I’m personally a huge fan of wagons, and the Subaru Outback’s arrival to the Go Flat Out garage was one that I was heavily looking forward to, due to how unique its personality is. As a matter of fact, Subaru has always done things quite differently. From the brand’s unique horizontally-opposed boxer engines, to its Symmetrical AWD system, Subaru has always engineered its cars in a way that truly sets them apart from its competitors. First launched in 1994 in the United States, the Subaru Outback was originally an answer to the brand’s dwindling sales in the early ’90s. Without a massive R&D budget back then, engineers sought to add rugged styling elements and a higher ground clearance to the Legacy wagon in order to pit it as a more agile and more fuel-efficient alternative to tall but heavy and ponderous-to-drive SUVs. What used to be an idea to save the company has now become one of Subaru’s core models. This idea eventually caught on with other car manufacturers. Volvo soon created its Cross Country line of rugged wagons, while Audi’s Allroad line of rugged wagons eventually followed. Credit then to Subaru for giving birth to a new kind of wagon in the global automotive market. Now on its fifth generation, the Subaru Outback continues its lineage of providing a rugged driving experience wrapped in a sleek wagon body that also manages to handle in an agile manner thanks to its relatively lower height compared to full-blown SUVs. How does the Outback fit in our current market landscape? Let’s find out.
Like any other Subaru, the design is best described as safe and conservative. Whether its the hexagonal grille flanked by LED headlights with C-shaped LED daytime running lights, sleek 18-inch alloy wheels, and long wagon body, the Subaru Outback is well proportioned, but it does not try its hardest to catch one’s attention. It manages to fly under most people’s radar, and yet with its understated but tasteful looks, it still manages to grab the attention of onlookers that truly know what vehicle they’re looking at. Though not the sexiest wagon out there, it’s one of the smartest. For instance, the plastic body cladding on the doors look quite normal upon first inspection, but as your try to clean your car after a rainy day, you will notice that the cladding actually protrudes much more from the body, preventing the mud and road grime from ruining the Outback’s design. This idea cleverly eliminates the need for a mud guard, letting the Subaru Outback maintain its handsome looks whatever the road and weather condition without the need for any accessories. Another intelligent piece of engineering are its retractable cross bars, which can be configured in a number of arrangements depending on your outdoor carrying needs without the need to purchase a separate roof rack. Lastly, the rear receives very minor changes, with only a slight revision to the rear bumper design being the only noticeable change.
The overall interior ambience is carried on from before. Refinements have been made here and there to iron out any kinks from its predecessor’s interior. The most noticeable change is the significantly toned down use of faux silver trims, replacing it now are high gloss black trim pieces, for better or worse (since these tend to scratch more easily). The buttons and switches provide a superior tactile feel, and the steering is now the same one found in all of Subaru’s latest vehicles. There’s a more liberal use of stitching details as well as more soft touch materials that truly make the Outback a very plush place to be in. Its biggest upgrade, however, is the addition of the Subaru Starlink infotainment system, which will be discussed much more in-depth later. Overall, the Outback’s interior ambience is much more subdued, yet it manages to provide a much more premium ambience compared to its predecessor.
Space and Practicality
One of my favorite aspects of the Subaru Outback is its entry and seat height. Because its not as tall as a true SUV, yet it’s also not as low as a traditional sedan, the Subaru Outback’s entry height is in what I would consider as the “goldilocks zone.” It feels just right for my height and size that the Outback is the easiest vehicle for me to enter and exit. As a matter of fact, everything else in the interior feels well designed and extremely ergonomic. Everything is laid out in a manner that your hands fall naturally into place when you operate the infotainment, climate control, electronic seats, and other vehicle controls. The seats though is where it’s starting to show its age. Though a Subaru XV and other new Subarus that now utilize the Subaru Global Platform have more sculpted and more supportive seats, the ones in the Outback are still comfortable and plush that you won’t feel too fatigued after driving for long distances. At least power adjustment is available for both the driver and front passenger, along with two person memory for the driver’s seat.
There’s also a generous amount of space at the back. Large windows mean that the interior is flooded with light, and that’s further amplified by the sunroof. Also, the rear passengers are treated to two USB charging ports just below the air vents.
The Subaru Outback provides a generous 512 liters of space with the seats folded up. With them down, this expands to a massive 1,801 liters. The trunk also has plenty of intelligent storage solutions, too, with secret cubby holes, under floor storage, as well as plenty of accessories from Subaru’s catalog should you wish to further increase the Outback’s versatility.
Features, Safety, and Infotainment
Like many other Subarus, the Outback 3.6R-S is generously equipped with goodies that range from steering responsive automatic LED headlights, height adjustable power liftgate, sunroof, dual zone climate control, and a new Subaru Starlink infotainment system.
