Subaru Outback (2015-2021) Review
Practical, well built, and with off-road ability that embarrasses others. The Subaru Outback is a Land-Rover alternative without the badge
Strengths & weaknesses
- Rugged, with god off-road ability
- Advanced tech matches Mercedes
- Comfortable ride
- Thirsty petrol engine
- Feels heavy in corners
- Anonymous design
Subaru has long been established in the UK as a farmers’ favourite. Its hard-wearing interiors and off-road capabilities have won the hearts of hard-grafters who need a car of similar disposition.
And this latest Outback, updated in 2018, has been thoroughly improved in an effort to stop it being ‘just’ an utilitarian hack for the countryfied.
The estate has rugged plastic body panels and has been raised further from the ground than a conventional car, which improves its off-road ability, as it's less likely to get caught on rough ground.
Combined with advanced four-wheel-drive and an X-Mode off-road setting, the Outback is extremely effective across boggy ground and muddy ruts. Despite its conventional appearance the Subaru would leave many taller crossovers and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) behind; most of these cars are designed to look rugged but function best on tarmac.
The roof is no higher than a normal car, though, which makes it less imposing than crossovers and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), which are taller. The Outback is similar in size to the Audi A6 allroad quattro - another taller estate with four-wheel drive, but priced more like the smaller Audi A4 allroad quattro.
Its other main competitors are the Volvo V90 Cross Country, Skoda Superb Estate and the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack. Generally, it's more capable off-road than all of these cars. But the Volvo V90 is much more fashionable with its minimalist scandi design. The Skoda Superb Estate is cheaper, with a list price that starts at £23,440 in comparison to the Outback at £29,995. The price difference continues on the used market.
The only diesel Outbacks that you can buy are used. Subaru dropped the option in 2018 and now only offers a petrol engine; its rivals generally offer both.
The big 2.5-litre petrol engine has plenty of power and punchy acceleration, particularly in the sport setting, even if it's not quite as fast as an A6 allroad. Fuel economy is not great, though: our testing suggests that you can't expect much more than 28.5mpg in real-world driving on all types of roads. It's far from the official 38.7mpg figure.
Inside the new Outback is a big step up from previous offerings from the Japanese manufacturer. Up front there’s an updated dashboard media screen, offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which allow you to mirror what’s on your phone to the screen. This works really well and is simple and intuitive to use. It will allow you to use mapping apps, as well as Spotify and WhatsApp.
The switchgear is logically laid out and feels hard wearing too. And the seats (electrically adjustable, and heated) are comfortable.
Inside, the safety technology is top notch too. It's loaded with kit, including a host of safety systems. Lineartronic (automatic) cars get Subaru's EyeSight system that adds Lane Keep Assist, allowing the car to automatically steer itself back into its lane, as well as adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking.
These systems allow the car to change its speed depending on what’s going on in front of it by using two cameras to ‘see’ what's ahead. It gently lowers the speed approaching a slower car - almost as well as the latest Mercedes E-Class. Other systems, such as Kia’s, can zoom up behind the cars and then abruptly brake.
The ride comfort is good on all tarmac, but tyre noise can be intrusive. It does lean a bit more than a low-slung estate in corners (such as the BMW 5-Series estate) but only if you’re pushing it. The automatic gearbox is a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) which is easy to use and very smooth if you are gentle. Flooring it can result in a bit of a delay before picking up speed, and there is a lot of engine roar as well, but it will cruise along relatively quietly.
|Warranty||Five years/100,000 miles|
|Boot size||1848 litres|
|Tax (min to max)||£515 in the first year, £140 thereafter|
Best Subaru Outback for...
Best for Families – Subaru Outback Premium SE
From new, there are only two trim levels and one engine choice. We’d cough up the extra dosh for the top-spec car. It gets you niceties like leather and 18inch (rather than 17inch) wheels, but most importantly, it gets you better media system.
- April 2015 All new Outback is released priced from £27,995. It introduces Subaru’s EyeSight safety technology, as well as an all-new exterior design.
- April 2018 Subaru announces significant update to the Outback. Petrol engine and manual gearbox are dropped. Lane keep assist is added.
Understanding Subaru Outback names
There is only one engine from new, a 2.5-litre petrol ‘boxer’ engine. ‘Boxer’ refers to the cylinder layout. It means that they lie flat opposite each other, as opposed to conventional layouts which are vertically laid out.
Trim Premium SE
There are two trim levels – SE and SE Premium. They offer different levels of equipment: SE Premium is more expensive, but offers more equipment.
It only has one gearbox available - an automatic. It’s a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) which uses two moving cones and a rubber belt riding over them to achieve a kind of infinitely changing gear ratio.
Subaru Outback Engines
2.5-litre petrol, 2.0-litre diesel (discontinued)
When this era of Subaru Outback was first released in 2015 there were two engines available. A 2.5-litre petrol engine, and a 2.0-litre diesel engine. Both are Boxer engines, meaning the cylinders lie flat opposite each other, as opposed to conventional layouts which are vertically laid out.
The diesel engine offers up 148hp and 350NM of torque, and a useful real world economy figure of 41.1mpg with the manual gearbox. However, Subaru, like many other manufacturers, are attempting to phase out more polluting diesel engines. So the diesel was discontinued in 2018. As was the manual gearbox.
This means that if you’re buying new, you only have the petrol engine and automatic gearbox to choose. The 2.5-litre petrol engine makes 175hp and is smooth and quiet, especially once warmed up. However, in the real world it’ll conjure up 28.5mpg - not magic at all.
Subaru Outback Trims
SE, SE Premium
The Subaru Outback is available in two trim levels, keeping buyers’ options pretty simple. Even base spec cars are very well equipped though.
Equipment on the base SE includes 17in alloy wheels, black fabric seat trim, electronically controlled heated seats, 6.5 inch touchscreen, EyeSight driver assist tech, Hill Descent control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also has steering responsive headlights (headlights that move in line with the steering wheel) and a reversing camera.
Upgrading to SE Premium adds 18in alloy wheels, leather seats, a power tailgate, a larger 8 inch touchscreen, sunroof, driver’s seat memory function and 8-way adjustable passenger seat.
Subaru Outback Reliability and warranty
Subaru has an image based on rock solid dependability and no-nonsense reliability. The Outback picked up a silver award with a score of 91.18% in Driver Power 2017’s best family car category.
While the five-year 100,000 mile warranty is on par with most other cars in its class.
Used Subaru Outback
This era of Outback has been around since 2015, and despite good quality build-quality, it is hit harder by depreciation than the likes of Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW.
This does mean that there are some bargains to be had. If MPG matters to you, then the diesel is your best bet. 2016 models start at around £18,000 - about 30-40 per cent off a new one depending on spec.
Not a great deal of petrols have made their way onto the used market yet, but expect them to be had with similarly large savings.