When it was launched two decades ago Subaru Outback was at the forefront of the steady rise in popularity of car based SUVs.

For most of this boom period Outback has been a consistent but unspectacular sales performer which, despite Subaru’s clever mechanical engineering, was overlooked for taller, more stylish and cheaper competitors.

All that changed with the arrival of the latest, fifth-generation, model in December 2014. Price cuts of between $2000 and $10,000 were the hook that got potential buyers into the Subaru showrooms where they were presented with a significantly improved vehicle in terms of size, styling and interior quality

The impact was immediate and spectacular with sales increasing by more than 400 per cent over the previous (admittedly poor) year to just under 11,000 sales. The year was then capped off with the Outback 2.5i Premium taking out the Best AWD SUV under $50,000 category in the 2015 Australia’s Best Cars Awards; although it did so by tipping out its Forester stablemate.

Despite some minor price increases a February 2016 upgrade has accelerated sales even further with a number of new safety and convenience features including an upgraded version of the Subaru EyeSight system and a new Vision Assist feature in all but the entry-level model.

Engine size identifies the five Outback variants: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.0D, 2.0D Premium and 3.6R.


Outback comes with the choice of three horizontally-opposed engines – a 2.5-litre four-cylinder and 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol, and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel. Power and torque peaks are 129 kW and 235 Nm (2.5i); 191 kW and 350 Nm (3.6R); and 110 kW and 350 Nm (2.0D). Top torque comes in at 4000 rpm, 4400 rpm and 1800-2800 rpm respectively.

All models come with continuously variable transmission with a seven-ratio manual override available via steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters.

The 2.0D and 2.0D Premier diesel models get the option of six-speed manual.

Although Outback doesn’t have the extra height of the typical SUV there’s plenty of headroom, even with a sunroof, and the interior is spacious and comfortable with room for five adults. Seats are large and supportive with eight-way front seat power adjustment in the Premium and 3.6R.

There’s good visibility all round once you get used to the distraction of the large Subaru’s EyeSight box at the top of the windscreen. That’s not a criticism, it’s a potential life-saver so needs to be there. Hopefully it will be compressed in size in future.

Maximum cargo area volume ranges from 512 litres with the rear seatbacks in place to 1801 litres with them folded. Spare wheels are full-sized – 17-inch in the 2.0D, 18-inch in all other models. All models have an automatic boot release button on the key fob.


Equipment levels are high with all Outback variants getting collision avoidance features such as Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system comprising ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist; Electronic Stability Control; Traction Control with Limited Slip device; and Active Torque Vectoring System. Halogen daytime running lights, Hill Hold, electronic parking brake and reversing camera are also standard across the range.

New with the 2016 upgrade for the two Premium variants and the 3.6R are Vision Assist features including Blind Spot Monitoring; Lane Change Assist; High Beam Assist; auto-dimming rear view mirror; and our favourite, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which sounds an alert when another vehicle is approaching when reversing out of a parking space.

If these avoidance measures fail to prevent a crash there are collision protection features including seven airbags; whiplash reduction seats; safety pedals; and Isofix child seat anchor points on the outer rear seats.

Information display on the lower-spec 2.5i and 2.0D is through a 6.2-inch touchscreen with the Premium and 3.6R moving up to a 7-inch screen to incorporate the standard satellite navigation in those models. Bluetooth phone and audio is standard across the range as are voice command recognition, and Aux and USB sockets (one in the 2.5i and 2.0D, two in the others) in the front centre console.

Premium and 3.6R models are Pandora compatible while the 3.6R gets an enhanced 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.

We were able to do back-to-back tests on the automatic Outback 2.5i ($35,990) and 3.6R ($48,490) models. There’s a real feeling of quality and luxury across the range in this fifth-gen model that has been absent in previous models.

On the road Outback is noticeably more car-like than its SUV rivals. Steering is light and precise for urban driving while the suspension is firm enough for rough rural roads but without compromising cruising comfort. With its lower body corners can be approached with more confidence.

We found performance from the four-cylinder more than enough for our typical urban and motorway needs. The 3.6-litre six clearly offers more performance but we couldn’t justify the extra $12,500 and around 35 per cent extra fuel consumption. On our tests we averaged around 8.2 L/100 km in the 2.5i (listed at 7.3 L/100) and 10.6 in the 3.6R (9.9).

While the majority of Outbacks spend most of their time in the harsh world of suburban shopping centres and family transport it also appeals to those who want the extra traction of all-wheel drive together with higher ground clearance; bigger wheels and tyres; tougher body and suspension; and extra towing capacity (1500 kg to 1800 kg).

With the end of local production of family sized passenger cars in sight Subaru Outback is standing very prominently in the identity parade of possible replacements. It shares many of the benefits of an SUV, including interior space and all-wheel drive but retains the comfort and driving dynamics of the outgoing Holden, Ford and Toyota passenger cars.

With Outback’s booming sales it looks like many buyers have already made the switch.


2.5i 2.5-litre petrol five-door wagon: $35,990 (CVT) 2.5i Premium 2.5-litre petrol five-door wagon: $41,990 (CVT) 2.0D 2.0-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $36,490 (manual), $38,490 (CVT) 2.0D Premium 2.0-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $42,990 (manual), $44,990 (CVT) 3.6R 3.6-litre petrol five-door wagon: $48,490 (CVT)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Subaru dealer for drive-away prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Subaru Outback 3.6R 3.6-litre petrol five-door wagon)

Capacity: 3.630 litres
Configuration: Six cylinders horizontally-opposed
Maximum power: 191 kW @ 6000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 350 Nm @ 4400 rpm
Fuel Type: Premium unleaded
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 9.9 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 230 g/km

Continuously variable automatic

Length: 4815 mm
Wheelbase: 2745 mm
Width: 1840 mm
Height: 1675 mm
Turning Circle: 11.0 metres
Kerb Mass: 1702 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 60 litres

Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Ventilated disc

Three years / 100,000 km

About Alistair Kennedy

Alistair Kennedy is Automotive News Service and Marque Publishing's business manager and the company's jack-of-all-trades. An accountant by profession, he designs the Marque range of motoring book titles, operates the company's motoring bookshop on the NSW Central Coast and the associated web site, as well as its huge digital and hard copy database. Whenever we can escape from the office he does so to cover new vehicle releases and contributes news stories. Alistair's other interests include cricket and family history on which he has written three books.
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