Subaru Outback also a city slicker
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SUV TACKLES ISSUES SOME DRIVERS HAVE HAD WITH SUBARUS, WRITES DAVID LINKLATER
Subaru New Zealand is really adamant that its fifth-generation Outback is a proper SUV: exclusively all-wheel drive, 213mm ground clearance and a pushbutton X-Mode that automatically configures the powertrain for off-tarmac driving, including a hill descent control function.
But if we had to vote one model in the range as least likely to leave the beaten path, it would have to be the flagship $59,990 Outback 3.6R Premium. It’s not that it’s any less capable in the rough — it’s just that the 3.6R seems to be more after the executive dollar than muddy adventure.
Through subtle use of chrome and colour, the 3.6R has a much more upmarket appearance than the four-cylinder models, especially in the black exterior finish of our test car. More equipment, too.
In truth, the boxer-six engine is probably the least changed powerplant in the fifth-generation Outback lineup, but the driving experience is still dramatically different from the previous model. That’s down to a change in gearbox technology, from the slightly disappointing five-speed automatic in the previous generation to slightly worrying Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT) technology for this new one. Already used by the four-cylinder models, SLT is Subaru’s version of continuously variable transmission. It might seem like an odd choice for a pseudo luxury vehicle, save a few salient facts: it’s substantially more refined than the old five-speeder, SLT is the way Subaru is going with almost every two-pedal model (including the high-performance WRX) and, in fact, the company has this technology pretty much nailed.
Most obvious is the manual mode, which gives you the illusion of six ratios to shift through. It’s okay, but not entirely convincing — you still feel the slip of SLT even when the gearbox is locked into one of those steps.
Better to embrace the gearbox for what it is and make use of the SI-Drive function, which lets you choose between three different powertrain modes.
Three-mode SI-Drive is unique to the 3.6R: there’s Intelligent (read economy) and Sport, but also a Sport Sharp setting which livens things up even more.
So yes, the Outback 3.6 does retain the driver enjoyment you expect from a Subaru. The powertrain can be made to play and the chassis is nicely balanced through the corners. Whether the extra performance of the boxer-six engine is worth having over the $49,990 2.5i Premium model is a moot point: it’s brisk, but you pay at the fuel pump. The overall economy figure of 9.9 litres per 100km is well up on the 7.3 litres of the petrol-four.
It’s also fairly optimistic if you’re doing a lot of urban driving in this machine: take the 3.6R into town and it does like a drink.
Power players need their little luxuries too, of course. It would be wrong to say the 3.6R adds a wealth of equipment over the four-cylinder Outback models. The 2.5i Premium already has leather upholstery, powered/heated front seats with driver’s memory, wiper de-icer, satellite navigation, LED headlights and power tailgate.
With the 3.6R, Subaru is relying more on the buyer appreciating some extra attention to detail. It has a unique instrument panel, for example. And the audio has also been upgraded to a Harman Kardon 12-speaker system.
The EyeSight active safety system is still a good reason to buy any Outback. Introduced on the last-generation model, it uses stereo cameras (you can see them in the windscreen) to read the road ahead and provide driver-assistance features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lead vehicle departure alert, pre-collision throttle control and pre-collision braking. It’s a brilliant system that works seamlessly and is unperturbed by bad weather, because the cameras are behind glass and mounted high.
Pros and Cons SUBARU OUTBACK 3.6R
ENGINE: 3.6-litre boxer petrol
Pros: Seamless performance, great handling
Cons: Cabin styling still ordinary