Subaru’s next-gen outback is still a year away for right-hand drive markets, but after driving this limited edition X variant, we find there’s not much wrong with the current model.
Subaru’s Outback continues to be popular some five years after the fifth- generation model launched. It’s been the brand’s most popular seller here, as four-wheel drive wagons are what Subaru’s best known for, at least among types who don’t know what rallying is all about. While the US, Subaru’s biggest and most important market, has had the pleasure of an all-new sixth generation model since late last year, right-hand drive production has only just started for the Japanese market. And don’t expect the new model here until early 2021 at best.
Until then, we’re like the rest of the world, making do with the fifth-gen version. But in the case of the Outback, making do is more than adequate, as became apparent after reacquainting ourselves with this new X variant. A limited-edition model, it mirrors the specification of the 2.5i Premium so you get all the fruit, the only differences being revised X-Mode settings and some funky seat trim. And it comes with a slightly reduced price tag, at $49,990.
The X is designed for the more adventurous Outback types and so it gains a further X-Mode setting for traversing mud and snow. These X settings optimise the AWD and traction control system to keep things moving in the slippery stuff. While there is no sand mode, the snow and mud setting neutered the ESP enough to help keep us roving in the soft sands as we charged along the beach. The added clearance helps wade through the water obstacles, and the long travel suspension eats up the rutted bits well.
When you’re done adventuring, Outback’s also pretty handy around town. The X has all Subaru’s convenience features and driver aids, including active cruise that will slow you to a halt in grinding traffic. The camera-based system is a little nervous when it comes to passing down the left hand side of turning traffic ahead, and is slow on the restarts when the vehicle in front has moved off but is easy to set and control. The lane departure warning system is fairly insistent but easily switched off when it becomes all too annoying.
The X is only available with the 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four, the 129kW/235Nm engine doing well to move such a sizeable vehicle. It may be no powerhouse but the low end urge gets things underway sufficiently in traffic. It has a CVT too but so what? It’s smooth on the take-up, lends the driveline a refined nature and has the engine turning just above idle at a constant 50km/h as it seeks to maximise efficiency. But it’s also quick to shorten the ratio when given the jandal and doesn’t ‘flare up’ wildly like CVTs of the past. And it helps keep fuel use in check too, with consumption figures in the 9L/100km range being the norm, which isn’t bad going for a big AWD wagon. The quoted mean average is 7.3L/100km and it gets by on a diet of 91.
The steering weight is easy enough, even without any trick variable steering to help, and the turning dimensions aren’t bad either, considering its overall size. Neither is the ride. Sometimes high riding things need some starch in the springs to temper a tendency to roll but well struck damping bloats over most of the horrible bits.
Its open road progress is generally hushed, and the ride quality remains sound. Going for the overtake, you need to search out the upper limits of the rev band to access the power as the midrange torque could never be called muscular. When heading along a twisting trail, you can dial up the S mode which quickens the throttle map and pokes the CVT along too. It’ll have the engine spinning with interest around the 3000rpm mark, making it more responsive as a result.
The handling tends more toward SUV than wagon. It turns willingly, with sorted assistance and reasonable feedback. The Duelers hold on well but as you inch toward those grip limits, the sidewall stretch tells you it’s time to ease up before the torque vectoring function, which brakes individual wheels up front, chimes in to keep you on line. It maintains decent composure over big bumps, especially when you’re on gravel, where it has the traction needed to keep powering along confidently. Here too it tends toward safe and predictable understeer rather than provoking any lurid tail slides.
Inside the X, the trim is novel, having a water repellent fabric lining the centre of the seats. It’s an interesting looking material and works as promised. When water is spilled, it pools on the top so you can soak it up with a towel. It’ll fit with your active lifestyle, and we prefer it to the leather as textiles add a certain cosiness. I wish someone would bring back those plush velours of the eighties. Anyway, green stitching accents the trim, and on the outside the X wears a blackened grille, mirrors and alloys.
The Outback exudes practicality. It’s big glasshouse makes for good all round vision, and the generous side mirrors are backed up with blind spot monitoring.
Subaru has one of the better parking camera set-ups. A 360-degree monitor is good in theory, but few are actually great. With a decent wide angle reversing camera complemented with another mounted on the left wing mirror, this simple set-up does the trick almost as well. The side camera will relay if you’ve lined up the park properly and also what you’re about to scrape inadvertently. It’s all you really need.
There’s also a powered tailgate but it is too slow in action, even taking a moment to start the process. And we’re not sure the protective plastic strips on the boot floor of this X model are a great idea, as everything slips and slides about the place. It’s a big hold though, with a full-size spare stored underneath, and the rear seat folds quickly and easily thanks to remote levers.
Up front, the seating position is sound with ample adjustment for the bigger boned. We like the downy arm rests on both sides, and the use of soft plastics, though there are still a few hard bits remaining. Cabin storage is well sorted and a few USB charge ports make up for the lack of a wireless pad. The touchscreen infotainment system isn’t industry leading, but the screen is vibrant and comes with smartphone link up. Along with ample room in the rear, another Outback feature we like is the integrated roof racks; no need to fork out more on a set of expensive cross bars; Subaru throws them in for you, good buggers.
|Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium
|2498cc, flat 4, 129kW/235Nm