NOT YOUR AVERAGE SUV
Certainly, the fourth-generation version doesn’t look as overtly “dual-purpose” as before. Gone is the tough cladding down the flanks, and the big, bold, spotlights are now of more modest proportions – in fact they’re identical to those fitted to the Legacy sedan. But there’s still good ground clearance (213mm to be exact), tyres designed to work both on and off the tar, and of course a pukka full-time four-wheel-drive system. Roof rails, blacked-out side sills and unpainted front and rear valences give it a modicum of SUV attitude – or XUV (for crossover utility vehicle), in Subaru-speak.
The latest generation of Subaru’s on/off-roader is very obviously a large machine and, like successive generations of most cars, it has grown in key dimensions. There’s a substantial 75mm increase in wheelbase, a 70mm jump in height, and about 50mm more width, wheel track and overall length.
It has presence by virtue of its sheer size, but the end result is a vehicle which doesn’t look very elegant, with slab-sided flanks and some busy detailing around the grille area.
Features and equipment
The new flagship of the Outback range is the 3.6R Premium, which heralded the introduction of an enlarged six-cylinder Boxer engine some half a year after the 2,0 and 2,5-litre fours were introduced. Rather than the CVT introduced at that time, the 3.6R is fitted with a five-speed “Sportshift” automatic. Sportshift means that there’s a manual shift option with shift paddles behind the steering wheel. This gives the driver an override function and even when in normal Drive mode a lower gear can be selected at a flip of the paddle, before eventually reverting to automated shifting. Move the lever across to the “M” position and you’re in charge, though the box will drop back to lower gears as road-speed drops.
There’s no shortage of technology here and as well as automated wipers and headlights there’s now an electronic handbrake that is engaged and released via a switch to the right of the steering wheel. Nestling below where you’d usually find the nose of the handbrake lever is Subaru’s SI-Drive, a knurled wheel that allows the driver to choose from three settings that alter the likes of throttle sensitivity and gearbox response.
“Intelligent” is the most conservative mode and Subaru say it’s the best setting for good fuel consumption, thanks to earlier upshifts and delayed downshifts. “Sport” and “Sport Sharp” do what the names suggest and result in crisper, more rapid responses.
The Outback flagship also gets a keyless entry and pushbutton engine start/stop system, a sunroof, and wood trim for the dashboard.
Last but not least, the rear suspension has a self-levelling function, allowing the gargantuan boot to be fully exploited in terms of payload as well as volume.
Subaru has worked hard at moving their interiors from functional and hard-wearing to being inviting and cosseting and nowhere is this more evident than in the Outback.
The perforated leather is sumptuous, the plastics of the dashboard and door panels of high quality, and the woodwork convincing.
Slightly less so is the brushed aluminium-look plastic on the imposing hang-down centre section and on the transmission tunnel.
But the ambience of quality isn’t spoiled once you’re on the road and levels of refinement and noise suppression more than meet expectations. One of the Outback’s great strengths will definitely be leaving its occupants feeling relaxed and unfatigued on arrival at far-flung destinations.
Achieving that objective means having plenty of space, and with its long wheelbase the latest Outback is especially roomy inside.
The rear compartment is limo-like thanks to a plush seat with excellent legroom and plenty of shoulder room for three, and backrests which recline through a 20 degree arc. Fold the centre armrest down and it turns into a great four-seater with a place for drinks, plus airvents and flow control in the tail end of the centre console.
The boot is a giant affair and expanding it to wardrobe-swallowing dimensions couldn’t be easier. Levers just inside the tailgate swiftly flip the 60/40 split seat forward to create a long and perfectly flat luggage compartment measuring almost 1,9 metres, depending on the position of the front seats. Widthways it is no less impressive either.
As is the norm with Subaru, the luggage cover is a well-designed, high-quality affair and fits perfectly to effectively hide the contents below. Bagholders and tie-down rings are well-positioned, while accessing the spacesaver spare under the floor is easily done.
Driver and front passenger both get electrically-adjusted seats (with a two-position memory function for the driver) and dual-zone climate control. Oddment storage is a strong point, and there is a massive double-decker box between the front seats (which houses both aux and 12 Volt sockets), a deep, lidded compartment between the six-CD/tuner and the climate control, and a small open area fore of the gearlever.