Can this butch estate car take on the SUVs?
SUVs have become a huge part of the market, but there’s still enough room for jacked-up estate cars like the E-Class All-Terrain, or the V90 Cross Country or A6 Allroad. While those are all large premium models, Subaru’s Outback is a bit more of a pared-down offering, with a choice of only two engines and one trim level which, perhaps ironically given the competition, is called SE Premium. Is it enough?
Those two engines at least do cover diesel and petrol, a 2.0-litre in the former case, a 2.5-litre in the latter. If you want the petrol choice you have to have the CVT transmission, but with the diesel you get the choice of that or a six-speed manual. The manual isn’t the slickest on the market, but the Constantly Variable Transmission does that droning, soaring revs thing so you’re left with the engine howling away, waiting for road speed to catch up.
In the diesel it shows up how rattly it gets at high revs, although lower down there is a good slug of midrange. At lower engine speeds the diesel is pretty refined, although there is some vestigial vibration through the controls. But at no point is this what you’d call a quick car, particularly with the CVT. That CVT is the only game in town for the larger petrol engine, which is part of the reason why the petrol engine feels even slower than the diesel.
Naturally the petrol engine is quieter under most conditions, and smoother too. Whichever engine, it feeds through to the all-wheel drive system which offers plenty of traction even in poor conditions. That works well with light steering that offers a nimble response in town and a consistent, confident response on main roads.
There’s quite a bit of body roll but there’s also quite a bit of traction. The suspension never really seems to settle down, so the ride quality is quite jittery, even on motorways.
However, the driver can settle because the driving seat is comfy and very adjustable. Visibility is good all round, and the dashboard is sensibly laid out. It’s a shame the seven-inch infotainment Starlink screen and system isn’t slicker, and the screen itself can be hard to read in bright light. It’s a shame too that the switchgear feels far from premium, even if it does feel robust.
But there are no arguments about space, front or rear. Driver and passengers have tons of room in every direction, and there are more than enough stowage places for essentials like cocktail flask, ice bag and a couple of limes.
The boot is considerably more capacious, suitable for an entire bar in an emergency. There’s no lip to worry about and it’s all about the same size as the boot in the new Volvo V90 Cross Country, so this is a very practical space indeed. The rear 60/40 split seats go completely flat, so if you’re in the market for a serious load-lugger then this is a good place to look.
And there’s no argument that the kit list is extensive, with the one trim, SE Premium, offering everything from climate and cruise control to LED headlights and from sat nav to heated seats. A DAB radio would be useful, but isn’t even an option.
On top of that, if you go for the CVT gearbox you’ll also get automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane assist. While that’s impressive all round, what’s less impressive are the fairly high fuel consumption and emission figures, which will put off company drivers. And an expected fairly high level of depreciation is going to hit every owner.
Given the value for money options, like the Skoda Octavia Scout, it’s hard to see the Outback as representing the best use of your money in the short or long term, while it lacks the cachet of the premium brands it’s up against.