National Post (Latest Edition)

Jacked-up stance and rugged persona


- GraeMe Fletcher

Crossovers and SUVs are all the rage, and the craze is showing no sign of letting up. For those who want or need the flexibilit­y and space of the breed, along with a degree of off-road capability, the Subaru Outback is an attractive — and often overlooked — alternativ­e. With its jacked-up stance and rugged persona, it fits the bill without the usual compromise­s.

For 2018, the Outback receives a number of upgrades including a new grille, new front and rear fascias, and LED daytime running lights. Throw in the available EyeSight driver-assist package, which now includes automatic high beams along with the collision mitigation systems, plus automatic braking and lane departure warning with keep assist from before, and the Outback has a stronger and safer road presence.

What does not change is the utility and cargo-carrying capability. The Outback makes light work of 1,005 litres of cargo, with the seats up and 2,075 with the 60/40 spit rear seats folded, so there is plenty of space. There is an unspoken plus — the roof rack. Normally, having the crossbars fixed across the roof all the time causes a great deal of unwanted wind noise. Not so with the Outback; when not in use, the crossbars stow neatly in the side rails, banishing the wind noise. When needed, they deploy easily and without the need for tools. It is a clever solution to a noisy headache.

The cabin has been reworked to great effect. Notably, the infotainme­nt system, with its eight-inch touchscree­n, now supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and houses a GPS navigation system and back-up camera. The rest of it sees knobs and dials for key functions, including the 12-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system with its 576-watt amplifier. Finally, it boasts comfortabl­e front seats lending to the taller driving position so many like.

The Outback is powered by a 2.5-litre, horizontal­ly opposed, four-cylinder engine that twists out 175 horsepower and 174 poundfeet of torque at 4,000 rpm. It does elicit the usual boxer grumble, but remains smooth in operation. The power reaches the road through all four wheels and a continuous­ly variable transmissi­on (CVT). The saving grace with this CVT is the fact it is easygoing when driven about town, and uses predetermi­ned ratios when the gas is hammered. The result is significan­tly less of the annoying ‘motorboati­ng’ drone so many people hate. There is, however, still some of the rubber-band effect that blunts the crispness of the initial launch.

As such, it takes the fourbanger Outback 10.1 seconds to reach 100 km/h from a standstill.

A 3.6L flat-six is optional, with 256 hp and 247 lbft of torque, that cuts the zero-to-100 kilometres per hour run to 7.6 seconds. The downside is the flat-six bumps fuel consumptio­n from the four-cylinder’s 8.5L/100 kilometres up to 10.5.

For a high-mileage driver, the extra fuel costs will add up quickly.

Subaru’s full-time, allwheel-drive system is one of the best on the market. In the Outback’s case, it sends 60 per cent of the power through the front wheels and 40 per cent to the rear. It has a distinct plus

— it’s both proactive and reactive, so it does what’s necessary in a fast and efficient manner. The secret lies in the multi-plate clutch that controls the power split; regardless of the demand, the system divvies up the power in a completely seamless manner.

One of the interestin­g extensions to the AWD system is X-Mode, a tool geared toward off-road situations that works at speeds of up to 40 km/h. When engaged, it picks a lower set of gear ratios than those used onroad, remaps the throttle and allows the stability control system to let the wheels spin slightly, which helps maintain forward momentum. For those who do venture off road, X-Mode is a valuable tool.

Where the Outback differs from the rest of its crossover/SUV competitor­s is the fact it has a planted and stable feel when pushed through a series of sweeping curves. Yes, there is a degree of body roll, but the taller seating position tends to exaggerate it. The steering is crisp, and the all-wheel-drive system and P225/60R18 tires combine to bring a ton of grip.

Switch from a serpentine back road to the highway, and the ride is cushioned and long-distance friendly. Venture off-road and the suspension’s long travel and supple nature, along with the 220 millimetre­s of ground clearance, see it tackle a gnarly trail in stride. It is a well-balanced setup, given the divergent needs it must satisfy.

There is a lot to like about the Subaru Outback. It has all of the functional­ity demanded of a crossover or SUV, but it out-handles just about all of them easily without sacrificin­g the ability to head away from a paved road.

As a package, the Outback is an attractive alternativ­e to the usual suspects.

 ?? PHOTOS: GRAEME FLETCHER / DRIVING.CA ?? 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited is a worthy high-performing entry into the SUV crossover category.
PHOTOS: GRAEME FLETCHER / DRIVING.CA 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited is a worthy high-performing entry into the SUV crossover category.
 ??  ?? The comfortabl­e seats are part of a reworked cabin and lend themselves to a taller driving stance.
The comfortabl­e seats are part of a reworked cabin and lend themselves to a taller driving stance.
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