Brian ‘The-Axle-Twister’ Bassett fearlessly goes, well, just about anywhere, in the Subaru Outback.
BRIAN BASSETT takes the scenic route in the new Subaru Outback
The Subaru’s CVT transmission is one of the smoothest in the business and if you use the flappy paddles to gear down, the wagon achieves a certain sportiness, which belies the vehicle’s size.
WHENEVER we drive a Subaru, my colleagues remind me of a road trip over Namibia’s long dirt roads, which are where the Subaru station wagons shine best.
I was therefore keen to experience the Scooby’s legendary road holding over KZN’s dirt roads in the new Subaru Outback, kindly provided by Howard Christie, dealer principal of the largest Subaru dealer in the country at Camps Drift.
The new Outback was redesigned in 2015 and launched in South Africa later that year. It probably didn’t need a redesign and was still selling some 120 000 units a year internationally, one in four of which sold in the United States.
Nonetheless the Subaru Legacy, with which the Outback shares a platform, had just had a makeover and it was probably the Outback’s turn. The result we found very pleasing and enjoyable.
The 2015 styling revision is cautious and stays close to the tried and tested Outback formula.
The new model is sleeker, cleaner and has less plastic cladding, despite adding a few millimetres in length to make it just over 4,8 metres long.
This adds to the vehicle’s considerable on-road presence and there is no chance of other road users not taking you seriously.
The front end with its distinctive Subaru grille, flanked by wrap around headlight clusters and a smaller, grille below the built bumper flanked by recessed fog lamps, is more cohesive than the earlier model.
The car is sculpted at the sides and flows backward to a wide tailgate and large tail light clusters, which to my mind is altogether better looking than the previous model.
The restyled interior shows a highquality finish and design.
The dashboard is simple, with clean lines, two analogue dials that are clearly visible through the multifunction, and a fully adjustable steering wheel, with its flappy paddles for the sportier driver.
Sitting above the climate controls on the central stack is a seven-inch touch screen, which shows the operation of the radio, CD, AUX, cruise control, cell phone pairing and Bluetooth functions and reversing camera; to name but a few.
All the basic functions are voice controlled, simply press the prompt button and say “call” or “music” to activate features.
The seats are covered in fine leather and made for the fuller American figure, which means I found them very comfortable.
The front seats are electrically adjustable, with an independent memory button for each seat.
Rear space is brilliant with enough room for three large adults to interact freely and loudly demand lunch on Saturday afternoon.
These days seven seats are the fashion, but to date Subaru have resisted putting in a third row of seats for half-size humans, so the entire interior is spacious and comfortable.
The car has plugs and interfaces for all your IT toys and the 12-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system is immensely enjoyable.
The boot is easily accessed by the wide, electrically-operated tailgate and offers 512 litres of storage space with the rear seats in place and 1 801 litres with the seats lowered.
Safety and security
The Outback has five-star NCAP and Japanese safety ratings.
The frame is reinforced to protect passengers and the higher riding position in the cabin, although not as high as an SUV, provides great allround visibility.
For the rest the Outback has everything you could want in the safety field, like ABS with EBD, seven airbags including two under the front seat cushions, which take the place of dash-mounted knee airbags.
There is also a rear-vision camera, blind spot detection and lane change assist, which alert you to danger by showing up, together with a loud signal, on your side mirrors.
The Outback also has Rear Cross Traffic Alert to tell you what’s coming from the side. It is a brilliant and most useful feature. There is a wide range of other safety features, too many to mention here, which make this one of the safest cars on the road.
Performance and handling
The Outback handles like a Subaru should. The quick steering ratio and electric power assist provides precise and immediate feedback. The CVT transmission is one of the smoothest in the business and if you use the flappy paddles to gear down, the wagon achieves a certain sportiness, which belies the vehicle’s size.
We drove the Outback on farm roads through delightful scenery and found it supple and easily absorbing of bumps and major impacts without bottom-destroying jolts or shudders.
On tar the Outback almost floats along and it has no problem on the N3, passing long loads with ease.
I felt safe and secure in the Outback and the permanent, Symmetrical AWD provides a level of stability I have not encountered since last I drove a Subaru. The X-mode button allows the car to take over the engine and safely navigate very bad roads, which is a boon for drivers like me.
The 2.5i-S Premium has the Boxer four-cylinder, horizontally-opposed engine, putting out 129 kW/191 Nm. Our 0-100 km/h run came up in around 10,5 seconds and top speed is a claimed 185 km/h, which we did not test.
Fuel consumption is difficult to predict given the versatility of this car, but expect around 8,8 l/100 km in the combined cycle.
Costs and the competition
The Outback will set you back about R550 000 and comes with a threeyear maintenance plan and a 100 000 km manufacturer’s guarantee. The many Midlands farmers whose loyal custom has made Pietermaritzburg’s Subaru the busiest dealer in South Africa will testify there is no real competition for a Scooby, but we can recommend a look at the Audi A4 Allroad and Volvo V60 Cross Country too.
The Subaru Outback handles like it is on rails, which is a good thing as the old Pentrich station building shows the railways, which once transported people around Pietermaritzburg, have long been shut.