, but the picture quality isn’t great, and the front and rear parking sensors got a workout when I was driving.

The trade off for the Fortuner being a bit uncomfortable, with its ladder frame and stiff suspension, is an SUV that is a proper off-road vehicle. We’re talking a wading depth of 700mm, an approach angle of 29 degrees and a departure angle of 25 degrees (ramp over is 23.5 degrees), while ground clearance is 216mm. There’s also a rear differential lock.

As I said, you can read and see what Crafty had to say about its off-road performance in his review, but he found the Fortuner to be talented over challenging terrain and while he also found the ride to be firm, the new steering and extra grunt made this SUV even better in the rough stuff.

You might be interested to know the GX and GXL grades come standard with all-terrain tyres, while the Crusade gets 'highway tyres.'

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 Fortuner 8/10

The Toyota Fortuner scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2019. All three grades have AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assistance, adaptive cruise control and road sign recognition.

There are seven airbags, and it’s good to see the third row is covered by curtain airbags, too.

Only rear parking seniors were standard across the range previously and now all Fortuners have front parking sensors, as well.

For child seats there are two ISOFIX points and three top tether anchor mounts across the second row.

Under the car is full-sized spare wheel.

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 Fortuner 7/10

The Fortuner is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and a five-year capped price servicing plan.

Servicing is recommended every six months or 10,000km and you can expect to pay $250 for each of the first four services.