Subaru Starlink is one of the nicest infotainment systems to use. The ease of use is about as straightforward as having an iPad placed on top of your dashboard. The icons are large, which makes them easy to press even while on the move, plus the presence of shortcut buttons and a home button makes the system easy to use from the moment you bring it out of the showroom. Response is snappy, even accepting multi-touch gestures, plus it even comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Still, even without the smartphone integration features, Subaru Starlink works good enough, that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto acts as an icing on top of a delicious Starlink cake.
This being a Subaru, it is no surprise that this is packed with plenty of safety features, and then some. I was left impressed by Subaru Eyesight. It contains six features, namely, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Sway Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lead Vehicle Start Alert, Pre-Collion Braking, and Pre-Collision Throttle Management. It’s a very reliable and easy to use driver assist system that it was worthy of another article. If you want to read (and watch) more about it, click this link. Additionally, it contains a plethora of other safety features that are not part of EyeSight. This includes Blind Spot Warning with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Reverse Automatic Braking, as well as a rear view camera, a plethora of airbags, hill start assist, and stability control. Additionally, there are ISOFIX child seat anchors at the second row outboard seats.
If you are a regular follower of Go Flat Out, you may remember that I mentioned in my Subaru XV review that I have yet to see a Subaru with speed-sensing door locks, which I consider a very strange omission. Well, I am happy to report that the Outback is finally equipped with the aforementioned feature, and it’s a feature that I hope to see in the entire Subaru line-up, especially when you consider that this feature can be seen in smaller, more affordable vehicles.
Under the hood of the Subaru Outback is the EZ36D horizontally-opposed 6-cylinder H6 petrol boxer engine that produces 256 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 335 Nm o torque @ 4,400 rpm. Power is sent through a Lineartronic CVT driving all four wheels via Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system.
How It Drives
The Subaru Outback 3.6R-S is a reminder to us on just how much we’ll miss big displacement engines once these are replaced with smaller turbocharged engines. Pressing the engine start button brings the H6 boxer engine to life with nothing but a smooth and subtle roar from the engine. The vehicle does not even vibrate or shake upon start-up. This is due to the inherent balance of a six-cylinder engine, more so if the cylinders are laid-out horizontally. This configuration effectively cancels each vibration out, making this EZ36D one of the smoothest engines on the market today.
This inherent smoothness translates throughout the entire driving experience. Under hard acceleration, the Subaru Outback doesn’t have the push-to-your-seat experience that one would find in a turbocharged mill like in the WRX or WRX STI. Rather, power is delivered in a smooth and linear surge that even your grandma won’t complain about your exuberant driving style. Credit is also due to its well-tuned Lineatronic CVT. Most complain about a CVT’s “rubber band feel” because of its tendency to hold revs, but the Lineartronic CVT creates artificial shift points that makes it change gears like a traditional automatic. The shifts themselves are also very smooth. Shuffling through the gears using the paddle shifters is also an absolute joy.
Another thing that will be missed with big engines would be its smooth but throaty engine note, and the Outback’s does not disappoint. The same buttery smoothness is there once you drive through highways and city streets. Even in potholes, the Subaru Outback is a smooth cruiser, eating up the miles with no fuss and drama at all. The excellent tuning of the long travel suspension means that the Outback has one of the best ride qualities out there, and yet, because of the Outback’s focus towards having a low center of gravity, handling still manages to be secure. Though it is not as agile as a Mazda 6 wagon, the Subaru Outback still manages to provide decent driving thrills provided by its well judged suspension and steering. Feedback from the tiller could be better though, but it still manages to be responsive and accurate enough that you know what’s happening through the front wheels.
On The Downside
If there’s one thing that is clearly a disadvantage of having a big engine though, it would be its fuel economy. At 7.5 km/l, it’s certainly a lot thirstier than the newest crop of small turbocharged mills, but considering engine displacement and power it produces, the fuel economy figures eventually turn out to be pretty okay. For perspective, this is about the same average fuel economy as our 2010 Honda CR-V 2.4 SX 4WD. Also, the Outback has a 60-liter fuel tank, which means that trips to the fuel station are few and far in between.
Cars like this Subaru Outback are often the reason why I would question whether someone needs to buy a premium vehicle with a premium badge. The Outback’s inherent nature is all about smoothness, from the way it drives, all the way to how every aspect comes together to provide the driver a memorable experience. In more ways than one, the Subaru Outback does a better job of being a luxury car than most entry-level offerings from the European premium brands. It’s this level of polish that has made the Subaru Outback one of the most memorable cars I’ve ever driven for this year. Subaru does many things differently, and the Outback is unconventionally smooth.
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★☆☆
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4.4 out of 5