ROAD TEST: Subaru Outback 2,5i-Field ES Lineartronic

The South African stationwagon landscape is an interesting one. However few and far between station wagons may be (owing to the predominant portion of our market favouring tall-riding SUVs), for the local station-wagon enthusiast there remains a vehicle that suits just about every need here on the southern-most tip of the continent.

Station wagons available locally can be divided into two broad categories: performance and lifestyle. Cases in point; performance-minded folks have the choice of the Audi RS4 and RS6 Avant, while those seeking adventure have the option of the Volvo V90 Cross Country and Subaru Outback, which fall into the latter category.

Subaru Outback rear quarter
With protective cladding and healthy ground clearance, there’s no denying the Outback’s adventure credentials.

However, in our ever-growing SUV/crossover market, a station wagon cannot be judged solely against direct rivals; it has the difficult task of proving itself against, in the Outback’s case, SUVs. Is the sixth-generation Outback a worthy alternative to an SUV? Let’s find out …

Locally, the Outback is now offered with the choice of two trim grades: adventure-focused Field and more lifestyle orientated Touring guise. Dressed in Crystal White Pearl paint, our Outback Field test unit was pleasing on the eyes. The light exterior colour contrasted neatly with the Field model’s black side mirror caps, plastic side mouldings, wheel arch cladding and 18-inch black metallic alloys.

Subaru Outback roof racks
Usable roof rails, hooray!

The lime green “Outback” badging on the aft doors and accents on the (usable) roof rails were a neat touch, while the chrome detailing surrounding the side windows added sophistication. Further entrenching the Outback’s dynamic design philosophy, the LED headlamps – which now house C-shaped daytime-running lights – are slimmer than before.

The new Outback is 50 mm longer and 30 mm wider than the fifth-generation version. Length and width are 4 850 mm and 1 875 mm. The increase in exterior dimension has translated to the spacious cabin, accessed via keyless entry. Occupants are seated in comfort thanks to 886 mm and 888 mm of fore and aft headroom, and 743 mm of rear legroom. Measured with our ISO measuring blocks, the Outback presents 416 litres of luggage capacity and, with the rear backrest folded down, 1 312 litres of utility space.

Subaru Outback interior
The updated interior was a pleasant surprise to all the testers.

Inside, Subaru’s new-generation 11,6-inch portrait-orientated display takes centre stage. Although offering smartphone-like swipe and drag functions, several members of the CAR team commented the touchscreen could have been more intuitive. Fortunately, the digital display is supplemented by analogue buttons for adjusting volume and the dual-zone climate control system.

The Starlink infotainment setup incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto screen mirroring and Bluetooth functionality – relaying your favourite tunes over the 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system – and four USB ports.

Subaru Outback headlamp
Slim-line headlamps with C-shaped LED daytime-running lights.

A comprehensive suite of safety items is included. The Outback features eight airbags and a pair of ISOFIX child-seat anchorages. Maneuvering is easy owing to the front- and rear-view cameras and park-distance sensors. Standard on both models, Subaru’s EyeSight system features driver-assist systems such as adaptive cruise control and steering assist, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring, and pre-collision braking. A first for South Africa, the new Outback ships with Subaru’s DriverFocus system, which uses facial recognition technology to monitor driver awareness and fatigue.

The system works well … as one tester discovered when a mere yawn resulted in the Subaru asking whether the sat-nav should search for the nearest rest stop. Although, quite ironically, this did cause some distraction. Symmetrical all-wheel drive provides further peace of mind. Dialling in your preferred seating position is a cinch with the Outback’s eight-way electrically adjustable heated front seats. Thanks to the taller driving position and 213 mm of ground clearance, the driver is afforded a commanding view of the road. The ride quality is supple, on- and off-road.

NVH levels are commendable, though an occasional drone from the naturally aspirated engine permeated the cabin under hard acceleration during overtaking manoeuvres. On our test strip, the Outback accelerated from 60 km/h to 100 km/h in 5,25 seconds and from 80 km/h to 120 km/h in 6,65 seconds.

The CVT – arguably one of the best – did a decent job of keeping the revs low when travelling at speed. Although fitted with a bouquet of safety features, our Outback test unit’s braking times left something to be desired. During our stringent 10-stop emergency braking test, the Outback managed to achieve only a “good” rating, with an average stopping time and distance of 3,16 seconds and 45,14 metres.

Test summary

The sixth-generation of Subaru’s adventure-minded wagon boasts a solidly constructed and spacious interior, lavishly equipped with an array of infotainment and convenience items and, for the asking price, an unparalleled amount of active and passive safety systems.

The ride is commendable on account of the softly sprung suspension and the naturally aspirated engine-CVT arrangement is as refined as can be. To answer our initial question, the new Subaru Outback is indeed a worthy alternative to the tall-riding SUVs so popular on South African roads.

Fast facts

Price: R699 000
0-100 km/h: 9,63 seconds
Top speed: 206 km/h
Power: 138 kW
Torque: 245 N.m
CAR fuel index: 8,76 L/100 km
CO2: 168 g/km

Test Summary

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CAR magazine