The Subaru Outback has managed to carve a neat little niche for itself with a sweet balance of family car practicality with a modicum of off-road ability. The only problem is the yawning gap in the model range between the “base” 2,5 boxer petrol engine and the beefy 3,6-litre six-cylinder. Could the new diesel be the answer?
Subaru is one of the few manufacturers out there that favour a horizontally-opposed cylinder engine set-up for its road cars. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most obvious is rooted in rallying – a suitably low centre of gravity that aids lateral stability. Another fortuitous upshot of a boxer set-up is that the movement of the horizontally-opposed pistons tend to cancel out much of the vibrations that accompany the actions of a straight-cylinder engine. So, in principle, applying this principle to a diesel engine makes a great deal of sense… but does it work?
Quite simply, the answer is a resounding “yes” – the boxer turbodiesel is a remarkably smooth, refined powerplant. Turn the key and, while there is a bit of that characteristic diesel clatter on start-up, the engine settles into a smooth, even idle. Both the Outback and its Legacy stablemate have gained many plaudits for refinement, and the diesel doesn’t let the side down at all. At motorway speeds there’s just a hint of subdued diesel chatter from the nose permeating the car’s spacious cabin. With a power output of 110 kW at 3 600 r/min, the 2,0D sits about 13 kW short of the 2,5 petrol, but there’s a meaty 350 N.m of torque from just 1 900 r/min that helps to neatly redress the balance.
Although what you essentially have here is a hefty car being propelled by a small engine, the powerplant itself never feels strained. And while there is a big dollop of torque being developed low down there’s not a hint of baulking on downshifts – the power delivery is smooth and linear. As a result, the 2,0D has a flexible demeanour that feels just as competent on the road as it does on light off-road duty.
When we tested the 2,5-litre petrol model in our November ’09 issue, we had some misgivings about the gearbox/clutch action and throttle response. The notchy gear change and slightly springy clutch pedal are still present, but there’s a definite feeling that the throttle response in the diesel model is surprisingly sharper than that of the petrol.
Because Subaru has opted for an all-aluminium block for its new engine, planting a diesel in the Outback’s nose hasn’t done anything to upset the dynamics or ride. The steering still feels wieldy, if somewhat imprecise around the centre, and while the soft set-up of the MacPherson strut front/double wishbone rear suspension may result in a fair degree of body roll under hard cornering there’s still plenty of grip on offer from the all-wheel drivetrain.
The packaging also remains largely unchanged, which means there’s a clean, solid facia, masses of head and leg room both fore and aft, as well as a very handy 1 476 dm³ of utility space on offer with the rear seats folded. With a sticker price of R399 000 the Outback diesel neatly bridges the price gap between the four- and six-cylinder models. Subaru has been fairly generous when it comes to the standard features fitted the Outback diesel. They include such niceties as dual-zone climate control, 6-disc CD changer, cruise control, multifunction steering wheel, electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, leather upholstery, hill-start assist, electric parking brake and electric windows and sunroof.
As appealing as the six-cylinder petrol model may be the diesel Outback’s blend of abilities – decent performance, practicality and a welcome bit of low-down grunt from a very smooth new powerplant – could well elevate it from being a handy stop-gap to the pick of the litter. As a well-balanced road and leisure proposition, this one is definitely worth a look…