BUYERS GUIDE - SOFT-ROADERS
The Outback drifted somewhat from its off-roading roots in recent years, but the 2015 model had enhanced 4WD capability. Uppgrades were introduced in March 2016 and March 2021.
Subaru launched its fifth generation Outback with a suite of new technology, premium soft-touch interior trim and a feature-packed infotainment system with speech recognition.
The Outback shared the Liberty’s five-star rating for occupant safety from the independent Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), with a total score of 35.99 out of a maximum possible 37.
From 2015 every new Outback 2.5 and 3.6-litre variant was equipped with an EyeSight driver-assist system that can help avoid accidents or reduce impact.
The 2016 upgrade saw all petrol and diesel auto-transmission Subaru Outbacks fitted with the award-winning EyeSight driver assist system.
EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control; pre-collision braking; pre-collision steering assist; lane departure warning; front vehicle start alert and colour recognition of brake lights.
External sensor and 3D image processing mean the system can easily recognise lateral and distant vehicles, stabilising control in all speed zones and improving pedestrian pre-collision detection.
Also in 2016, vision assist features were added to Outback 2.5i Premium, 2.0D Premium and 3.6R variants, comprising: blind spot monitoring; lane change assist; auto dimming rear view mirror; high beam assist and rear cross traffic alert.
Another safety development was the addition of an emergency stop signal (ESS), which detects an emergency brake situation and flashes the hazard lights automatically, to warn following vehicles.
The front fog lights on every Outback had integrated halogen daytime running lights (DRLs) from 2016.
Pricing at launch in March 2016 was: Outback 2.5i CVT $35,990; Outback 2.5i Premium CVT $41,990 (+$500); Outback 2.0D manual $36,490 (+$1000); Outback 2.0D CVT $38,490 (+$1000); Outback 2.0D Premium manual $42,990 (+$1500); Outback 2.0D Premium CVT $44,990 (+$1500) and Outback 3.6R $48,490 (+$500). Figures in brackets are price inceases over 2015 RRPs.
Claimed fuel consumption by 2.5-litre petrol variants was down by 8.8 per cent in the combined cycle, thanks in part to fuel-saving Automatic Stop Start and an active grille shutter that aided fuel efficiency by improving aerodynamics. The 2.0-litre diesel manual was five percent more efficient in the combined cycle (3.1 per cent auto) and Outback 3.6-litre variants were 3.9 per cent more efficient in the combined cycle.
New to Outback in 2015 was the X-Mode feature that enhanced driver safety and confidence on steep hills off-road.
Outback’s more spacious cabin featured improved noise insulation, high-set seating, seat stitching, soft-touch surfaces and wider opening doors. A rear door-sill step made loading and unloading of the integrated roof crossbars easier.
The top-shelf, six-cylinder 3.6-litre engine was mated to a new-generation Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
Every new Subaru was eligible for a Capped Price Servicing program, which applies throughout the vehicle’s lifetime – not
just the three-year warranty period.
It included all items required as part of the standard scheduled service, as set out in the Maintenance Schedule of Subaru’s Warranty and Service Handbooks.
These included labour, genuine parts, factory specified oils and fluids, and even the environmental levy and supplies charge, which included items such as oil and waste recycling.
A simplified three-variant range was powered by a new direct-injection, 2.5-litre Boxer engine with power increased to 138kW and torque up to 245Nm, plus auto stop-start. As a result, towing capacity was increased to 2000kg.
The refined Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission had paddleshift control over eight-speed manual mode. The box had greater ratio coverage, up from 7.0 to 8.1, to improve lift-off ability and aid fuel efficiency.
Dual function X-Mode had set-and-forget throttle control in mud, snow and steep terrain.
A high definition 295mm (11.6-inch) infotainment system had vertical orientation and is said to simplify many controls.
A new-generation EyeSight Driver Assist system had lane centering; autonomous emergency steering; emergency lane keep assist; speed sign recognition with intelligent speed limiter; lane departure warning with steering wheel vibration; lane departure prevention and pre-collision braking system.
Subaru’s Vision Assist featured: blind spot monitor (BSM); lane change assist (LCA); rear cross traffic alert (RCTA); reverse automatic braking (RAB) and EyeSight Assist Monitor.
A passenger seat cushion airbag pushed up the front section of the seat, helping to prevent forward movement of the waist.
Outback AWD was priced from $39,990 and the $44,490 mid-range Outback AWD Sport added: water-repellent seat trim; heated front seats; heated rear outboard seats; front view monitor (FVM); side view monitor (SVM); black exterior highlights; hands-free powered tailgate with memory height function; roof rails; satellite navigation and dark metallic finish wheels.
The $47,790 Outback AWD Touring further added: nine Harman Kardon speakers, subwoofer and amplifier; CD player located in centre console box; Nappa leather-accented seat trim; electric sunroof; heated steering wheel; roof rails with integrated, stow-able cross bars and gloss finish wheels.
Ground clearance upgrade
Ironman came up with All Terrain Suspension upgrades for Subaru models in early 2021: said to be the only 50mm long-travel suspension kits available for Subarus.
Each ATS kit comes with pre-assembled coil springs and longer, strut-dampers. Also provided are parts for re-aligning subframes, anti-sway bars and exhaust hangers.
The Nitro Gas shock absorbers are claimed to offer improved travel and control over the stock suspension. The damper bodies are 54mm in diameter and nitrogen-pressurised 35mm pistons are fitted to the inner tubes.
At launch, pricing for the ATS kits started at $1847, plus fitting.
On and off road
The 2015-16 Outback looked like a re-skin job, but after spending some time in the vehicle it became apparent that it was a lot more than that. The new bodywork provided more interior space in similar overall length, because the engine bay was compressed somewhat. Front overhang was also reduced.
