THE new Outback performs the roles of station wagon and off-road derivative of the Legacy range. Whereas the previous version’s rugged image and low-range functionality catered to the offroad aspirations of outdoor enthusiasts, the 2,5i Premium is a luxury family ’wagon blessed with added ride height.
The newcomer can be distinguished from its saloon siblings by its D-pillars, grey side skirts and bumpers and 210 mm of ground clearance. Its neat but reasonably purposeful looks easily render the new Outback the bestlooking version of Subaru’s XUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) to date. And although it may not be obvious to the untrained eye, the overhangs have been slightly reduced even though the vehicle’s overall dimensions have grown.
The interior carry over all the improvements introduced on the Legacy and apart from criticism about the fl imsy feel of the sun visors and a difference in texture between the similarly-coloured facia hangdown section and its adjacent trim inserts, the quality and roominess of the leathertrimmed cabin was praised by testers. The centre console has side-by-side drink holders and good elbow support from the armrest, below which is extra storage space, an auxiliary audio input jack and 12-volt power outlet. The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable, including lumbar support, with a two-setting memory function, and a sunroof is standard.
As is the case with the Legacy, rear accommodation is generous in the Outback and the seatbacks can recline through a 20-degree range. By pulling on release levers on either side of the luggage compartment, the 60:40 split seatbacks tumble forward to reveal “a vast, fl at area hardly impaired by the wheelarches,” as one tester put it. The total luggage capacity is 1 376 dm³, which is more than acceptable for a conventional MPV, let alone one with stubble.
In terms of on-road performance, the test team welcomed the electronic parking brake and hill holder function, of which the latter needs to be activated independently. However, the six-speed manual transmission felt notchy and had a somewhat heavy action, and the clutch pedal had a spring-loaded feel and tended to grab at pullaways. There is still a characteristic boxer snarl under full acceleration, but the normallyaspirated 2,5-litre unit is at its best when making use of the cruise control on the open road.
The ride quality from the MacPherson strut front and double wishbone rear suspension is supple and generally absorbent. And even though there is a fair degree of body roll during hard cornering, the handling is grippy, well balanced and the steering feels fi ne, apart from some numbness when the wheel is in its straight-ahead position.
To strike a good balance between a practical family car and part-time sport-utility vehicle is no mean feat. The Outback 2,5i Premium, with its launch price of R345 000, offers excellent value for money.