Subaru's new large SUV on test: Outback in the city
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Subaru Outback X
- Smooth, refined in city driving
- Lots of new tech
- Lots of nice styling detail
- Nagging Driver Monitor
- X seats a bit clammy in hot weather
- Doesn’t look that different to the old one
We were up to our wheelarches in mud (literally at times) on Subaru’s media launch for the all-new Outback back in February, as we traversed the tough 4WD-only Nevis Road in Central Otago.
It’s always great to get to grips with an SUV’s true off-road abilities, especially when you have the owner’s permission to really stretch stuff to near breaking point. That little outing proved Subaru’s point that the Outback (dual X-Mode powertrain control, 213mm ground clearance) is much more capable in the rough than your average crossover wagon.
That’s a big part of the product’s appeal and credibility to buyers. Like technical running shoes or a diving watch.
And just like those sneakers and that timepiece, the truth is that the Outback’s theoretical ability will remain just that for most owners: theoretical. Makes you feel good, but you don’t really intend to use it.
That’s why we were very keen to take the next step with the new Outback by testing it where it will spend most of its time: commuting in the city.
Funnily enough, our first post-launch Outback test car back at DRIVEN headquarters in Auckland was the most off-roady of the range, the X: complete with water-resistant seats, green bits aplenty and a front number plate still bent from our Southern adventure. Oops.
The same mechanical package is standard across the Outback range: a 2.5-litre boxer-four (90 per cent new) with Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT), which is the Japanese company’s in-house execution of Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
The boxer engine is not overendowed with power and we’re seldom enthused about “gearless” transmissions, but the Outback powertrain worked brilliantly on the slog across Central and it’s perhaps even more impressive in an urban setting.
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SLT is chain-driven and a bit more responsive than your average CVT: it really gets the most out of the engine in city driving and the combo is supremely smooth. SLT also works well with Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assistance technology, especially the adaptive cruise, because it can modulate speed in in tiny increments without the gearbox hunting for different ratios. Because there aren’t any.
Okay, the SLT does have an eight-step mode, but honestly we wouldn’t bother. SLT is a really smooth customer in standard mode. Same goes for the Sport setting in the Outback’s SI-Drive controller: it makes the throttle and transmission noticeably more twitchy, but there isn’t really the performance to justify it. Just enjoy the impressively linear (pun intended) performance. The ride is pretty cushy too, which has always been an Outback strength, but this new model is also genuinely impressive in terms of refinement. It’s a relaxing way to travel.
There’s a dizzying list of active and passive safety features across the range, including the Driver Monitoring System (DMS) that makes sure you’ve got your eyes on the road (although it nags way too much for our liking), Speed Sign Recognition with Intelligent Speed Limiter and an airbag package that includes a first for Subaru: a front passenger seat cushion restraint.
Size is another aspect of the Outback that may surprise (in a good or bad way depending on your requirements). We tend to think of the Outback as a mid-sizey crossover wagon, but it’s actually just under 4.9 metres long. It’s technically a “Large” SUV according to industry data – one of the few models in its segment that isn’t a seven-seater.
That means a generous cabin (the largest-ever for an Outback) and a massive 522-litre boot. That chunky roof rack makes the Outback look taller than it is, but it still offers a high hip point for getting in and out (or getting the child seats in and out).
Love the quality of the interior (best Subaru cabin ever, no question) and that 11.6in portrait touch screen, not so keen on the new Outback X’s water-resistant seats.
The previous X offered the same feature, but the upholstery was more of a treated fabric that retained a nice touch-feely quality. The new one is closer to Neoprene or the faux-leather you get in a Tesla, which feels weird and gets a bit clammy in hot weather. We much prefer the entry model’s cloth, or the posh Nappa leather in the top Touring.
It might look much the same as it always has, but the Outback has made huge leaps forward in design, technology and refinement. It’s a great family machine for the city… just like large off-roaders are supposed to be.
SUBARU OUTBACK X
ENGINE: 2.5-litre horizontally opposed petrol four
GEARBOX: Continuously variable automatic (SLT) with eight-step mode, AWD
O-100KM/H: 9.6 seconds