Subaru looks to bag more buy
Subaru has pulled out all the stops with the latest Outback.
Yes, this stalwart ruggedised estate might look similar to the old car, but it’s a fresh design with a more amenable price tag, a better quality cabin and a great warranty. The good news for British buyers is the fact that you can now buy a diesel version that’s paired with an automatic gearbox.
Have a guess at how many cars Subaru sold on the UK last year. To help you with some ballpark numbers, Ford sold over 326,000, Vauxhall shifted almost 270,000 and even a prestige outfit like Porsche registered more than 9,000 cars. You’re probably not even close. The Japanese company sold a mere 2,793 cars here, and that was 23% better than the previous year. It has struggled to overcome the strength of the Yen, which almost killed Subaru as a viable entity in the UK but, the company has vowed to come back stronger than ever before.
To that end, say hello to the revised Outback. The fourth-generation car launched here back in 2010 and this fifth-generation model moves the game on in several key regards.
Mechanically, the big news with this version of the Outback is that Subaru has decided that it’s time to stop shooting itself in the foot with petrol-only engine ranges and diesel manual models. Instead, the brand plans now to deliver what customers want, namely the excellent boxer diesel engine paired with an automatic gearbox. Well, when I say ‘automatic’, it’s strictly speaking a seven-step Lineartronic constantly variable transmission, but you get the idea. There’s no clutch pedal. The engine’s good for 147bhp and if that’s not enough, you can still buy a 2.5-litre petrol with 162bhp. We’ll stick with the diesel if it’s all the same.
This being Subaru, the engineers have tweaked the car’s suspension for sharper handling. As before, you get a healthy 200mm of ground clearance, and Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system features on all models. Choose the manual transmission and there’s also an Active Torque Split, and for those with the Lineartronic CVT there’s a centre differential with viscous limited slip differential; just two ways to achieve traction in all conditions.
The changes to the Outback’s exterior look decidedly modest. Then you speak to the Subaru people and they tell you that the body is all new. Everything.
The cabin, usually a Subaru Achilles heel, is much improved. It’s far simpler looking than before with a more up-market sheen. There’s one of the best steering wheels in the class and even the touch screen system is easy to operate. The boot measures 512-litres to the tonneau cover, with 2,000-litres available when the seats are folded. That’s way bigger than Volvo’s XC70 which can only muster 1,600-litres. Choose a diesel and it’ll easily pull a two-tonne caravan as well.
Subaru reckons it can shift 800 of these Outbacks per year, with 60% of them being diesels. While we wouldn’t take issue with the extent of their ambition, it’s hard to see four out of 10 Outback customers turning down the economy and torque of the diesel-engined version. Prices start at around £28,000 for the 2.0D SE variant, which is very reasonable given that an entry level Volvo XC70 opens at over £34,000. That buys you a manual Outback diesel: you do need to add £2,000 (which is quite an ask) for the Lineartronic box. The petrol model starts at around £28,500 with a Lineartronic transmission.
The difference between the entry SE and the SE Premium trim is £3,000 and we suspect that most will be content with the more affordable version. After all, SE customers still get automatic LED headlamps and headlamp washers, cruise control, Active Torque Vectoring, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, electrically-adjustable driver’s seat and privacy glass, as well as a 7in touchscreen infotainment system, incorporating satellite navigation, audio, smartphone connectivity and a rear view parking camera. Petrol SE models also feature an emissionsreducing start-stop system and Subaru Intelligent Drive, which allows drivers to select different engine modes depending on road conditions for improved economy and performance.
Go for a 2.0-litre diesel model and it’ll return 48mpg with a manual gearbox and 45mpg with the Lineartronic CVT. This translates to emissions figures of 145 and 159g/km respectively which isn’t bad at all. The 37mpg figure for the petrol model (161g/km) isn’t quite so clever.
Subaru has learned some harsh lessons in recent years. It has learned to listen to its customers. It’s been forced to react to markets that change quickly. It’s been taught a humbling lesson in global economics and has seen that clever engineering alone no longer sells cars. All of these learning points have been incorporated into the latest Outback.