2021 Subaru Outback review: Wagon can tackle the city and country

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This vehicle has been a favourite of families with a sense of adventure and the latest version doesn’t disappoint.

Subaru’s Outback has been a rugged Aussie family favourite for more than 25 years and earlier this year a new model touched down. Part wagon, part SUV, this crossover all-wheel-drive has proper dirt road credentials allied to a much improved cabin, more technology and better safety. We tested the mid-spec Sport version.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Iain: Having a vehicle called Outback on my driveway rapidly boosts testosterone levels. I’m ready to grow a beard and go bush.

Jules: It’s masculinity on four wheels. It looks rugged and ready for adventure. It’s not quite the sleek, stylish SUV most mums wish for, though.

Iain: But think of the versatility. School run luxury, then a weekend camping holiday or trip to the snow. The Subaru Outback does the all-round thing better than anything else I can think of for less than $50,000.

Jules: What’s our version?

Iain: The Sport model, on the road for a little less than $50,000. An entry-level Outback is about $45,000 and the range-topping Touring is about $53,000, both drive-away.

Jules: Is ours called Sport because it’s more powerful with sportier suspension?

Iain: Er, no. It’s called Sport because it has dark wheels, mirrors and badges, water-repellent seat trim, black roof rails and green flashes inside and out.

Jules: Is green meant to be sporty?

Iain: It does add a dash of flair but no, it’s not a performance car.

Jules: Anyway, I like the fact it looks like a large wagon and not a giant, top-heavy SUV.

THE LIVING SPACE

Iain: Subaru’s been late getting the memo on modernising cabins, but the new Outback’s a big improvement.

Jules: A giant iPad in the centre of the dash … wow.

Iain: It’s a vertical 11.6-inch monitor helping Subaru do away with many buttons, leaving a clean dash and centre console.

Jules: But you must navigate a few menus to find what you want; audio, car settings and navigation.

Iain: It takes time to learn, but shortcut buttons help. The voice recognition didn’t have a great hit rate, but with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto it worked well.

Jules: There are still proper buttons for climate and stereo volume. Well done Subaru, it’s nice to hit those quickly.

Iain: It’s a spacious cabin with strong build quality. The seats are firm but are power-operated, heated and quite luxurious. As much as I’d love the Nappa leather in the flagship, these water repellent ones are better suited to family life.

Jules: Green stitching on the doors, dash and seats adds much-needed colour. Ambient lighting would be nice, as would wireless phone charging.

THE COMMUTE

Iain: The Outback’s classed a large SUV, but its dimensions and weight feel more user-friendly and less lumbering.

Jules: Because it’s basically a jacked-up wagon?

Iain: Maybe. You feel like you’re riding as high as a normal large SUV, but manoeuvres and parking feel easier.

Jules: Agreed. I’m surprised there aren’t more large wagons as the Outback feels less daunting than rival large SUVs. I’m a big fan.

Iain: It’s a quiet, refined cruiser too. There’s radar cruise control and automatic emergency braking among other driver aids.

Jules: It even monitors your eyes to check you’re watching the road and warns if you aren’t.

Iain: Great to stop idiots texting and driving. It told me off for talking to the kids in the rear-view mirror for too long and when looking both ways at a junction when I’d not fully stopped. A bit nannying.

THE SHOPPING

Jules: It’s easier to park than a large SUV, the parking cameras pick up the car’s front, rear and sides and it has a hands-free power tailgate. I have no grumbles here.

Iain: Well, the boot’s only 522 litres, while a Mazda CX-9 has 810L and the Kia Sorento 821L. On the positive side, the Outback has a full-size spare.

SUNDAY RUN

Jules: Despite the Sport name, it rides like an SUV, not a sportswagon.

Iain: It’s a bit bouncy at times and there’s some body roll in corners, but it’s well balanced and the steering’s responsive. I reckon it feels safe, secure and always comfy.

Jules: It blew me away when we took it off-road. In Dirt mode it climbed the rutted, dusty tracks easily and never bottomed out.

Iain: Its 213mm ground clearance helps. You won’t find low-range gearing on an Outback, but Subarus go further off-road that most expect. It didn’t even spin a wheel during our unsealed road trip.

Jules: The engine hasn’t got a lot of guts.

Iain: Subaru says the 2.5-litre four-cylinder is 90 per cent new, but it has only 7 per cent more power than before.

THE FAMILY

Jules: The rear seats are heated and they recline. Snow fields here we come!

Iain: It’s not a seven-seater but that means excellent rear space.

Jules: Safety’s a huge drawcard and that sub-$50,000 price is good value.

Iain: Servicing will sting at almost $2500 for five years, but we returned a fair 8.2L/100km.

THE VERDICT

Jules: I’d prefer sleeker styling, but the Outback’s a remarkable all-rounder at a good price.

Iain: It’s an excellent offering, with good value, strong off-road chops, a comfortable cabin and impressive tech.

SUBARU OUTBACK SPORT VITALS

Price: About $49,400 drive-away

Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unlimited km; $2449 for 5 years

Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cyl petrol, 138kW/245Nm

Safety: 8 airbags, auto emergency braking, blind-spot and lane-keep assist, radar cruise, rear cross-traffic alert

Thirst: 7.3L/100km

Spare: Full-size

Boot: 522L

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