Tuesday, 3 May 2016

REVIEW – Subaru Outback SE Premium

The Subaru Outback is based on the Legacy, but with a more rugged appearance. The Legacy is no longer available in the UK, but if you want a big, capable estate car then it may just appeal. It has the Subaru AWD pedigree, and has undergone a cosmetic upgrade to make it more interesting to look at too. With more of these types of car in the market- from the Skoda Superb Estate to the Audi A4 Allroad- there is definitely demand there. So is the Subaru a good choice? And have the recent tweaks ensured it keeps up with rivals? Well I borrowed one for a week to see for myself.

Looks – 8/10

The Outback has certainly benefitted from its restyling. I like how it looks. The exterior is a magnificent blend of toughness and luxury. Along the bottom edge of the bodywork you get a plastic trim, which suggests a rugged, go-anywhere attitude. The flashy, two-tone alloys are 18-inches in diameter, but still come with plenty of rubber on them so you wouldn’t mind taking them in a field. The chrome front grille, chrome window surround and privacy glass add those premium touches. My test car was Lapis Blue Pearl, which is a deep, sophisticated blue, and really suits the car. What’s more, if you look hard at the front end you can spot some familial lines from the likes of the WRX STi. A nice touch, although most people probably won’t care.

I have been left unimpressed with the interior quality of other Subaru’s, but this has also been updated on the Outback. Being the SE Premium my test car was well equipped, and featured plenty of soft leather throughout the cabin. But what I like more is the variety of finishers used. This isn’t just a gloss black trim. There’s silver plastics, gloss black, a grained aluminium centre console and a lighter coloured roof lining. It creates a balanced, airy interior that pleases the eye. The blue dials catch the driver’s eye, and the touch screen media screen is now integrated, and no longer looks like an after-market afterthought.

Handling/Performance – 4/10

There are two engine options for the Outback; one petrol and one diesel. My test car came with a 2.5-litre petrol engine, which produces a (not so) whopping 175PS and 235Nm of torque. The petrol is only available with a Lineartronic (CVT) gearbox. The result of pushing your right foot into the carpet is a horrid amount of noise. And then 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds. The top speed is 130mph. I don’t understand what point the 2.5i has in the modern world. It’s not that powerful, and the gearbox is not good at all. It makes a big noise like something is going to happen… but nothing ever does. Subaru estimates that over 60% of sales will be the diesel, and I’ve heard good things about it. Oh, and you can have it in a manual too.

Once the CVT finally makes up its mind where the correct ratio is and the engine has calmed down, you’ll realise the Outback drives rather well. It’s always good to have that AWD sure-footedness, and adverse conditions never feel like a drama in the Subaru. With the amount of time I spend on what can only be described as ‘sodden’ motorways, it was good to be so relaxed behind the wheel. The Outback is comfortable on all roads, and reasonably composed through corners. You get a little bit of lean on the tyres, but this is hardly the car to be blasting round a country road in. Not like you could anyway, with the 2.5i engine, which I just could not take to at all. I would love to try the diesel now; I think it would be a different car altogether.

Economy – 6/10

Another downside to the 2.5-litre engine is the rate at which it sups fuel from the tank. This is one area the CVT gearbox does try to help, because on the motorway it keeps the revs really low. That results in a consumption figure of 40.4mpg on a combined cycle. That isn’t too bad, but the diesel manual will do 50.4mpg, which is better. Start/stop technology helps keep the emissions to 163g/km, but that still leaves the Outback in VED band G. £180 road tax in the first and subsequent years is not the end of the world, but this engine has no upside. The diesel manual is 145g/km which means £145 tax, but the fuel savings would be larger than this.

Practicality – 10/10

Unsurprisingly the Outback is a vastly practical car. The off-road capabilities, should you ever feel the need to use them, would probably get you to places some ‘proper’ 4x4’s wouldn’t. The boot offers 559 litres, and if you drop the rear seats this rises to 1,848 litres. That’s a lot. Rear legroom is generous, and the whole family with luggage could go on a long-haul trip easily. The SE Premium model is very well equipped, including keyless entry and go, heated front seats, satellite navigation, electrically-operated tailgate, and Subaru’s clever EyeSight collision mitigation system (Lineartronic models only). This includes automatic braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning, and makes life on the road safer. I’m a fan of adaptive cruise control; I like that it encourages anticipative driving. Would I live with the Lineartronic just to have this? Not so sure…

Fun – 4/10

The Outback is stylish, and is enjoyable to live with. It has a great level of kit, and makes life easy on a long run. I enjoyed getting to grips with the gadgets, and although I cannot personally vouch for this I reckon it would be a good laugh on some tricky terrain. Unfortunately the 2.5-litre petrol engine and CVT gearbox spoilt the car for me, and meant I could not enjoy driving it. I tried all the different modes, with Sport on the SI-drive system and switching to paddleshift mode, but it didn’t really help. If Subaru were that adamant this car would come with a 2.5-litre, it should have been the one from the WRX STi. That is something I’d happily give a go.

Concluding Remarks

So that concluded my time with the Outback. This is a practical family car with a vast cabin and plenty of toys. The updated styling works really well both inside and out, and this isn’t a car you see on the road every day, giving it that touch of exclusivity. My top spec SE Premium was priced at £31,495 on the road which is similar to a 4x4 Skoda Superb and cheaper than an Audi A4 Allroad. So it could well be worth looking at. Log on to the Subaru website or pop into a dealership for more details. Just do yourself a favour, get the diesel!

Total Score – 32/50

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