Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Subaru Outback


Volvo XC40

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

Volvo XC40

The Volvo XC40 - the Chinese-owned Swedish car company's debut in the compact SUV segment - was a hit from the get-go. Stylish, refined, ever-so-cool, and yet not pricey enough to have to go up against the other Euro competition, it kept Volvo's contemporary image intact.

A couple of years later, the XC40 T5 PHEV arrived, before the name was changed to the rather more friendly XC40 Recharge. That's all part of the company's commitment to electrification, which means that by the end of the year, no Volvo will be without some form of electrification, whether it's the subtle mild-hybrid approach or a full-on EV.

The Recharge, then, occupies the middle ground, being a plug-in hybrid, where an electric motor is combined with a petrol engine to deliver a modest but useful electric-only range, but also a (theoretical) total range of almost 1000km between a fill and charge.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.5L turbo
Fuel TypeHybrid with Premium Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency2.2L/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.


Volvo XC407.6/10

The Volvo XC40 Recharge packages up the kinds of things I reckon Volvo buyers want - style, safety and advanced technology. The XC40's thrifty fuel use coupled with a useful if not astonishing EV range means you can run this car almost literally on the smell of an oily rag if you're a suburban or urban dweller.

It also offers the flexibility to deliver a drive between our capitals without any of the nail-biting range anxiety so many Australians claim to have, and that is preventing them from buying an EV.

While it's isn't cheap, neither is progress. But at least you're getting a well-equipped, awesome-looking and fun-to-drive SUV with buckets of space and an attractive badge.

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.


Volvo XC40

The XC40 backed up the XC90's design direction, and, like its big brother, it's a belter. The segment has plenty of outstanding designs (that's what happens when everyone gets in on the same game), but the XC40 is a proper looker. From the Hammer of Thor headlights through to the cool concave grille, the upright stance, blacked-out roof and C-pillar, and those signature stacked taillights it's...well, the whole thing is much cooler than it probably should be.

That's not a backhander about Volvo styling - the company has been doing cool for almost 20 years - but the vaguely Minecraft aesthetic shouldn't work, but it does.

The cabin is very nice, too, but in a more conventional way. It's not as bang-up-to-date as a newer German cabin, but then you're not paying another twenty grand for the privilege. The vertical screen works in its environment, the digital dashboard has a high-tech feel and the materials are very pleasant to look at and touch.

 

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.


Volvo XC40

Rear seat passengers enjoy uncommonly comfortable seats with a pretty serious set of headrests, part of the safety package. The optional "electric folding" mechanism means that if you're on your own in the car, you can press a button and they fall forward out of your vision. It's really quite handy, and for a couple of hundred bucks, and it saves a bit of hassle.

There is tons of head and legroom, too, and rear seat passengers score their own air vents.

The boot starts at a handy-if-not-spectacular 460 litres, rising to 1336 litres with the seats folded down. Some of the boot space is nibbled away by the bag holding the charger you use in a standard 240V domestic point, but not hugely so. 

There are two pairs of cupholders, one in the front next to the dainty little shifter and two in the rear armrest, which is unusually sturdy. Each door will hold a bottle, too, for a maximum of four.

 

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!


Volvo XC40

While you can a have an XC40 for just under $47,000 (before on-roads), the Recharge asks $64,990 before options and on-roads.

You get 20-inch alloy wheels, a 14-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, sat nav, leather seats, power front seats, R-Design bits and pieces (like the steering wheel), dual-zone climate control with air cleaning system, panoramic sunroof, auto LED headlights, auto high beam, wireless phone charging, headlight washers, auto wipers, keyless entry and start and a space-saver spare.

The 9.0-inch, portrait-oriented touchscreen runs a beefy Harmon Kardon 14-speaker stereo and has DAB, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It's a slightly confusing system - if you want to change something about the car, it can be a bit laborious getting from the main system back to CarPlay. I'm sure you'd get used to it, but apart from that, the hardware is quick, the menus comprehensible (for the most part) and the side-swiping action quite familiar.

Our test car had metallic paint ($1150), a Versatility Pack (load protection net, power folding headrests - $230), Climate Pack (heated front seats, windscreen washers and steering wheel - $700), around-view camera ($990 - that stings), tinted rear windows ($700), heated rear seats ($350) and auto parking ($650), taking the total to $69,760. Apart from the one that stung, most of these prices are relatively reasonable.

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.


Volvo XC40

As this is a plug-in hybrid, things are a mite more complex than a standard XC40. The internal combustion engine, which both drives the wheels and can charge the batteries, is a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo unit with 132kW and 265Nm, both pretty good figures on their own. 

Plugged into that is a 60kW/160Nm electric motor which can drive the car all on its lonesome or in combination with the engine.

Making sure the power gets to the front wheels is a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic and the XC40 Recharge will go from rest to 100km/h in a handy 7.4 seconds - about a second slower than the quickest petrol-only model.

The XC40's charge cable plugs into a charging point on the front left of the car between the wheel and the front door. Using the supplied charger, you'll be waiting around six hours for a from-dead charge. If you can find a fast-charger, it will step down to the XC40's throughput and be done in two and a half hours.

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.


Volvo XC40

Volvo's government-approved ADR testing yielded a slightly silly 2.2L/100km (the Euro-focussed WLTP comes in at 2.0L/100km). This sort of figure is common with PHEVs as the testing cycle is short and not really designed for advanced drivetrains.

Having said that, and throwing out my usual 30 per cent rule (I reckon adding 30 per cent to a fuel figure is probably what you'll get in the real world on a "normal" car), the 5.4L/100km I got during a week's driving is pretty reasonable given the point I was intending to use to charge it didn't work. 

The week I spent with it included two separate 30km EV-only runs across the city where the petrol motor kept to itself the whole time, and I still had about six-kilometres of range left. The 10.7kWh battery has a claimed range of 46km so given a good chunk of that running was in 80km/ zones, that's pretty good going.

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.


Volvo XC40

The XC40 Recharge is a delight around town. I'm a big fan of PHEVs (try saying that ten times quickly) because they're a good halfway house between a full BEV, both on price and for dealing with range anxiety (quick reminder, there will likely be a full EV version of the XC40 here by year's end). 

It's a well-beaten statistic, but most Australians, all being equal, travel an average of 30-40km per day. Which means that despite me saying 2.2L/100km isn't really accurate, if you're the kind of person who buys this car for the school run or short commute, you'll probably never have to use the petrol engine until you decide to get a bit frisky on the accelerator or, like I did, you take it on a highway run down to the NSW South Coast.

The XC40 Recharge will always use its electric motor, with the software keeping a little bit of charge in hand for stepping off at the lights, which is the biggest contributor to fuel usage. Getting 1700kg-plus of car moving requires a lot of energy.

If you need it, the XC40 can get moving very quickly, and in the urban cut and thrust, the combination of instant electric torque and a very effective turbo three-cylinder means breaking into traffic is a doddle. While the 0-100km/h is quick enough, it's quite lively from 0-60km/h, meaning far fewer of those clench-and-punch-it moments when breaking into moving traffic than some other mid-sized SUVs.

And if you keep it charged - easy enough if you have access to a power point and take the view that each night you charge it the same way you charge your phone - you'll spend the vast amount of your time driving in EV-only mode, which is every relaxing and near silent. Or would be if the 20-inch wheels weren't wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero tyres, but even then they're not too noisy.

It's also very easy to live with, easy to park (especially with the rather expensive 360-degree camera) and the vision out is mostly good, apart from over your left shoulder where the rear quarter window is slashed in twain by a stylish application of the set square. The various safety systems ensure it isn't an issue, however.

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.


Volvo XC40

Being a Volvo, it's laden with safety gear - and you even get a list on the dashboard screen every time you start up, which I think is quite cute.

Along with the usual seven airbags, ABS, and stability and traction controls, the XC40 also has forward AEB (with pedestrian, vehicle, large animal and cyclist detection, and which operates at high and low speed), lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and reverse cross-traffic alert.

You also get two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors. ANCAP last tested the XC40 in July 2018 and awarded it five stars.

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!


Volvo XC40

Volvo throws in a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is unusual in the Euro segment. You can also pre-pay your servicing with a plan, covering three-years/45,000km for $1595. Volvo expects to see you once every 12 months or 15,000km.