The Subaru Outback has been engineered for the Kalahari desert, but in this sixth generation form, should work a bit better in the suburbs too. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Almost everything's different with this sixth generation Subaru Outback but ultimately, not much has really changed. Not even for this new era of electrification. But it's still the toughest, most capable 4x4 estate out there.
The Subaru Outback. With a history going all the way back to 1995, it was the original off-road-orientated family estate, with an image that, at the turn of the century, placed it comfortably alongside big Volvos and Land Rovers as a preferred choice for the tweed jacketed country set. In more recent times, it's been a rarer sight on our roads - something Subaru's importers would like to change, with the introduction of this much improved sixth generation version.
The Japanese brand reckons that this was the original 'Crossover' vehicle. Now this may be true but the way the market now understands 'Crossovers' (as Nissan Qashqai-like SUV-styled family hatches with little off road ability) doesn't fit the Outback's remit at all. With a core market following in wild parts of Australia, America and Asia, it has to be pretty capable in the rough - or at least pretty capable for something that remains a conventional estate car. In this sixth generation guise, launched here in mid-2021, it continues to be.
Like its predecessor, this MK6 Outback uses a 2.5-litre petrol engine (though there's no longer a diesel option). Subaru says though, that it's a very different unit now, with around 90% of its parts being different, though, somewhat surprisingly, no attempt has been made to build in the company's latest Boxer Hybrid tech that features on smaller Subarus. As before, this petrol engine has to be had paired to Lineartronic CVT auto transmission, which Subaru has now enhanced with a wider range of gear ratio coverage, so the 'box won't be swapping cogs quite so frequently. This MK6 model's use of the latest Subaru Global Platform has allowed the brand to create a much stiffer structure for the body, the front suspension and the rear subframe.
Should you ever throw this car into a corner, you should feel the benefit of that because body roll is supposed to be reduced by up to 50%. Through that corner, you might also feel the benefit of the active torque vectoring system that's now been engineered into the AWD set-up (Subaru calls it 'SAWD'). Handling performance and ride comfort have also been increased with significant improvements made to the suspension and chassis, removing vibrations from the steering system, floor, and seats.
There's also enhanced off road performance, thanks to an evolved 'X-MODE' system, with Hill Descent Control for slippery slopes. Switch between [SNOW/DIRT] mode to confidently negotiate snow, dirt, or gravel, or [D.SNOW/MUD] mode for soft conditions where lesser vehicles get stuck. The high 213mm ground clearance maximises approach, departure and ramp angles, minimising the risk of the bumpers or chassis getting damaged or stuck. This Outback also boasts a 2,000kg braked or 750kg unbraked towing capacity.
Design and Build
Existing Outback owners won't want anything radically different to what was served up before - so most will like the evolutionary redesign that features here. This sixth generation version looks more athletic than before, but retains a tough and rugged demeanour that sets it apart from less capable segment rivals like Volvo's V60 Cross Country and the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack. Prominent wheel arches surround the premium 18-inch alloy wheels that get fitted across the range.
Inside, it feels more spacious than the previous generation model. Even at the front, which benefits from the fact that the windscreen has been moved forward and the front side door windows moved out. Avoid entry-level trim and you get Subaru's latest 11.6-inch central display screen, part of a completely revamped infotainment system. Rear seat space benefits from an increase in the bodywork's total length. The luggage area, accessed via Subaru's very first hands-free powered tailgate, is larger too, rated at 561-litres and extendable to 1,822-litres with the seats 60:40-split-folded. Little touches please too, like the wider non-slip side sill steps for the front and rear doors. And the improved boot area hooks so items can be more easily secured.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £34,000 for the base 'Limited' version, rising to around £38,000 for the mid-range 'Field' model and around £39,500 for the top 'Touring' variant. All models are well equipped, with standard features like keyless entry, LED headlights with high beam assist and LED front fog lights.
Across the range, there are a variety of seats options, from Nappa leather seats for a more luxurious feel in the Outback 'Touring', to more practical and durable water-repellent synthetic leather seats in the Outback 'Field'. Both front and rear seats enjoy heating to shoulder level with three temperature settings and a heated steering wheel takes the chill out of winter journeys.
Safety kit includes the brand's next generation EyeSight Driver Assist technology, which includes quite a lot: Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering Function, 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 with expanded support for collision avoidance at junctions and crossroads. New to the range is the Driver Monitoring System, which will alert the driver when distracted or feeling fatigued. Reverse Automatic braking meanwhile, helps drivers to avoid collisions when reversing and mitigates the damage in case of collision.
Cost of Ownership
Subaru owners tend to be a well-informed bunch and they probably won't thank us for letting a few of their secrets out. The big one is residual value. The Outback has long been a big winner in that department and things have only got better in recent years.
As for running cost efficiency, well in this era of engine electrification, it's a surprise to find that nothing of that sort's included here, particularly given that the brand has developed full-Hybrid technology for its XV and Forester models. Mind you, that doesn't make those cars particularly economic, so maybe that's no great loss. All Outback variants record the same efficiency figures - 32.8mpg on the combined cycle and 193g/km. Yes, rivals will do better. No, they can't offer the same kind of all-terrain ability.
Subaru needs to reach a wider market, but there was little point in radically changing this Outback in order to find it. We're surprised that this sixth generation model doesn't feature the company's latest Boxer Hybrid tech, but we doubt whether this will bother likely customers very much. People who don't want an SUV but are looking for the toughest, most durable 4x4 estate out there. This is it.
The improvements made in drive dynamics here are welcome, but it's unlikely that many owners will really notice them. You don't choose an Outback for the pleasure of throwing it from lock to lock at speed. You choose it because it can be a luxury estate on minute, then a go-anywhere family conveyance to your mountainside weekend cottage the next. This Subaru is now slightly better at drive dynamics, interior comfort and efficiency than it was before, but rivals still do those things better. All of them though, feel rather silly next to an Outback. And that's the biggest compliment we can probably pay it.