Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Subaru Outback


Volkswagen Golf

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

Volkswagen Golf

Since its inception, the Volkswagen Golf has been the 'people's car' at the heart of the VW brand.

To be handed the keys to a new generation version for a launch review is somewhat momentous. Historic, even. But I can't help but feel like it comes at the beginning of the legendary nameplate's twilight phase.

Eight generations in, with a rich history stretching from a populous economy hatch to wild track-focused variants, it's starting to become apparent the writing is on the wall for the single car that has been emblematic of the German brand for the last 45 years.

It's not just that the point of focus for buyers has shifted away from hatchbacks, towards SUVs (like the Tiguan), but also the impending era of electrification which should see models like the all-electric (and supposedly affordable) ID.3 ultimately replace combustion cars like the Golf. A thought which was, even a year or two ago, almost unthinkable.

So, in what could be the last or second-last hurrah for the car that replaced the Beetle, at a momentous turning point in history toward electrification and SUVs, what does the Golf 8 have to offer?

I took what should be its most popular variant, a mid-grade 110 TSI Life at its Australian launch to find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.4L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.8L/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.


Volkswagen Golf8.3/10

At this moment in history, as consumers shift to SUVs and electrification, the combustion-only Golf 8 range proves Volkswagen means to make the most of its legendary nameplates before their time comes.

It's true, there are some relatively minor changes here when it comes to the engine, platform, and even styling, but the Golf's tech-heavy cabin, expansive range, and ultra-refined driving characteristics allow it to well and truly assert its position as the benchmark of the hatch segment.

The base car is appealing, but the Life is where the full experience is, and it's our pick of the range.

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.


Volkswagen Golf8/10

From the outside there's no mistaking the Golf. This is partially because this car's conservative and sensible visage has become synonymous with the brand, but also because the updates to the Golf 8's look could easily be mistaken for a simple facelift over the 7.5 it replaces.

It's certainly a story of evolution rather than revolution, with the side profile of the new Golf being near identical to its predecessor.

The face is the most heavily tweaked feature from the outside, with a tidy new bumper and notable lack of a discernible grille or intake, alluding to this car's tweaked efficiency.

The paint colour now also spills into highlight strips in the lower bumper, and the LED light fittings and tidy two-tone alloys complete a slightly more upmarket look to go with the increased price-tags.

It's neat as ever, exactly what a lot of Golf buyers will be searching for, but it will be hard to impress your neighbour if you're replacing new for old.

That is, until you get them on the inside. This is where the 'new-generation' part of the car comes into play. The 7.5's conservative interior has been dumped in favour of something far more contemporary and tech heavy.

The big screens with sleek software, set in a gloss highlight bar across the dash is something to behold in such a compact car, and the slick shift-by wire controls combine with subtle ventilation fittings and typically Teutonic VW switchgear to make for a cabin that is familiar yet futuristic. 

The brightness and colour of the panels makes them pop without being overbearing, while the matte silver strip running across the dash and into the doors adds enough of a highlight piece to prevent the interior from being one big slate of grey – usually one of my main VW interior complaints.

It's all fitted and finished beautifully, with lots of little texture work on the storage areas, and I couldn't help but smile when I realised the piped seat trim in our mid-grade Life test car is actually a 'VW' pattern. It's attention to detail like that which can really make or break an interior, and it's nice to see it hasn't been forgotten in such a mainstream model.

On that topic, the GTI will of course maintain its perforated and flat-bottomed sporty steering wheel and cloth seat trim finished in a tartan pattern. It's a little sad that the lack of a manual variant for the stalwart hot hatch means no golf ball shifter, once famously cited as evidence that Germans do, in fact, have a sense of humour.

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.


Volkswagen Golf8/10

The Golf has always had a smart cabin and excellent ergonomics, and this continues in the eighth generation.

Like the interior's overall look, the seating position for the driver is both familiar and improved. The steering wheel is an evolution of the Golf 7.5's, a three-spoke design which has been chiselled into a slightly new shape, with the new logo and satisfyingly clicky function buttons.

