Is it a GOOAT? Ross Kiddie checks out the new Subaru Outback.

Price: $57,490
Engine: Four-cylinder (boxer), four-wheel-drive, 2498cc, 138kW, 245Nm. 0-100km/h, 9sec
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Fuel and economy: 7.3l/100km
Dimensions: Length, 4870mm; width, 1875mm; height, 1675mm

Overview

The GOOAT – Greatest Outback Of All Time is Subaru’s slogan for its latest generation station wagon.

It’s a kind of corny catchphrase but there’s no disputing the claim, the new Outback is surely worthy of high praise. I see it as competing squarely with European cars of similar concept.

The reason for my statement simply comes down to the quality of build in the new Outback, it is full of appointments, the controls are extensive and the layout borders on what you would get in any luxury car.

Yet the Outback hasn’t lost sight of its purpose, which is the reason why it is the vehicle of choice for recreational enthusiasts who see the model as reliable transport in and out of low grip sites.

And that is something Subaru has done well with every iteration of the Outback, it is a wagon that could easily double as any sport utility vehicle, yet it looks and functions like a station wagon should. Anyone who knows me will tell you I like station wagons and the cavernous load section is full of purpose.

The Outback will also carry five occupants in comfort on any surface, sealed, unsealed or as Subaru hints – on any goat track.

A few years ago Subaru New Zealand adopted the policy of selling all new vehicles here complete with its symmetrical four-wheel-drive system. It’s worked well for the company, and any buyer who has purchased a new Subaru will have reaped the benefits.

For one it is a complete safety system, providing grip even when you aren’t aware of it, plus there is the other benefit of travelling cross-country or off-road at will, and that’s where the Outback comes in, it lives up to its name with 213mm of ground clearance and suspension travel that deals well to uneven surfaces.

On that score, and because the evaluation car had seen some loose surface travel, I drove along the shingle  riverbank tracks and experienced a soft, controlled ride. You can certainly feel the suspension absorbing the uneven surfaces, and on a slippery, gentle incline the driveline can be felt working to keep wheelspin at bay.

Most of all, the Outback’s ability to cocoon the occupants with a sublime ride is pretty much a miracle and is testament to those who have developed the spring and damper rates. I know Subaru’s association with German shock absorber company Bilstein has paid dividends over the years, today’s Outback capitalises on that development.

There is little trade-off when cruising the highway. The soft ride could suggest on-road handling would be jeopardised, that’s not the case, even at 1675mm tall the Outback doesn’t lean awkwardly and gravitational movement is well arrested.

Much of the Outback’s overall handling prowess must be put down to the quality of the tyres. The Bridgestone Alenza’s (225/60 x 18in) are a new compound to me and, although they can’t be described as deep-treaded as you would expect for an off-road vehicle, they have a pattern that copes well on all surfaces, they are quiet and provide much information to the steering wheel.

The loading in a corner is well-weighted, the entire vehicle is fully directional. I like vehicles that give you confidence through the steering and suspension, the Outback’s front-strut/rear-double wishbone system is fully informative, the messages the driver receives are very much confidence-boosting.   

There’s also a bit of a surprise under the bonnet, Subaru has introduced an almost entirely new engine. Well the boxer design is the same as before and it’s much the same capacity – a 2.5-litre. It’s a four-cylinder unit I’ve long had an affinity for.

Developing 138kW and 245Nm, the horizontally-opposed unit is punchy and torquey, delivering with a distinctive sound that lets you know there is something special sitting up front.

Drive is directed through a continuously variable transmission, one which Subaru has constantly developed to the point where it feels much like a traditional automatic. However, it has the advantage of a direct transfer of power, there is nothing lost through the transmission. Consequently, the Outback feels sprightly, there’s no obvious feel of weight within the car, even though it comes in at 1661kg.

Acceleration is strong, the Outback will reach 100km/h from a standstill in 9sec, and it will lunge through a highway overtake (80-120km/h) in 6sec.

On the subject of figures, Subaru must be well satisfied with the fuel usage figures in the newcomer. It is listed with a 7.3l/100km combined cycle average. That’s achievable, when I took the evaluation car back to the dealership the internal readout was showing 9l/100km, that aided by a thrifty 4.7l/100km instantaneous readout at 100km/h (engine speed 1500rpm).

The new Outback is available in three variants, all with the same driveline. The series starts at $49,990, the evaluation car was the range-topping Touring at $57,490; in-between there is a $54,990 X model.

The Touring wants for nothing, it is a plush, luxury vehicle with all the trimmings for comfort and convenience. Full leather trim, paddle-shifters, clever Eyesight safety system, SI drive intelligent drive modes, Harman Kardon audio and heated and electrically adjustable seats are all fitted.

I particularly like the large central console display. It’s about as big as any I’ve seen previously in any car and it makes reading and touching the icons so very easy. The system displays are deep and comprehensive, all of these factors contributing to why I rate the Outback as a full luxury car market contender, yet it offers so much more in terms of ability.

As much as I enjoyed the Outback, the Touring model would be a little out of my reach. However, my wife has been easily convinced that the XV is the Subaru for us as we look towards retirement.

Subaru’s philosophy and direction is proving to be a winning combination, from where I sit I can say without any hesitation that interest is growing strongly, drawing people to the brand, and its fine vehicles like the Outback and its stablemates that are doing that.


- Ross Kiddie

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