The revised suspension provided more interior volume in the cargo area and we were pleased to report that a full-sized alumium road wheel and road tyre graced the spare wheel well under the cargo floor.
The easy-fold, remote-trigger second-row seating was retained, but new was a foot step moulding in the rear door trim that provided good footing when loading and unloading the standard roof rails.
Our test vehicle was a Premium, two-litre diesel model, running 18-inch wheels, but we’d prefer the 17-inchers fitted to the lower-spec’ model that widen the choice of bush-suitable rubber.
Other inclusions in the Premium spec’ we wouldn’t bother with include the sunroof and the power tailgate, although the Premium’s navigation system is one of the best, having quite good bush mapping and a free mapping upgrade program for three years.
Economy was very good, averaging in the 6-7L/100km range throughout our test, but that still leaves the 60-litre tank marginal for long Outback drives. An 80-litre tank would be nice, Subaru.
The test vehicle didn’t have a towbar, but we judged the diesel’s 350Nm of torque that kicks in from around 1600rpm would be more than enough to cope with the vehicle’s 1700kg trailer rating.
The CVT transmisison felt more refined than the one in the 2014 model that was a tad jerky when cold. The new one was smooth as silk and the paddle levers allowed some driver control of engine speed and resulted in good engine braking that would be a boon when towing.
Where recent Outbacks have trended more towards road-orientation than rough-road and trail vocations it’s pleasing to report that the new model harks back to the original Subaru Outback roots. The new suspension doesn’t dip as much over trail obstacles and we didn’t ground the front spoiler once during
our trail drive.
The boxer design positions all engine-driven kit, including the turbo and alternator, on top of the engine, away fom mud and water, which is a good thing. However, the engine air intake is behind the grille and we’d rather see it in the inner mudguard.
We also found the new suspension less ‘thumpy’ on rutted gravel roads and the sharpened electric power steering gave good feedback with very little rim effort.
Subaru has added X-Mode to the Outback and it worked very well during our test. On slow downhill descents X-Mode activated hill descent control that kept speed at walking pace. No other softroader hill descent control has done that for us.
In summary, the 2015-16 model is a worthy vehicle to wear the ‘Outback’ badge. He’s back…
Model Year 2014 Outback picked up what the company’s press release called ‘rugged and aggressive styling cues that underline its impressive all-wheel
These styling changes made the vehicle look the part, but a longish front overhang and moderate approach, departure and belly angles limit the new Outback
to dirt roads and mild trails, like many of its competitors. The press kit confirmed this: ‘It offers genuine dirt road credentials and superior handling’.
Widely regarded as the original ‘crossover’ wagon, when launched in 1996, Outback remains a firm favourite in the Subaru recreational range, but Subaru’s
market research must have suggested that off-roading was a lower priority than polished on-road manners. The Outback matched any mainstream vehicle
for on-road performance, handling and refined passenger car comfort – with the added insurance of a five-star occupant safety rating.
The introduction of the diesel auto variant earlier in 2013, along with multiple technical refinements to all Outback models took handling and
steering to a new levels. All Outback 2.5i variants scored the new, more fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly FB horizontally-opposed Boxer
The MY14 Outback styling upgrades included: roof rails with integrated cross bars; side sills and cladding; wheel arch guards; front and rear under-body
protectors; front mud flaps; dark grey front grille and aluminium wheels and headlights with black backgrounds. Subaru claimed this represented more
than $2500 of additional value, for a list price increase of only $500 on each variant.
The Outback came with a full-sized aluminium spare wheel and proper tyre.
Outback’s revised All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system improved precision in torque distribution between front and back wheels, refining handling and stability.
Outback 2.5i Premium gained Subaru’s award-winning EyeSight driver assist system, in addition to a colour information display. All EyeSight-equipped
Outbacks featured front sun visor extensions, dusk-sensing headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
Pricing for 2014 ranged from $38,990 for the Outback 2.5i CVT auto to $45,990 for the Outback 2.0D Premium CVT auto. The six-cylinder Outback 3.6R
Premium auto was listed at $57,990.
On and off road
It was difficult to find fault with the Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium CVT auto test vehicle. Fit and finish inside and out
was top-shelf and engine performance and response were excellent. Economy averaged an impressive 7.4L/100km.
We’re not big fans of CVTs (continuously-variable transmissions), but the CVT installation in the Subaru worked well, with seamless gearing transition
through the rev range. However, it was hesitant after cold start up, with some initial jerking until the transmission oil circulated fully.
The test vehicle was fitted with EyeSight, forward-facing stereoscopic cameras that operated adaptive cruise control precisely. Varying the gap between
the Outback and vehicles in front was easy, allowing safe overtaking manouevres on freeways.
Seating variability allowed full use of the capacious wagon body.
Gravel road performance was class-leading and the Outback coped with mild corrugations without any suspension ‘thumping’, and ride and handling were superb.
Subaru’s rally experience certianly seems to have found its way into the Outback’s dirt road dynamics.
Our only gripe with the Outback was its somewhat limited trail ability, in comparison with its1980s Subaru predecessors. To put this in perspective, the
Outback easily managed a moderate rocky test slope that the Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Santa Fe also handled, but front overhang precluded it from following
Land Rover’s Freelander 2 over our more difficult course.
On and off road combined economy worked out at 8L/100km, which is pretty good for a 2.5-litre petrol engine. However, the Outback we’d choose is the diesel
that claims around 6-7L/100km in similar conditions. With 350Nm of torque on tap it would also be our vehicle of choice for towing.
Our summary is that the Subaru Outback is an excellent on-road and moderate trail vehicle, but we’d love to see a Subaru variant that gave the Freelander
2 some off-road competition.
Check out the 2014 Subaru Outback in our test video: