Rugged and Ready – Subaru Outback


A lot like the Porsche 911, the evolution of Subaru’s rugged wagon has been subtle and there’s a very good reason for this – the expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind when thinking about the all-road estate car. Now in its fifth generation with the sixth on its way soon, the no-frills approach to go-everywhere driving is more present than ever in the Outback. It’s tough, reliable and fairly inexpensive.

Over the past year or so I have driven just about every car Subaru have to offer and also many of their competitors and I think the Outback is one of my favourites and I can’t really put my finger on why – it was just a nice car to drive. The CVT transmission and 2.5-litre petrol flat-four engine don’t really leave much to the imagination and the drive is far from “dynamic”, but that’s kind of what appealed to me for some reason. It does what a car should do very well, it gets you from A to B in comfort and safety and if ever find yourself lost on a beach or in a field somewhere, it will probably get you back on the straight and narrow with little fuss thanks to that superb Subaru permanent Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive setup. The only real gripe I have with Subaru as a whole is the current lack of diesel engines, as the flat-4 petrol units offer little in performance and even less in economy.

Inside the Outback it all looks very familiar – the steering wheel, dash, and infotainment system are pretty much the same as in the Forester I drove earlier this year and the XV I drove in 2018, with this one having the added bonus of Apple Carplay – I’m still not 100% sold on touchscreen infotainment systems and the Subaru one, in particular, feels a little dated and laggy, but it did the job and I very much doubt most owners even know they can see half the stuff that comes up on that 8″ screen. One thing I liked in the Forester that I also like in the Outback is the steering wheel controls, at first it all feels a bit fiddly and over-complicated but literally after 5 minutes on the road your hands naturally find their way around the various buttons to set the cruise control and adjust the radio volume, etc.

The Outback also features all of Subarus latest safety tech from its super-clever EyeSight Driver Assist function that has several cameras on the windscreen that constantly check ahead to make sure you’re not veering out of your lane or about to have a head-on collision. It also has a speed limit warning, High Beam Assist and Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection with Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Basically, you have to try really hard to prang one of these! All-in-all, it’s a very safe-feeling package and the extra bulky and beefed-up exterior gives you this kind of well-protected feeling. Perfect if you have little people. There is also buckets of room in the car, with plenty of legroom and space for 3 adults in the rear and also a whopping great boot with power open and close.

It’s very difficult to go into a huge amount of detail on why I think the Outback is a great car as it’s not flashy and sporty like the Audi Allroad, but it’s also a lot cheaper with a base price of around £28,000 but more like £30,000 if you go for the SE Premium spec which comes with all the bells and whistles. I spent a week driving to work and back, and taking the dog for walks and I even went on a 250mile round trip to Coventry in it and it was all very pleasant. Normally this would bore me, as a lot of the time I want cars to excite me and leave me wanting more after I’ve put it to bed at the end of the day, but that’s not what a Subaru Outback is for. It’s for people who have kids, a dog, a long muddy driveway and maybe a horse. I’ve owned an Audi A6 Allroad and a Volvo XC70 in the past and they were both good cars but the Audi was terribly unreliable and the Volvo was expensive to fix when things eventually went wrong. The plucky Outback slides in under the radar and as a result, it has a satisfied and loyal customer base who love it for what it is – simple and reliable.

The big question is, would I part with £30,000 for one and would I recommend anyone else to? Well, if you live in town and have small people in your life but also want your friends to think you’re doing “rather well” in life, then no, you’ll be comfier on the motorway in an Audi and your mates will all think you’re killing it at work. However, if you live where it’s a bit muddy, you have four-legged friends and you have no interest “keeping up with the Jones'”, then yes – the Subaru Outback is the perfect understated “go anywhere and everywhere” wagon for you.