Why this could be the safest car on the road

 

 

Safety was a priority for Subaru engineers tasked with creating a new Outback.

The new model is loaded with all-wheel-drive, sophisticated driver aids and a new type of airbag hidden within the passenger seat.

It even has cameras to keep an eye on you and make sure you aren't distracted.

But Subaru played it too safe in other areas.

Conservative styling makes it hard to distinguish the new car from its predecessor, and the latest in a line of underwhelming Subaru engines compromises its appeal.

Subaru hasn’t messed with the Outback’s looks.
Subaru hasn’t messed with the Outback’s looks.

Priced from $39,990 plus on-road costs (about $44,000 drive-away) the new Outback is central to a simplified range. The mid-sized Liberty is no longer available here, nor are diesel or six-cylinder versions of the Outback.

But you do get a decent list of standard equipment including 18-inch wheels with a full-size spare, adaptive LED headlights, two-zone climate control, smart keys and more.

A beautiful portrait-style 11.6-inch infotainment screen brings Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, while USB outlets in the front and rear keep passengers happy.

You also get Subaru's EyeSight safety tech including auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and more.

The Outback is loaded to the brim with safety features.
The Outback is loaded to the brim with safety features.

An extra $4500 brings a sport pack with black exterior highlights, sat nav, a powered tailgate, seat heating and nifty water-repellent cabin trim with green stitching.

The Outback Touring tops the range at $47,790 plus on-road costs, adding luxuries such as a heated steering wheel, leather trim, reverse auto braking, a nine-speaker stereo, powered sunroof and silver exterior highlights.

We tested the top-end version, coming away impressed with its spacious cabin and rock-solid build quality. There is plenty of room for adults in the front and back, soft-touch materials exude quality and the new infotainment screen is a big step beyond previous offerings.

A clever facial recognition system automatically adopts the driver's seat and mirrors to saved preferences.

A massive tablet-style screen dominates the dash.
A massive tablet-style screen dominates the dash.

Conventional dashboard dials flanking a small digital readout feel dated in 2021, when much cheaper models come with a wide-screen cockpit as standard.

We'll also warn sensitive customers that Subaru's speed camera warning, driver monitoring and lane-keeping assistance systems offer annoyance as well as assistance.

But the toughest part to swallow is under the bonnet. While American customers get a lusty turbocharged engine, Subaru Australia makes do with an asthmatic 2.5-litre engine that serves up 138kW and 245Nm.

Those are skinny figures made worse by the need to rev the engine hard to deliver its best. Off-the-mark performance isn't helped by the lethargic response to throttle inputs from its CVT automatic.

The engine and transmission are a bit underdone.
The engine and transmission are a bit underdone.

It sounds coarse when revved and feels sluggish with one passenger on board - we wouldn't recommend testing a claimed two-tonne maximum towing payload. On our test we averaged 9.2L/100km, well above Subaru's 7.3L/100km claim.

Capped price servicing averaging about $500 per year isn't cheap, either.

But the Outback gets a lot right.

Subaru's benchmark all-wheel-drive system offers excellent traction on loose surfaces and generous ground clearance will take it further off-road than SUV pretenders. We went exploring on gravel roads and came away impressed by its poise on dirt.

Standard all-wheel drive means the Outback won’t mind a bit of the rough stuff.
Standard all-wheel drive means the Outback won’t mind a bit of the rough stuff.

The Outback's suspension is also well tuned, with a comfortable ride that calls into question the "locally tuned for Australian tastes" claims loudly trumpeted by rival brands. Yes, there's a little bit of pitch and roll on twisty roads, but it's an acceptable price to pay for passenger comfort.

And there's a weighty solidarity to the steering and brake responses, reinforcing the suspicion that it will never let you down.

 

VERDICT 3.5/5

Safe, comfortable and loaded with equipment, the new Outback is an excellent argument against high-riding SUVs. One that deserves a much better engine and transmission.

 

SUBARU OUTBACK VITALS

Price: From $39,990 plus on-road costs

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

Warranty/servicing: 5-year/unlimited km, about $2450 for 5 years

Safety: Not yet rated, 8 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert.

Cargo: 522 litres

Spare: Full-size

 

Originally published as Why this could be the safest car on the road


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