IN a motoring world that seems increasingly led by decisions made in marketing rather than engineering departments, Subaru stands out like a sore thumb. Let’s be honest here, to find a turbodiesel powertrain to suit its products, Subaru, as part of the giant Toyota corporation, could have simply delved into the parts bin of its parent company and emerged with any one of a number of options. But no, it set out on a painfully long and expensive process to develop the world’s first horizontally-opposed turbodiesel engine. There’s some method in the madness, though, because horizontally-opposed powerplants – or boxer engines, as they’re often called – are inherently smoother in operation than normal powerplants.
Now, after another long local evaluation by Subaru South Africa, the engine has become available to South Africans, initially in the Outback model, but will also feature in the revised Forester due later this year.
The Outback range, in fact, has been crying out for a diesel derivative – there is a yawning gap in the line-up that until recently comprised only “entry-level” 2,5-litre and expensive 3,6-litre variants. The 2,0D slots in almost precisely between these two and is priced at R399 000.
We’ve tested the Outback in 2,5-litre guise before (November 2009) and found it a comfortable, spacious and solid vehicle with the capability to traverse some rough roads. Certainly, Subaru’s other trademark piece of engineering (symmetrical all-wheel drive), makes it a very confidence-inspiring vehicle to drive on a variety of surfaces. Our criticisms remain the same, too – the Outback is certainly not the most attractive of vehicles, the electronic park brake is a pain and, while the standard features list is comprehensive, it lacks a few surprise-and-delight items such as an auto-dimming mirror and navigation.
But let’s not beat about the bush. The Outback has always been an excellent leisure vehicle, featuring self-levelling rear suspension and a 1 700 kg towing capacity, but a big concern has been fuel consumption.
The new 2,0D model answers this criticism. With a CAR Fuel Index figure of 7,8 litres/100 km – you could quite easily beat that figure, actually – the Outback 2,0D should be able to travel well over 800 km on a single 65-litre tankful. So, that’s the economy issue dealt with pretty impressively, thank you very much…
But what’s the engine like to live with? Quite simply, 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 the newcomer is essentially a hefty car propelled by a small engine, the powerplant itself never feels strained. And while there is a small amount of lag right at the bottom of the rev range, one soon acclimatises to the driving style that is required for smooth progress. Once up and running, the power delivery is smooth and linear. As a result, the 2,0D has a flexible demeanour that feels just as competent on-road as it does when traversing a light off-road course.
When we tested the 2,5-litre petrol model, we voiced our misgivings about the gearbox/ clutch action and throttle response. The notchy gearchange 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. The only real negative of the engine itself is that you HAVE to use low sulphur 50 ppm diesel – the powerplant is fitted with a diesel particulate filter. However, it is an “active” system that is able to regenerate itself, and Subaru says it should last the life of the vehicle providing 500 ppm fuel isn’t used.
As appealing as the six-cylinder 3,6R petrol model may be, the diesel Outback’s blend of abilities – decent performance, practicality, superb economy and a welcome bit of grunt from a very smooth new powerplant – could well elevate it from being a handy stopgap to the pick of the litter. As a well-balanced road and leisure proposition, this one is definitely worth a look…