Subaru Outback

Are the four-pot versions more worthy?

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

OUTBACK? Lately, the Japanese crossover has been about as Australian as Apple Pie. Visually challenging, with a cheap interior, ordinary dynamics and ferocious SUV rivalry, the Subaru has been outpaced.

Not any longer.

Enter the sixth-generation of the Liberty-based wagon with more palatable styling, a stronger and quieter body, and headline price drops of about 10 percent, yet with important spec upgrades.

The 129kW/235Nm 2.5i brings improved EyeSight driver-assist wizardry (including radar-based cruise control and lane-departure alert), along with idle-stop, a reversing camera, roof rails, 18in alloys and an X-Mode off-road setting with hill descent.

The engine hardly sounds like a boxer at all, and the 2.5iís CVT is calibrated to feel lively off the mark, but donít count on neck-snapping acceleration. Only when wound out at speed does it pick up pace heartily. At least the CVT isnít prone to flaring as much, while refinement levels are considerably better.

The 110kW/350Nm turbo-diesel boxer in the 2.0D has stronger performance across the spectrum and is our pick, even though the CVT fails to overcome the dieselís languid initial response.

Oz-bound Outbacks employ a unique local suspension tune, resulting in more measured and progressive Ė if somewhat numb Ė steering that remains too light, despite major modifications. The helm does feel meatier in the 2.0D and racy 3.6R range-topper though (tested in Wheels February issue).

With 213mm ground clearance and higher-than-ever seating, no Outback feels especially agile, but itís easy to control, reactive on the brakes, grippy Ė aided by 50:50 front-rear mechanical AWD with Active Torque Vectoring tech Ė and will stick to the chosen line with pleasing precision, even on gravel.

Except on smooth roads, the bigger wheels with 225/60R18 Bridgestone Duelers usher in a busy and often vocal ride; we prefer the mildly more compliant 225/65R17 tyres on the base 2.0D.

Thinner pillars, comfier seating and higher-grade materials are the standout cabin changes, with top marks for the intuitive central touchscreen, attractive dials and excellent ventilation.

Outback offers proper large-car levels of space in both rows, with the rear backrest reclinable, while a full-size spare lives beneath a cavernous 512-litre cargo area.

So Subaru has truly turned the old sowís ear into a spacious, safe and silky purse, all for less coin.

Buyers ought to like what they see, and thatís something we havenít said about an Outback for years. e e,

PLUS & MINUS

No EyeSight on 2.0D; numb steering; jittery ride; 2.5iís lethargy Value; design; space; comfort; versatility; smoothness; off-road capability

Fleet fancy

SUBARU reckons a $5000 price drop, combined with real-world versatility, 5.7L/100km economy and an 1800kg towing capacity, will help the sharper Outback 2.0D turbo-diesel lure Commodore Sportwagon and Ford Territory fleet buyers once Australian production winds down. CVT adds $2000 ($500 less than before), but note that neither Subaruís EyeSight driver-assist tech nor idle-stop are available on the diesel Outback. Curious.

And a pity.