Subaru Outback estate (2009 – ) expert review

By Stuart Milne and Andy Goodwin, 18th October 2012

The verdict

The Subaru Outback offers impressive practicality in a rugged, yet stylish package. It’s comfortable on-road and able to tackle the rough stuff with equal aplomb.

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Expert rating:

3.8

Pros

  • Refined
  • Resilient cabin materials
  • Impressive luggage capacity

Cons

  • Vague steering
  • Tricky to read controls
  • Questionable reliability

Full Review

1. Exterior

The Subaru Outback received a facelift for the 2007 model year, gaining a front grille of Audi proportions. It retains a distinctive bonnet scoop, allowing more air into the engine, but it’s far more subtle than Subaru’s performance models. The whole package looks somewhat dated, especially when compared to new models like the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack. Saying that, the Subaru Outback certainly looks as though it could haul itself along mud-soaked lanes or across boggy fields.
Our rating: 4

2. Interior

The interior has a slightly odd ambience, being essentially workmanlike, but with a desire to be luxurious. On the plus side, the dials are clear, and have adjustable illumination from very bright to suitably dim for driving on dark country lanes. But, some of the silver interior plastics and wooden trim look plain ugly in contrast to the mainly-German competition. We’re not doubting its strength though, the Outback’s cabin feels like it should stand up to plenty of abuse.
Our rating: 3

3. Practicality

The Subaru Outback scores well here. The boot measures 1,677 litres, and there’s a low sill which flows into a flat floor, making it easy to carry awkward loads, with a maximum weight of up to 506kgs. It’s bigger than the Volvo XC70’s boot (1,600 litres), but just beaten by the Passat Alltrack (1,731 litres). As a towcar, the Subaru Outback makes even more sense, with a maximum towing weight of 1,700kgs (braked) and 1,157kgs (unbraked). There’s plenty of space for four adults on a long journey, although another could be squeezed in for shorter journeys.
Our rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

Whether you can live with this Subaru Outback’s driving dynamics depends on what you’re looking for in a car. It has a wonderfully composed ride, soaking up bumps with ease. It’s quiet too, with only the nastiest motorway surfaces causing any discomfort in the cabin. As a drivers’ car, it is left wanting. There’s the kind of play in the steering usually reserved for 4×4s, and the soft suspension encourages the front end to squeal and wash wide under faster cornering, despite the impressive levels of grip afforded by Subaru’s four-wheel drive system. Off-road, you’ll be quite amazed by the Outback. Even fitted with standard road tyres, its four-wheel drive manages to hunt out grip in very poor conditions.
Our rating: 3

5. Performance

The 2.0-litre Boxer Diesel Outback is plenty quick enough for most drivers, offering up a 9.7 second 0-62mph time, and a top speed of 120mph. Unlike some diesel engines which display initial lag when pulling away from low engine speeds, this powerplant is punchy and smooth, providing plenty of urge throughout the rev range. It develops 147bhp at 3,600, but the performance has more to do with its 258lb/ft of pulling power which reaches its peak at 1,800rpm. There’s also a 2.5-litre petrol, but as it’s slower (10.4 seconds to 62mph) and thirstier, there’s little to recommend it.
Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

The Outback is an expensive car, which like most niche vehicles, is normally subject to heavy depreciation. Choose the diesel and fuel costs are much improved over the petrol Outback, with a claimed average fuel consumption of 47.8mpg (33.6mpg for the petrol) and emissions of 155g/km of CO2 (petrol – 194g/km).
Our rating: 4

7. Reliability

Subaru has a well established reputation for building tough, solid cars, and it appears the Subaru Outback is no exception. Subaru is currently ranked eighth out of 35 manufacturers in the Reliability Index, an impressive result, which points to well engineered products.
Our rating: 4

8. Safety

The Subaru Outback hasn’t gone through the rigorous Euro NCAP crash test programme, but the car offers driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags as standard. It also features Subaru Vehicle Dynamics Control which incorporates traction and stability control.
Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

Trim levels for the Outback are S, SE and SE NavPlus. All versions get a stereo, 17-inch alloy wheels, auto lights, electric sunroof, folding door mirrors, fog lights, dual zone climate control and an electric drivers seat as standard. SE adds black leather upholstery, while SE NavPlus gets a sat-nav with reversing camera and on board computer.
Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

Big Subarus are popular with the country set, thanks to a blend of genuine ruggedness coupled with discreet looks. And now the appeal has been widened further with the new, efficient and refined diesel powerplant.
Our rating: 4

Expert review 3.8stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior3
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling3
  • Performance4
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability4
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

As a towcar, the Subaru Outback makes even more sense