Twenty years ago, a sticker started appearing in the back window of cars across the country.
It bore a simple slogan: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.”
Coined some years earlier by the Dog’s Trust, its simple message spoke out against a growing trend for families to buy a cute, fluffy puppy as a child’s gift, only for it to find itself abandoned once the novelty had worn off.
Over the years, the message has become distilled into the simpler “a dog is for life” but its intent remains undiminished.
Imagine if the same was true for cars.
While owning a Lamborghini might sound desperately appealing, would you really want one for the rest of your life? What if you move to the country where the roads are strewn with mud and filled with tractors? What do you do when you grow old and can’t origami yourself into it any more? Or if you buy a Labrador?
While those doggy stickers were getting slapped on every car’s rear end, Subaru quietly wheeled their latest creation onto the market, and now – twenty years later – the Outback celebrates the arrival of its fifth generation model.
We think it qualifies as a car you could own for the rest of your life.
The Outback is a car you could own for the rest of your life.
While the previous model looked like it had swallowed a puffer fish, the new Outback is more classy. It’s still recognisably an Outback, but now it’s more chiselled, particularly with the strong shoulder line that runs the length of the car, and it wears the company’s familiar hexagonal grille, flanked by aggressively-styled LED headlights.
We much prefer the black plastic body-cladding in place of the previous body-coloured stuff – it slims down the car’s outline and emphases its tough, ready-for-anything credentials. But there’s something more sporty to it, too, with a more prominent roof-spoiler and larger alloy wheels.
The interior sees more substantial changes, however, with the use of higher quality materials now lending the Outback a proper premium feel.
Most apparent, though, is the feeling of spaciousness. Subaru say they’ve moved the seats 10mm further apart, increased shoulder room by 42mm, elbow room by 43mm and hip room by 35mm. We’ll take their word for it as far as the maths are concerned, but the Outback’s cabin offers genuine all-day comfort for a family of five, with space for rear-seat passengers also increased in almost every direction.
Their dog should feel pretty comfortable, too, as there’s now 33 litres more space in the boot at 559 litres, rising to a vast 1,848 litres with the seats folded – an easy process, thanks to a pair of levers mounted in the boot walls. There’s even a 47-litre underfloor compartment to hide away a few choice goodies, a convenient space to store the cargo cover when not in use, and a smattering of hooks and tie-downs to keep it all where it should be.
We’ve been critical of some of the infotainment systems used by Subaru in the past, but the new system is pretty neat. The design reminds us of the single-sheet-of-glass look used on high-end plasma TVs, with the screen flanked by six touch-sensitive buttons, and the system offers most functions you could think of: Bluetooth connectivity, iPod and USB ports, a Starlink smartphone hook-up, and an excellent navigation function that offers clear guidance, particularly at motorway junctions. All that’s missing is DAB digital radio.
Power for all this comes from a choice of either 2.0-litre ‘boxer’ diesel with 150PS, or a 2.5-litre petrol unit with 175PS. Subaru says both engines have been substantially reworked for greater efficiency and to deliver more low-down torque, with the company claiming up to 50.4 mpg for the diesel and 40.4 mpg for the petrol.
The diesel is available with either a six-speed manual or Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT transmission, while the petrol is Lineartronic only.
We’re not fans of CVT units in general, thanks to their unfortunate habit of pegging themselves at the red-line when asked to get a move on and usually only delivering glacial acceleration in return, but Subaru’s version does at least make a decent fist of things, and even offers some credible overtaking ability to go with it.
You can flick the transmission into ‘manual’ mode and use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to cycle through seven pseudo-ratios, but the Outback is a car that prefers to take things easy and that means it’s best left in auto mode.
That’s not to say the Outback can’t be hustled along, because it can. You wouldn’t think a car with 200mm of ground clearance could handle this well, but Subaru have made substantial changes to the suspension aimed at improving turn-in and reducing body roll, and I have to say, we’re impressed with the results.
It helps that they’ve also implemented an active torque vectoring function that applies the brakes to the inside wheels during cornering to help reduce understeer, plus of course there’s Subaru’s trademark all-wheel-drive system that maintains a 60/40 front/rear split on auto models, and 50/50 on manual cars.
The new suspension also features a number of changes to improve the ride, with the Outback making the most of its long-travel suspension to absorb the worst of the bumps with ease.
Also new for this year is Subaru’s EyeSight system, although it’s only available on cars with Lineartronic transmission. It uses a pair of cameras mounted by the rear-view mirror to detect obstacles up to 110 metres ahead, and can take control of the throttle and brakes to help avoid a collision, but the system also adds functions such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.
The cruise control is quite effective, with the system applying the brakes or accelerating to match the speed of the car in front, and although it detected traffic building in front in good time, it had a habit of leaving braking later than is comfortable – an electronic chauffeur it is not. The lane departure system could be a little paranoid, too, often sounding a warning even when we were indicating, and although you can turn it off, it switches back on again when you restart the car.
Take charge of the job of driving yourself, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a comfortable, quiet, incredibly spacious, and suitably composed companion for any journey.
Prices for the new Outback start at £27,995, with all models getting LED headlights, heated seats, and satnav as standard. Premium models gain a sunroof, keyless entry, 18-inch wheels, power tailgate and leather seats for three grand more.
Pick of the bunch for us would be the entry-level diesel model – it’s a great engine, we prefer the manual transmission to the Lineartronic, and the Outback is so well equipped the top-spec Premium model doesn’t seem necessary.
And in this spec, it’s difficult to see what more you could realistically need.
A car for life, then.
|Entry-level Price||£27,995||Price as tested||£32,995|
|Engine||4-cyl diesel, 1998cc||Transmission||CVT auto|
|Power||150ps @ 3,600rpm||Torque||350Nm @ 1,600 – 2,800rpm|
|0-60||9.9 secs||Top speed||124 mph|
|Economy||46.3 mpg||CO2||145 g/km|
|Dimensions||4815 x 1840 x 1605 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1678 kg|