Subaru Outback VS Toyota Kluger
- Strong value
- Great practicality
- Lots of safety tech
- No hybrid option
- No turbo engine
- Not as fun as some rivals
- Comfortable and easy to drive
- Hybrid is seriously fuel efficient
- $250 capped price servicing
- Not as modern looking as some rivals
- Interior feels a bit budget price
- Lacks cool in-car tech of some rivals
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 Toyota Kluger is an Aussie family favourite. It’s the Streets Viennetta ice cream of SUVs, the Hungry Hungry Hippos of transport, the Dunlop KT 26 equivalent of cars, and the new-generation model is here… and there’s a hybrid version now.
Not only did I attend the Australian launch of the new Kluger, I took one away with me and my family and I have been living with it – just like you will.
A test drive at a dealership might not tell you everything you need to know about the Kluger, but fear not, I’ve done the testing with my family for you. Here’s all you need to know, from what’s new and the practicality upsides and downsides, to what the hybrid is like to drive.
Explore the All-New Toyota Kluger in 3D.
|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.
This new generation Toyota Kluger hasn’t gone as far as we’d expect in terms of modern styling, refinement and in-car tech. But there’s been a big improvement in how comfortable and easy it is to drive. And the arrival of the hybrid version is fantastic to see. This seven-seater SUV is as practical as ever and will continue to be an Aussie family favourite.
For us the sweet spot in the range is the GXL hybrid. The price is good, the powertrain adds to the smoothness of driving, and the fuel savings are outstanding.
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.
The Kluger is about as beautiful as its name, which isn’t very. Still, while it doesn’t have the elegant lines of a Mazda CX-9 or the futuristic face of the Kia Sorento it does look tough and serious.
This Kluger is totally new, but it’s instantly recognisable as a Kluger. But if you were expecting it to look cutting edge, I’m sorry, it doesn’t. If anything, the new Kluger looks like a larger version of the RAV4 with its moustache-like grille and blade headlights.
The Kluger isn’t as angular as its mid-sized sibling, and you can see the curves in the rear haunches which wrap around to the tailgate.
The GX and GXL have 18-inch alloy wheels, but only the Grande has 20-inch rims and they come with a chrome-effect paint which might be a bit OTT for some.
The new cabin is more functional than fashionable with a dashboard dominated by what appears to be one of those big pizza paddles which holds the media screen and climate control dials.
The entry-grade GX has black cloth-trimmed seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift lever; the GXL has synthetic leather seats and the Grande has actual leather upholstery.
There are soft touch surfaces with stitching, but all grades still have hard plastics galore and styling which lacks the premium look of some rivals.
The new Kluger is slightly bigger than its predecessor at 4966mm end-to-end (+76mm), 1930mm across (+0.5mm), and 1755mm tall (+25mm).
Please don’t take the Kluger too far off-road, that’s best left to Toyota's 'proper' four-wheel drives like the Fortuner, Prado and LandCruiser. But, for the record, the approach angle is between 17.9 and 18.2 degrees, while the departure angle ranges from 22.7-23.1 degrees, depending on whether your Kluger is front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
There are five new paint colours: 'Graphite Metallic', 'Atomic Rush Red Mica', 'Liquorice Brown Mica', 'Saturn Blue Metallic', and 'Galena Blue Metallic'. Carrying over from the previous model are, 'Crystal Pearl', 'Silver Storm Metallic' and 'Eclipse Black.'
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 Kluger is spacious for people, has great cabin storage, and a decent-sized boot. What’s missing is wireless charging for phones on all grades and there are no sunblinds for the rear windows on the GX and GXL.
I’m 191cm (6'3") tall with a 2.0m wingspan, so I never feel like I have too much room in most cars. But that’s not the case with the Kluger, where there’s so much space up front that my elbows don’t even reach the door armrests. The touchscreen also feels almost out of reach, even for me.
All Klugers come standard with seven seats – that’s two up front, a bench of three in the second row, and two in the third.
Legroom is excellent and I can arrange the seats behind my driving position so I can sit in the second and third rows without my knees touching any of the seatbacks.
Headroom in the second row is excellent and outstanding in the third (as far as third rows tend to go). Better than the CX-9's back seats.
Door pockets are on the small side, but there’s a giant centre console bin, shelves built into the dash for wallets and phones, plus two cupholders up front, two in the second row, and four in the third row.
As for the boot space, with the third row seats in place there’s 241 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity and with them folded flat into the floor the luggage room opens up to 552 litres.
