The Great Outdoorsman – Subaru Outback

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For a very long time, the Subaru Outback has been considered the original, and probably the best of these lifted estate cars. I drove the last generation model back in 2018 and definitely agreed that it was far better than the Audi A6 Allroad I had previously owned and also marginally better than my old Volvo XC70. But, there is a new Outback available and recently Subaru seem to be falling behind the curve a bit with their other models – so will this refreshed rugged family estate/SUV crossover still cut the mustard?

From the outside, it’s hard to see the difference between the outgoing model and this one, with only some minor styling changes that even the most astute of Subaru Outback enthusiasts (if there really are any) will pick up on. Still, it stands proudly and I think looks great in the Autumn Green Metallic that the model we tested was produced in. It’s inside where all the changes have been made – and I must admit it instantly looks like a nicer, more premium place to sit over the last one. What was once a pretty drab and dreary place to be, now has softer leather, sporty neon green accents and stitching and the terrible infotainment system has been replaced by a bigger and ever-so-slightly better setup.

As with all of Subaru’s new cars, the Outback comes fully loaded with state-of-the-art safety tech, making it the safest and toughest car Subaru has ever produced. The car comes fitted with Subaru’s next-generation EyeSight driver assist technology with almost twice the field of vision over the previous model, plus a host of other features like Autonomous Emergency Steering, Lane Centering, Traffic Sign Recognition and Intelligent Speed Limiter. There’s also a new driver monitoring system that can detect when the driver is starting to show signs of fatigue behind the wheel. All of this, combined with the brand’s famous symmetrical all-wheel-drive system makes for an excellent family wagon.

Like the old Outback, the new model is powered by a 2.5-litre Boxer engine mated to a CVT transmission, although the engine has been updated and played with a bit by Subaru for the new car so it has a bit more power and slightly better fuel economy, to be honest, you really can’t tell. And this is probably the biggest problem not only with this current Subaru but all of them. It feels like Subaru doesn’t really want our business over here anymore. Cars like the XV and Outback do well in Australia and North America but over here they just don’t really make much purchasing sense. Yes, they are very well built. Yes, they are probably the most capable vehicle in their class thanks to the incredible AWD system. And yes, they are absolutely bulletproof. But that just isn’t enough over here and in mainland Europe.

It felt like far too long for Subaru to upgrade their interiors and Infotainment systems and now they have the cars that are much, much better to live with, but the engine and gearbox choices massively limit them. I drove this Outback for a week on what I consider a relatively normal weekly scenario and probably clocked up a few hundred miles of mixed motorway and country B-roads and the best I could get was around 32mpg. Even the mild hybrid Forester with the e-Boxer powertrain could only return figures in the high 30s, and in today’s climate that just isn’t good enough.

If you have to compromise fuel economy for an engaging drive and big torque figures, then great, but this provides neither. It’s too slow, too thirsty and these CVT ‘boxes are just old-fashioned and simply unpleasant to use. With manufacturers like VW and Volvo offering similar cars with more extras, more frugal engines and the same everyday usability, you have to REALLY want this over them and I just don’t think they have the charm they used to. This really makes me sad, because if this had a better engine/gearbox combo it would be perfect. It’s a lovely place to sit on a long drive, you can flatten the rear seats so it essentially becomes a van and if you need to trek across a field to tend to a sick horse, it can do that and probably won’t get stuck.

The real question I need to ask is the same as last time I drove the Outback – at £41,495 for this top-of-the-range 2.5i Touring trimmed model – would I have one over a similar Volvo, VW or Audi? And I should say no, as like I have stated above, it’s slower, thirstier and not as intuitive as its European counterparts, and even though I said it’s probably lost its charm, it is still fantastic for what it was intended for. It is spacious, it is very well built, it is hugely capable and it is very comfortable. So if you’re not fussed by jazzy infotainment, lower road tax and you actually might need to drive off the paved stuff every now and then, the trusty Outback should probably always be on your “maybe” list.

Photography for this article was provided by Rick Noel of Sprite Photography – you can see his various work on his Instagram HERE, Twitter HERE and Facebook HERE