This is good for people who don't like touch interfaces, as, unfortunately, the new Golf is devoid of any rotating dials. Rotating light selector? Replaced by touch panels. Volume knobs? Replaced by touch sliders. Even the climate controls have been rolled into the multimedia suite, in a great loss for driver-friendly adjustment.

Thankfully, the Golf 8's completely new software suite is stellar, and even in the base car you can adjust these functions with voice controls, but it's never a good day for drivers when proper tactile dials move from the dash to the bin.

On the topic of software, Volkswagen Group's digital dash system is by far the best on the market, with an astoundingly sharp and clear panel, seemingly not subject to glare or other inconveniences. The hardware grunt behind both screens is evident, too, as they feature lightning-fast reaction times and smooth frame rates, making both panels a pleasure to use.

The driver's seating position can be nice and low offering a sporty feel, but also great adjustability for front occupants (even if it is manual on most variants). There are huge bottle holders and storage bays in the doors, as well as a large tray where the climate unit used to be and a large bay which features a fold-out cupholder divider in the centre console. There is also a large armrest box with adjustable heights.

You'll want to bring a converter with you in the base car as all USB ports are of the new C variety, although they're seemingly unnecessary for solo travellers in the Life, R-Line, and GTI grades which come standard with a wireless charging bay and phone connectivity.

The rear seat is the new benchmark for the mid-size hatchback segment. Not only do entry level versions feature their own climate zone with controls and adjustable air vents, but there are also dual USB-C outlets, a selection of three pockets on the backs of the front seats in the Life grade up, large bottle holders in the doors, and a drop-down armrest with dual bottle holders, too. 

In every grade the excellent seat trim and low-slung seating position continues to the rear, and I fit behind my own driving position with plenty of airspace for my knees at 182cm (6'0") tall.

Boot space has always been decent in the Golf, and this continues in the eighth-gen car, with 374-litres (VDA) on offer, enough to consume our three-piece demo luggage set. This space can expand to 1230L with the rear seats folded down. A space saver spare lives under the floor on all standard Golf variants.

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!


Volkswagen Golf8/10

On the face of it, the new-generation Golf has had a major price hike, especially for the entry-level grade.

Peer at the equipment list, however, and it's clear to see there's a statement being made here. Even the base car, now simply called 'Golf', is beyond fully loaded when it comes to equipment. VW says it could have made the car cheaper, but that's not where its buyer is.

In fact, the brand says by the time this car's 7.5 predecessor was headed to the grave, the average consumer was bringing the price of even a 110 TSI Comfortline to $35K-plus, indicating a healthy appetite for options.

For this new one VW has made it simple by just including almost everything that would have once been an option as standard.

It kicks off with the base Golf, which incredibly can still be chosen with a six-speed manual ($29,350 MSRP) or a new eight-speed Aisin-sourced automatic ($31,950).

This entry-level version scores an impressive all-digital cabin, comprising a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, an 8.25-inch multimedia touchscreen with wired USB-C Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and voice commands, LED exterior lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, tri-zone climate control, a six-speaker stereo, auto dimming rear vision mirror, push-start ignition, shift-by wire interior controls, a tyre pressure indicator, and cloth seat trim with manually adjustable seats.

That's a lot of stuff, but where the base Golf really gets ahead are amazing inclusions like tri-zone climate, full LED lighting, and digital cockpit.

Next up is the Life (auto only - $34,250) which upgrades the digital dash suite to the 'pro' version including further customisation options and built-in navigation, upgrades the media suite to a 10.0-inch unit with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and device charging, 17-inch alloy wheels, decorative trim upgrades, premium cloth seats with lumber adjust, an LED ambient lighting package, and auto folding exterior mirrors.

Topping off the 'regular' Golf range is the R-Line (auto only - $37,450). As its name suggests this variant adds a sportier bodykit with 18-inch alloys, sporty interior trim touches and unique seats, rear window tint, upgraded LED headlights with auto high beams, and a sportier steering wheel with touch panel controls.