These figures may seem small compared to capacities of other SUVs, but Toyota says these measurements are calculated up to the beltline of the Kluger which is the top of the rear seats, while other carmakers sometimes measure to the roof.
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!
There are three grades in the Kluger range: the GX, the GXL and the Grande. You can have them all with either a V6 petrol engine or petrol hybrid combination. You have a choice of all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive with the V6 engine, whereas the hybrid is exclusively all-wheel drive.
How much then? Well, for the front-wheel drives the GX lists for $47,650, the GXL is $56,850, and the Grande is $68,900. For the all-wheel drive versions just add $4000 to each of those prices.
The hybrids cost more. So, the GX is $54,150, the GXL is $63,350, and the Grande hybrid is $75,400.
Coming standard on the GX is, LED headlights, 18-inch alloys, fabric seats, an 8.0-inch media display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a proximity key with push button start, leather steering wheel, a six-speaker stereo, and air con for the front and second row – or if you have the hybrid you’ll get three-zone climate control.
The GXL also scores roof rails, a power tailgate, sat nav, three-zone climate, plus heated driver and front passenger seats.
Leather seats don’t appear until you step up to the Grande, which also has ventilated front seats, an 11-speaker JBL stereo, head-up display, moonroof, gesture tailgate and 20-inch wheels, which are way too shiny.
Is the Kluger good value? Mainly yes, with a little bit of no here. The Kluger costs less than its Mazda CX-9 rival, but doesn’t get as many great features.
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.
The big news is there’s a hybrid Kluger now and it makes so much sense when you consider these seven seaters will spend most of their time in traffic and carparks where they can move silently along in electric vehicle mode.
The hybrid Kluger isn’t a plug-in type of hybrid, instead its batteries recharge when you apply the brakes when you’re driving. The battery then powers the electric motors. There are two motors on the front axle and one on the rear, which work together with a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine.
The power output of the petrol engine is 142kW and the electric motors make 184kW. The engine torque is 242Nm. The front electric motors are able to produce 134Nm and 270Nm, while the rear can make 121Nm.
The hybrid Kluger is all-wheel drive.
As with the previous Kluger there’s also a V6 version which is more affordable than the hybrid variant, and comes with all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive.
The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine makes 218kW/350Nm and shifting gears is an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The braked towing capacity for all Klugers is 2000kg (750kg unbraked).
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 says that after a combination of open and urban roads the petrol V6 should use 8.7L/100km for the two-wheel drive and 8.8-8.9L/100km for the all-wheel drive. That’s not bad, although I didn’t have the opportunity to test this claim at the pump myself.
As for the hybrid, Toyota says you should get 5.6L/100km. I lived with the hybrid variant doing the school drop offs and shopping trips, with motorways thrown in, and after starting with a full tank and covering 179.2km, it took 14.18 litres to fill it back up.
That’s 7.9L/100km, which is excellent given I’d covered a lot of hilly urban terrain and at times the boot was fully loaded up.
The capacity of the V6 petrol’s fuel tank is 68 litres while the hybrid’s is 65 litres. The hybrid needs to run on 95 RON premium petrol while the V6 is happy with 91.
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.
The Kluger is one of the best driving large SUVs in this price range, up there with the CX-9, but less sporty feeling and more comfortable. So much better than the previous Kluger, this new-gen SUV has an outstanding, composed and comfortable, ride.
My pick is the hybrid variant. The electric motors make the driving experience even smoother and more enjoyable, allowing the Kluger to move around silently at lower speeds while providing little electric shoves when you dab the accelerator.
The V6 provides a more ‘old-school’ driving experience, which suited the twisty country roads I piloted it along. Two-wheel drive didn’t feel hugely different from all-wheel drive, but on a wet road those front wheels will struggle to maintain traction under harder acceleration. Steering is super light, accurate and direct.
All-wheel drive isn’t vital, but I’d get it for extra traction and stability if you can afford it. If you’re concerned about the fuel usage of the all-wheel drive compared to the two-wheel drive then you might surprised by the mileages in the section below.
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.
At the time I wrote this review the new Kluger hadn’t received it’s ANCAP score, but we’ll update this once the rating has been announced.
All Klugers come standard with AEB, including pedestrian and cyclist detection. There’s also blind spot warning, lane keeping assistance, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control, as well as front and rear parking sensors.
For child seats there are three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX locations in the second row.
It’s disappointing to see, however, that the Kluger’s curtain airbags don’t cover the third-row occupants.
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!