Subaru started fitting its cars with four-wheel-drive all the way back in 1972. The expertise it gained took the Japanese manufacturer to the pinnacle of the World Rally Championship.
Subaru dropped out of the series in 2008, so its star waned somewhat, but Subarus remain a popular choice for country dwellers.
Does the latest Outback offer them the space, solidity and all-wheel-drive ability they love?
The Outback is no beauty, but then Subarus have always lacked a certain design flair. The trademark bonnet scoop marks it out as a Subaru and the stretched wheelarches lend it a muscular stance, but there is little visual interest. Then again, the Outback has always been a very discreet car, so perhaps that’s no bad thing.
Likewise, the interior designers were more concerned with function than style. As ever it’s beautifully made, with vastly better plastics than before, but there are no real ‘surprise and delight’ features to lift it.
Subaru has cut the Outback range down to a single engine option, the 148bhp, 2.0-litre flat-four ‘Boxer’ turbo diesel unit. It’s a fine lump – smooth and reasonably torquey with 258lb/ft.
As standard, the Outback comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, but our car came with the optional continuously-variable Lineartronic auto ‘box.
Quite frankly, it doesn’t show the impressive engine off in its best light. Performance and economy are off the pace, and the combination just feels a bit lifeless.
Ride & Handling
The Outback is a big, tall car, but with its rally-bred four-wheel-drive it corners much more keenly than you would give it credit for. The electric power steering doesn’t provide much feedback, but it is direct and well weighted.
With raised suspension, 17-inch wheels and tall 60-section tyres, the ride quality is great, without compromising body control.
The Boxer diesel engine is a notably quiet one – mounted low in the nose, you’re a comparatively long way from it. Road and wind noise are well suppressed, and only the biggest jolts illicit any noise from the suspension.
Space & Practicality
The Outback is as big on the inside as it is on the outside. Its 562 litre boot is on-par with the likes of the BMW 5-Series, one size up. All but the extremely tall will have plenty of room in the back seats.
There’s only one model of Outback available, the SX, which comes reasonably well equipped with a sliding glass sunroof, dual-zone aircon, Bluetooth and USB connectivity – and a reversing camera.
If you want something even bigger (and slightly cheaper) there’s the Skoda Superb Outdoor, which is a better car but doesn’t have the Outback’s off-road ability. The same applies to the Audi A4 Allorad, but that is smaller and more expensive.
There are loads of reasons farmers love the Subaru Outback. They can hack across a muddy field, you can get a couple of stray sheep in the boot; you can throw as much abuse as possible at it and it will keep going for decades.
If you mostly drive in towns and on motorways, there are better big estates. If you live in the countryside, there aren’t really any that can match its all-road capability.
Subaru Outback 2.D SX Lineartronic
Engine: 2.0-litre flat-four turbo diesel
Gearbox: Continuously-variable automatic
Power/Torque: 148bhp; 258lb/ft
Economy/Emissions: 44.8mpg; 116g/km
0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
Top speed: 121mph