Across various media and product forms there are occasionally cases of an unlikely oddball gaining a cult following and then reaching major commercial success. The film that cost 300 grand to make and then grossed 150 million at the box office or those rubber shoes that look ridiculous but are sold by the truckload. If this notion were translated into the car world the most title for the most unlikely success story would belong to Subaru. Once a fringe player, Subaru is now an automaker making serious sales in many markets including our own. Its Outback model has played a major role in this transformation and has now reached its fourth generation. Car and SUV had a private viewing with the new diesel powered Outback to see if it’s strictly for Subaru fans or if it has a much broader appeal.
While the Outback doesn’t depart from Subaru’s trademark symmetrical all-wheel-drive and boxer engine combination a main change comes with the inclusion of a diesel engine option for the first time. It’s not just any diesel engine either, the 2-litre unit is the first time a horizontally opposed diesel engine has been used in a passenger vehicle. It’s by no means a rough first effort and took more than a decade to fully develop. The end result is 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque that’s delivered smoothly and quietly. It’s an advanced motor that is surprisingly petrol-like and revs freely, pushing past 4500 rpm. But it does have a tendency to lag slightly lower in the rev range before the turbo kicks in and can’t match the low-rpm gusto of some competitors. That said, the Outback will hit 100kph in under 10 seconds and is brawny through the mid-range enabling worry-free open road overtaking.
Refinement and usable power make the diesel engine very handy but the fuel economy it offers could be it’s greatest virtue. Consumption is officially quoted at 6.4l/100km which is easily achievable and can go much lower with open road driving. This is very impressive for a vehicle that’s tipping the scales at over 1500kg and running an all-wheel-drive system.
Subaru’s CVT gearbox is unavailable on the diesel Outback leaving a six-speed manual the sole option at present. It does match up tightly with the engine and offers well-spaced ratios. It’s a sporty set up with a short, notchy feel to the gearstick and a firm clutch pedal. Sixth gear is very tall and allows for relaxed, low-rpm motorway cruising.
On road the Outback has a no-fuss, go anywhere attitude that translates well into urban traffic or pot-holed gravel roads and everything in between. Cornering is when the Outback makes the most of its AWD grip and even at higher speeds it shows a bitter refusal to understeer or lose stability. It has a sporty dynamic that encourages enthusiastic driving despite its high centre of gravity. The 213mm ride height allows for good suspension travel and a compliant ride that shelters occupants from uneven road surfaces. The cabin is a tranquil place with just a whisper of engine and road noise and only a small amount of wind noise is generated from the large wing mirrors.
The Outback’s interior received criticism in the third-generation model but most of those issues are now well sorted. There is good space on offer all round, with decent legroom in the back and wide comfortable front seats for driver and shotgun. Cargo space is equally practical with a 490-litre capacity with the rear seats up expanding to a massive 1,690-litres when laid flat. If that still isn’t enough the Outback’s diesel motor can haul a 1,700kg braked trailer. Small storage is handled by a large glove box, deep centre console bin and door pockets. A wide cup-holder friendly space sits between driver and passenger thanks largely to any conventional handbrake being replaced by a dash-mounted electric one. The dashboard is a mix of decent quality brushed metal and grey plastics. The centre control stack is logically laid out but appears a bit sparse on the base model without the Sat Nav function screen. There are a few class touches to take in like the blue illumination on the silver-ringed instruments and the numerous steering wheel mounted control buttons. Other standard equipment includes, 6 speaker 6-disc CD stereo, Bluetooth, tilt and rake adjustable leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control and auto headlights. The lights are particularly impressive under full beam reinforcing the Outback’s go-anywhere credentials. Overall, the Outback interior is a solid blend of comfort, space and practicality.
In terms of exterior styling the Outback won’t be winning any beauty contests, but its chunky, purposeful aesthetic remains consistent with its character. The extra width for the new model allows it an athletic stance and keeps it looking low despite its raised height. The trend of black plastic wheel arches for crossover vehicles thankfully seems dead and the Outback is well colour coded. Black plastic still features in a thick strip running around the vehicle’s base and in the integrated roof rails. Front styling is distinctive with swept-back, over-sized headlights a bold silver grille and Subaru’s signature wide bonnet-scoop. Finishing the look are 17-inch wheels shod in 225/60 Yokohama tyres.
Safety comes courtesy of various electronic aides including ABS brakes with brake-force distribution, stability and traction control. There’s also a hill-start assist function and a full compliment of airbags ready to go off.
The combination of all wheel drive and a spacious wagon will always be a good fit for many kiwi lifestyles. When you add in exceptional fuel economy and a quality interior the Outback is a truly appealing package for anyone in search of a versatile family hauler. The looks won’t be for everyone and not offering an automatic transmission may cut into the potential buyer base but for those willing to self-shift the driving experience is rewarding. The Outback offers a unique but highly competent powertrain and is keenly priced making it worth a long look for purchasers in the crossover segment.
What we like:
- Economical and flexible diesel engine
- Well put together cabin
- Refined ride quality
- Handling abilities
What we don’t like:
- Should have an auto transmission option
- Low-rpm torque lag
- Acquired-taste looks
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
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Subaru Outback D (2010) – Specifcations
Engine type Horizontally opposed Boxer Diesel 4 cylinder Valve mechanism SOHC engine
Bore x stroke mm 86 x 86
Capacity cc 1998
Compression ratio 16.1
Fuel tank capacity litres 65
Fuel requirement Diesel
Maximum power output (DIN) kW/rpm 110/3600
Maximum torque (DIN) Nm/rpm 350/1800-2400
Electronic Throttle Control system (ETC) Drive-by-wire
Fuel consumption l/100km (UN/ECE Regulation 101) combined 6.4
Emission standards Euro4 C02 emissions (UN/ECE Regulation 101) (g/km) 167
Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive
Active Torque Split Yes
Steering Electric Assist Steering
Minimum turning circle (curb to curb) m 5.5
Front suspension McPherson strut type, independent suspension
Rear suspension Self-levelling double wishbone type, independent suspension
Front brakes Ventilated disc brake
Rear brakes Solid disc brake
Brake booster type mm Tandem
ABS 4-channel, 4-sensor ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution
Wheels and Tyres
Tyre manufacturer Yokohama
Tyres (width, profile, size, load index and speed) 225/60 R17 99V
Rim size (inches) 17x7JJ