Finally, the range is topped off with the GTI ($53,100) which has a larger 2.0-litre turbo engine and carryover seven-speed dual clutch automatic, front differential lock and sporty dual-exhaust, 18-inch alloy wheels with unique bumper and spoiler designs, and various performance upgrades and interior trim treatments.

Option packs in the Golf 8 range include the Sound & Vision package' for the Life, R-Line, and GTI ($1500) which includes a premium Harmon Kardon audio system and holographic head-up display. The 'Comfort and Style package' ($2000) for the Life only includes 30-colour interior ambient lighting, sports seats, and a panoramic sunroof. 

Finally, the 'Luxury package' for the GTI ($3800) includes heated and cooled front seats, electric adjust for the driver's seat, partial leather trim, and a panoramic sunroof. The panoramic sunroof can be fitted to the R-Line separately for $1800.

For some buyers who are apparently in the minority, it is alarming that the Golf now starts up around $30,000 and not in the mid-twenties like base versions of the Hyundai i30 (auto $25,420), Toyota Corolla (Ascent Sport manual - $23,895), and Mazda 3 (G20 Evolve manual - $26,940), although VW points out that there are numerous other benefits to the base Golf beyond its standard equipment, like its Euro6 complaint 1.4-litre turbo engine, low fuel consumption, and driver-focused independent rear suspension.

Like other recently updated Volkswagen products, the new Golf also includes the brand's full 'IQ Drive' safety suite as standard. Read more about this over in the safety section of this review. The Golf range also spans to include the GTI hot hatch – not a feature of the Mazda3 or Corolla range – but frustratingly (for buyers and VW Australia) there's no hybrid variant. 

This is because the brand's hybrid-ready 1.5-litre 'evo' engine remains incompatible with Australia's high-sulphur fuel. More on this in the engine and transmission section of this review, and if you're interested, make sure to take a look at our news coverage of this topic, too.

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.


Volkswagen Golf8/10

There's some great news and some less good news here. We'll get the less good out of the way first: Despite this being a 'new-generation' car it continues with carryover engines across the whole range as well as a distinct lack of hybrid options. 

This is not entirely uncommon in Australia, with Hyundai's new Tucson SUV another recent example of this happening, but it's still disappointing.

Over in Europe the Golf is fitted with a new 1.5-litre 'evo' engine which is essentially the next step for the 110TSI engine which features across the Australian range, although the European-market version opens the door to further electrification and efficiency.

In good news, though, this means the Golf which arrives in Australia dumps the seven-speed dual-clutch auto the brand is known for in favour of an Aisin-sourced eight-speed torque converter automatic. Make no mistake, this is very good for drivers. We'll look at why in the driving section of this review.

The standard Golf range, from the base car to the R-Line, carries over a familiar '110 TSI' 110kW/250Nm turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, while the GTI maintains its well-regarded (EA888) 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo which produces 180kW/370Nm paired to a seven-speed dual clutch auto.

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.


Volkswagen Golf8/10

All Golf variants with their small capacity turbo engines require mid-grade 95RON but have impressive fuel consumption figures to hopefully make up for it when it comes to the back pocket.

The 110 TSI Life as tested for this range review shares a claimed/combined fuel consumption figure with the rest of the eight-speed automatic range of 5.8L/100km which is astoundingly low for a non-hybrid. Our real-world test produced a more realistic figure of 8.3L/100km, perhaps speaking to the lesser efficiency of the eight-speed auto compared to a dual-clutch, although there's little doubt lower figures can be obtained over time.

The base manual will apparently score even lower than the auto at 5.3L/100km, although we haven't tested this car yet.

Meanwhile, the go-fast GTI has a claimed combined cycle consumption figure of 7.0L/100km. Stay tuned for our variant review shortly, for our as-tested number. All Golf hatch variants have a 50L 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.


Volkswagen Golf9/10

The Golf 7.5 was a real gem to drive, standing generally above its peers when it came to ride and handling, the big question I had for number eight was: How could VW possibly do better?

The answer for 110 TSI variants is simpler than you might think. Dumping the dual-clutch automatic in favour of the very-well regarded Aisin eight-speed auto, which also appears (and shines) in many other cars, is a key move which makes the Golf delivered in Australia ultra-consumer friendly.

