Station wagons are big business in Europe and the United States, but in South Africa have become an endangered species due to the popularity of SUVs and crossovers. It’s understandable of course – SUVs do allow for more adventurous lifestyle activities, but ultimately it has to be said that status plays a big role as well.
Still, the lack of sales volumes hasn’t deterred a few manufacturers, most notably Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Subaru, from offering their latest wares in South Africa. In general most of them are in agreement that to achieve even a modicum of success, a degree of crossover appeal is needed. That is why the only Audi Avant on offer is the SUV-themed Allroad, and why the only large Volvo wagon on sale at present is the XC70. Subaru has gone a similar route, by only offering the high-riding Outback in South Africa and not the Legacy wagon.
The unit reviewed here is powered by the brand’s 2.0-litre turbodiesel boxer four, and priced at a fairly heady R529 000, which pitches it directly against not only the A4 Allroad 2.0 TDI and Volvo XC70 D5, but also a host of crossovers and proper SUVs. It faces a stiff challenge…
Focus on practicalityNow in its fifth incarnation, the Outback looks better than ever before, with upmarket detailing that includes striking two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels and LED detailing in the headlamps. Awkward design has often been a sale-inhibiting factor on previous-generation Outbacks, but with this new model Subaru certainly appears to have addressed that issue.
Practicality remains arguably the Outback’s greatest attribute. This new model’s body is 20 mm wider than before and the base of the windscreen has been moved forward by 50 mm. The result is more hip and shoulder room all-round, and improved leg-room at the rear. Even the boot is bigger – from 490 to 512-litres. Nifty levers mounted in the sidewalls of the luggage compartment allow you to collapse the rear seats, resulting in a completely flat floor and vast space for bulky items.
Another welcome feature is the roof-rail system. Featuring adjustable rails that can swing across the roof, the design negates the need to purchase pricey optional roof bars.
Feature-packed cabinSubaru has worked hard to give the Outback a more premium ambience and it shows. The quality of the materials is all top-notch and the fit and finish first-class. The leather-upholstered seats offer excellent long-distance comfort, yet also provide good support.
There is also no shortage of luxury car features, with dual-zone climate control, cruise control, electric sunroof, heated front seats, touch-screen infotainment system (with voice control), 12-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system, and an automated tailgate all being included in the price. No navigation is offered (yet), but Subaru is working on a solution.
On the road (and off)Benefitting from not only a stiffer superstructure and completely revised steering and suspension, the Outback’s on-road behaviour is hard to fault. It is a lovely cruiser, with a quiet cabin and relaxed ride. The 110 kW/350 Nm engine – slightly gruff at idle and initial pull-away – is also quiet at cruising speeds. It will take some concentration to match Subaru’s claimed consumption figure of 6.6L/100km, however, with a more realistic figure being around the 8.0L/100km mark.
Still, that’s pretty good for such a large, heavy and all-wheel driven station wagon. CVTs (continuously variable transmissions) usually come in for criticism regarding a lack of responsiveness and the trademark drone that are a result of their fitment, but the Lineartronic CVT in the Outback is a good one. It offers six “gears” and can be manipulated using paddles behind the steering wheel.
Head into the rough and the Subaru Outback continues to impress. It boasts a good 213 mm ground clearance as well as the X-mode feature, which fine-tunes the various driving systems for better performance in low-grip conditions. The symmetrical all-wheel drive system gives the Outback outstanding gravel road performance. While the Subaru Outback is no Fortuner in the rough, it will take most families as far as they want to go.
Conclusion and SummaryThe latest Subaru Outback is an impressive offering that brings premium finishes, outstanding practicality and impressive gravel-road ability to the station wagon mix. It really is a vehicle that is very hard to fault… The South African public may continue to rather buy Toyota Fortuners, BMW X3s and the like, but for the thinking (active) family man the Outback rates as an attractive alternative that comes with only one major headache – potential resale value.
Subaru Outback Price in South AfricaWe tested the Subaru Outback 2.0 Diesel Lineartronic CVT which retails for R529 000. The Outback comes with a three-year/100 000km warranty and three-year/60 000km maintenance plan.
Second OpinionI was suitably impressed with the new Subaru Outback and it seems to be its best model on offer currently. It's classy inside and very comfortable out on the road, the only fault that was noticeable was the rough diesel sound at idle and pull-off speeds. The price will be a sticking point no doubt as well. - Ashley Oldfield
We Like: Practicality, Comfort, Quality, multi-purpose appeal
We don’t Like: Lack of navigation, Price
Also consider: Audi A4 Allroad 2.0 TDI, Volvo XC70 D5 AWD, Volvo XC60 D4
See a comparison between the Subaru Outback, Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70 here.