I like it when people take my advice when they are considering a new car.
That happened just recently, a work colleague provided me with a choice of vehicles she was thinking of buying and we went through an elimination process deciding what was best suited for her needs.
After driving a Subaru XV – an Impreza-based crossover wagon – she decided that was the car for her. I was delighted, the XV is a value-packaged model built to high quality standards and its four-wheel-drive platform is a major safety ingredient.
In the XVs case, it is also a handy cross-country challenger, it is certainly a remarkable all-round vehicle and I’ve often likened it to being Subaru’s best kept secret.
This evaluation doesn’t focus on the XV, instead it encompasses another handy off-road vehicle from the Subaru stable – the Outback. The Outback is like a larger XV, it is a true station wagon with suspension raised for that outback journey, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Instead of Impreza-based, the Outback sits on the Legacy platform, it is a large car at 4.8m and arrives here in two specifications with two engine variants – the traditional horizontally-opposed four-cylinder unit (2.5-litre) or a 3.6-litre flat-six. I’m due for the latter in a few weeks’ time, however, the 2498cc unit is far from disgraced and would probably be my choice if I was ever in a position to buy a new Subaru.
Because it has high ground clearance (213mm), the Outback has suspension absolutely delightful in terms of rut and bump absorption, it floats over those crazy Christchurch roads and affords a luxury ride.
In Premium form, the Outback lists at $49,990, for that money it gets a full complement of specification, full leather, heated seats, electric sunroof and satellite navigation, just to name a few of the key items.
It must also be noted that almost all of Subaru’s range now gets the clever camera-based Eyesight safety technology which incorporates a host of driver assistance modules so that the car is kept out of trouble in the first instance. The latter has had a further upgrade with new features incorporated into it.
I didn’t take the test car off-road, the hot, dry conditions throughout our Canterbury summer created too much fire danger for my liking, but I can report that in previous drives of the Outback off-the-beaten-track, it is vastly capable, taking into account its driver-activated X-mode and hill descent control.
However, I did drive through many shingle backroads and it is in its element on the rough corrugations, it has directional steering and extraordinary control on loose surfaces.
The tyres are an all-road Bridgestone compound (225/60 x 18in) and they perform well in low grip situations. They are also quiet at highway speed and provide solid feedback to the steering wheel when presented with a bit of a sealed surface corning challenge.
As mentioned, under the bonnet sits a boxer engine. This has been Subaru’s trademark design for at least the last 30 years. It is rated at 129kW and 235Nm, both outputs realised at usable points of the rev band – 5800rpm and 4000rpm.
Drive is through a six-step continuously variable transmission, between the two elements there is a smooth transition of power and a seamless ratio which means the engine is constantly near its maximum torque delivery.
In terms of acceleration the Outback in this form will make 100km/h from a standstill in 9.1sec, and will scamper through a highway overtake in 5sec, the latter delightful with a strong surge of power through the mid-range. Also featuring on the Outback is the Subaru system of performance drive modes, there are three different settings, all controlled by steering wheel-mounted buttons, each has its own affect on how the engine behaves.
In recent years Subaru has been hugely active in lowering the fuel consumption figures in each of its models. Today the Outback is rated with a 7.3-litre per 100km (39mpg) combined cycle average. The dash panel readout was listing constantly at 8.3l/100km (34mpg) during my time with the test car, along with a 6l/100km (47mpg) figure sitting at a steady 100km/h (engine speed 1600rpm). Together, all of these figures represent good reading, the Outback 2.5 has solid power and good economy, a hard equation to get right in engine design.
A few years ago Subaru made the decision to abandon the Legacy wagon; I wondered at the time if that was a good decision, however, as time as served to prove, the Outback wagon has certainly filled the void, and it offers just that something extra special in terms of all-round capability.
However, if that is a vehicle which is just a fraction too big for a buying decision, check out the XV, it has similar credentials, packaged just that little bit smaller.
Price – Subaru Outback Premium, $49,990
Dimensions – Length, 4820mm; width, 1840mm; height, 1675mm
Configuration – Four-cylinder, four-wheel-drive, 2498cc, 129kW, 235Nm, six-step automatic.
Fuel usage – 7.3l/100km