Subaru Outback 3.6 Premium
Damien O’carroll finds the 3.6-litre Subaru is much more than something to take a second glance at when he finds a couple of extra pots makes all the difference.
As a motoring journalist, I quite often drive different models of the same car back to back, as that is often how the scheduling works. Rarely though do I experience such an eye-opening “Oh, that’s better” moment, as I did going from the Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium into the 3.6R Premium. Why exactly? I mean, after all, they are pretty much identical in terms of equipment, with the only differences being the 3.6R gets a slightly different interior trim, a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system and silver roof rails. But the biggest difference comes under the bonnet, with the addition of two extra cylinders, 62kw of extra power and 115Nm more torque. And that transforms the Outback. Okay, so at 191kw of power and 350Nm of torque, the 3.6R still isn’t exactly bristling with power and the similarly raised up Holden Commodore Tourer easily outmuscles it with 235kw and 381Nm, while even the 2.0-litre Commodore matches the Outback’s numbers. But while that extra power doesn’t exactly turn the Outback into a performance monster, what it does do is transform it into a thoroughly superb, bargain-priced luxury car. The big, horizontally-opposed, six-cylinder engine is wonderfully smooth and refined and brings more than enough muscle to pull the beautifully composed Outback along at a more than satisfactory rate on the open road. Perhaps the biggest improvement the six brings, however, is to the behaviour of the continuously variable transmission. The preset “gearshifts” are better defined and the healthier torque output reduces the need for it to flare under acceleration. You could almost be fooled into thinking it was a conventional auto. That is “almost” by the way, because the transmission still has its moments where it reminds you what it really is. While it doesn’t have a traditional boxer burble, the engine does produce a pleasing and distinctive growl under acceleration, but when tickled along on a light throttle, is remarkably quiet, adding to the Outback’s overall refinement. Like the 2.5i, the 3.6R’s ride is beautifully compliant and its chassis nicely controlled, but the 3.6R brings an additional mode over the four-cylinder car for some added sportiness. Well, sort of – the 3.6R gets the Sport# setting which sharpens up throttle and transmission responses, but you still won’t be heading to a track day in it any time soon. Although it would make an excellent choice to tow something more suitable to a track day on a trailer. As an added bonus, the 3.6R can haul 300kg more than the 2.5i, 1,800kg versus 1,500kg. At $59,990 the 3.6R Premium represents excellent value for money for either a six-cylinder SUV or a traditional station wagon, it’s only when you remember that the equally well equipped 2.5i Premium is $10K less that you start wondering. That said, spend any time behind the wheel of both and the 3.6R quickly shows why it is definitely worth the premium.