I had no idea, for example, that the 1.4-litre turbo 110 TSI engine was this good. I always had a feeling it was held back by the jerkiness and hesitancy of the dual-clutch automatic with which it is always paired, but with a torque converter automatic the way this combination plays makes it easily the best Golf in years.

The transmission locks into each gear instantaneously, intelligently switches between the correct ratios in the corners and on hills, and overall improves the drive experience out of sight. It's not as lightning fast to swap cogs on the straight, nor does it seem to be quite as fuel efficient, but the trade-off for daily drivers in low-speed traffic is an obvious one.

Suffice it to say, if you've owned a 110 TSI Golf before, you'll love this one. The other areas of the drive experience are largely the same, or even refined further from the previous car. This car's underpinnings have been slightly re-worked to further tune the suspension, which is as well set up and effortless as ever.

It's really at the top of the segment for ride and road holding, especially given its independent rear suspension as opposed to the torsion beam in more basic rivals. This is a difference you can really feel, with the Golf proving settled over bumps, potholes, and corrugations, despite a firm low-roll set in the corners. 

And this is all in a non-performance variant. I'd say the only non-VW Group car that comes close at this price is the Toyota Corolla. The Mazda3 and Hyundai i30, while great for the segment, don't quite strike the balance between sporty and comfortable as well with their torsion bar rear.

The future-focused feel of the cabin leaves its impression on the driver, too. While I've complained about the touch panel climate controls, the Golf has a new 'smart' climate screen where you can use basic functions set to a default 20.5 degrees with a single touch. 

The holographic head-up display sits almost in the middle of your line of sight (even with adjustment) which was initially odd, but its opacity is so low that it doesn't interfere with your view of the road, and I found myself glancing at the actual dash less and less the more I drove it. It's more intuitive than you might initially give it credit for.

This is usually the part where I introduce you to some negative drive qualities, but aside from my preference for tactile controls there's so little to complain about here, especially with that new transmission. I had expected the adaptive cruise to be a little more assistive on the steering like Mercedes-Benz products, maybe, but that's the only other thing that comes to mind.

The Golf 8 proves it's not enough to just maintain a position as the benchmark for driving in the hatch segment, but to continually move it forward. I pity my European colleagues who won't get to experience this version of the car with a far more driver-friendly automatic. I fear this flash-in-the-pan moment for this car will pass when the 1.5-litre evo engine arrives with a dual-clutch auto, re-introducing its characteristics, likely for the 8.5 facelift.

This version of the Golf then, could be the very peak for everyday drivers, at least as a combustion-only car. Historic indeed.

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.


Volkswagen Golf9/10

A big selling point of the new Golf is its thoroughly upgraded safety suite which is standard across the whole range.

This includes freeway speed auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, safe exit warning, adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, and a new emergency assist function. 

Like most VW Group products, the Golf also features the 'proactive passenger protection system' which pre-tightens seatbelts, cracks open the windows slightly for optimal airbag deployment, and applies the brakes when it detects the possibility of a collision.

This time around the Golf has been augmented to include eight airbags, and the standard array of traction and stability controls are present alongside ISOFIX child seat mounting points on the outboard rear seats, and top-tether mounts across the rear row.

Unsurprisingly with all that kit, the Golf 8 range carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the 2019 standards.

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!


Volkswagen Golf8/10

The Golf range maintains the brand's five year and unlimited kilometre warranty promise with roadside assist. This is competitive with its key rivals, although it doesn't move the envelope forward. A nice addition is the VW 'Care Plans' which allow you to pre-pay for servicing in advance (and bundle it in on finance if you wish).

A three-year plan costs $1200 for the 1.4-litre models, or $1400 for the 2.0-litre GTI, while a five-year plan costs $2100 for 1.4-litre cars or $2450 for the GTI.

If the five-year plan is selected this means an average cost of $420 per year for the life of the warranty for the main range, or $490 per year for the GTI. Not the most affordable we've seen, particularly against rivals with older engines, but not bad considering VW's higher-tech drivetrains.