IF ANY car could be described as hardy, the Subaru Outback is it. The Japanese brand has made its name by producing vehicles that are tough and practical (you won’t win a World Rally Championship otherwise) and although the high-performance Impreza models grab much of the limelight, it is cars such as the Outback that are key.
Hardly surprising then that Subaru has updated the all-important Outback, giving the jacked-up version of the Legacy estate a refreshed exterior as well as changes to the cabin plus some mechanical upgrades.
The changes to the outside are purely aesthetic. Where the old car had grey body protection around its lower portions, the new Outback is body-coloured, with a broader colour choice too. There are also bigger fog lamps and black detailing around the headlights and, although these are modest changes, the Outback looks fresher and certainly more stylish. The standard gunmetal-finish alloys look particularly sharp in contrast with a lighter paint shade.
There are changes to the oily bits too, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic gearbox (Lineartronic in Subaru-speak) mated to the 2.0-litre “boxer” diesel engine for the first time, though there’s a manual gearbox option too. Also, the suspension has been revised to improve the handling and reduce body roll.
Inside, the Outback now has more comfortable seats and new instruments, but the overall appearance is broadly the same – so there’s good space on offer and a nicely raised driving position. There’s a fair amount of grey and black in the cabin but the amount of light coming through helps to brighten it up.
The boxer diesel fires up quickly and smoothly, the latter being one of the inherent benefits of the unusual engine configuration. Slot the transmission into D and off you go, with the CVT doing a good job of smoothing your progress. The engine sounds better than most diesels, refined and with a pleasing note from the exhaust. For a car of this size performance is respectable too: 44.8mpg and 166g/km of CO2 are on offer.
Press on a little more and while the CVT inevitably means a little bit of noise, it gets along smartly. The changes to the suspension go hand-in-hand with keen driving too, allowing the Outback to be hustled along more easily. There is a slight pay-off in respect of the ride quality, but overall the balance will suit the mix of urban and country roads that most buyers will be travelling on.
Of course, the Outback still cuts it in the rough stuff. Although it doesn’t have the ground clearance for serious off-roading, it can cross rutted fields and navigate challenging tracks that would faze a lot of “soft-roaders”, and it’s this versatility that makes it so appealing.
Attractive, practical and good to drive, the revised Outback is certainly improved over the outgoing car and should you have a particular set of requirements, it could well be just the ticket.
Car: Subaru Outback 2.0 D Lineartronic SX
Engine 2.0-litre diesel; 147bhp, 258lb/ft of torque
Performance Top speed 121mph, 0-62mph 9.7s
Economy 44.8mpg combined
CO2 emissions 166g/km