Is the new Outback X Subaru's greenest SUV yet?
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Subaru New Zealand will be getting greener later this year with the likely addition of two hybrid models: versions of the XV and Forester SUVs that combine a petrol engine with a small lithium-ion battery to save up to 20 per cent in fuel.
But for now, green duties are down to a limited-edition version of the Outback SUV. It has the same 2.5-litre powertrain as a standard model, but the Outback X has bright green styling accents and green stitching in the cabin… which serves as a nice garnish for the new water-repellent seat fabric. And black badges, for reasons which aren’t immediately clear; shouldn’t they be green, too?
The X is also capable of getting further into the lush green, bumpy brown and even crunchy white (if it’s winter): it’s the platform to introduce a dual-function version of the brand’s X-Mode off-tarmac technology into the Outback range.
This is all a way to keep Outback ticking along ahead of a new model next year, but it’s also a good deal. The specification is close to the $1500-more-expensive Outback 2.5i Premium, sans the leather upholstery but with the addition of the green bits. Don’t forget the green bits.
Dual X-Mode isn’t new to Subaru. We’ve seen it on the Forester and it works the same here.
In principle, X-Mode alters engine output, throttle and transmission mapping, torque distribution and braking to make the vehicle more capable for light off-roading. Or “soft roading” as we sometimes like to say.
Dual X-Mode adds another layer of ability that takes the above functions another step away from on-road tuning and even more towards extremely loose surfaces, obstacles and steep inclines.
You have to know it’s there, though, because — unlike the Forester — you don’t get a standalone control to activate it. The Dual function is simply built into the existing X-Mode button and you access it by cycling through the settings.
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So the idea is that the X is a little more adventure-oriented than your average Outback. There’s extra off-tarmac ability but also features such as the water-repellent seat fabric that looks tough (well, tougher than the poncy leather of the Outback Premium) and can handle the odd water spill or a body covered in wet outdoor clothing.
However, Subaru is careful to use the term “repellent” rather than “proof”. So, tip a drink all over the cabin at your peril.
On-road, don’t expect any change from a standard Outback: same powertrain, same suspension setup, same-size wheels.
It’s a boxer engine (of course) driving through continuously variable transmission (CVT) technology. It’s a concept that’s not to all tastes, which is possibly why Subaru insists on calling it something else: Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT).
As the tech goes, SLT is one of the best: it employs a metal chain/pulley system instead of belts, which makes it more responsive and theoretically more reliable.
In any case, the “slip” of CVT/SLT can be also advantageous if you’re crawling through low-speed obstacles off-road.
The Outback’s SUV ride height and compliant suspension make it a wagon built for comfort rather than speed.
The chassis is quite sensitive to weight transfer: too much throttle into corners and the nose runs wide, lift off too readily and the back immediately goes light.
But what might feel disconcerting to some could prove a delight to others. You can do a lot to influence the handling with subtle adjustments to throttle and steering, and changes in chassis attitude are still well telegraphed. All of the above makes the Outback especially entertaining on gravel – which is home turf for this car, really.
If it looks a bit station wagony, that’s because it is: the origins of the Outback do lie in the Legacy wagon (now defunct).
Subaru was arguably the originator of the crossover-SUV genre with the original Outback in 1994.
And, while the technology has been constantly updated, Subaru has stuck to similar styling and packaging themes with each new model. Don’t expect the 2021 version to stray too far either.
But the Outback has grown, and as the large SUV in Subaru’s range it’s definitely family-sized.
The 4.8m-long Subaru provides generous accommodation front and rear and the cargo volume of 512 litres (1801 with the rear seats folded) makes it a truly versatile wagon. Sorry, SUV.