Vince Pornelos / Kelvin Christian Go | August 06, 2018 08:15
The Not-So SUV
Growing up, we all secretly wanted cars that were far more exciting than an everyday compact car.
We wanted cars that excited us when we drove, and we didn't mind if they rode firm, sounded loud, or drank fuel like a teenager does shots. Heck, we even modified them to be that way, and that's why we like Subaru.
But eventually, priorities kick in. We get married, we have kids, we start to have more responsibilities. And at that point, something like a BRZ, a WRX, or an STI just won't do. That's where something like an Outback comes in.
Some may think the Outback is simply a sport utility vehicle by virtue of definition: a wagon with a high ride height and off-road features. But I'd argue that it isn't quite an SUV at least by convention: almost all SUVs are boxy, bulky, and upright, like boxes with wheels. The Outback isn't like that.
This Subaru looks like it wants to cut through the air, and that's because it's essentially a Legacy in wagon form, but with much more ground clearance like an SUV. Subaru never called the original Outback as an SUV; they referred to it as a sport utility wagon, and the commercials stated that with Paul Hogan was at the wheel.
If that name sounds familiar, it's because he's Mr. Crocodile Dundee himself. Hogan was shown driving the Outback, all while talking about its abilities like acceleration, handling, stability, ground clearance, and fuel economy compared to traditional truck-based SUVs. The Outback was indeed very successful; and it comes as no surprise that they followed it up with the Forester (which was a raised Impreza wagon), and later on the XV (which was a raised Impreza hatchback).
This new model continues to bank on that tried and tested sport utility wagon formula; this generation having been launched in 2014 (2015, in our market). Since this generation of the mode the wagon version of the Legacy was dropped, making the body type exclusive to the Outback albeit with 220mm of ground clearance (+70mm compared to Legacy). Despite the differentiation, its look is very much the Legacy's, albeit made more rugged with the liberal use of black plastic cladding.
There have been some design updates since it was launched a few years back. Theres a new front bumper with a redesigned skid “plate”, as well as few little bits and pieces here and there like a fresh set of alloy wheels. The updates inside are more significant, but still subtle. The dashboard is the same, but the trim pieces, accents, and center panel have been updated. The steering wheel is also new; it's more similar to the new generation Impreza.
Despite having a slightly shorter wheelbase than the Legacy, the Outback still has much of the rear legroom as the Legacy midsize saloon. The Outback, however, is still a 5 seat crossover; no options for a third row here. What you do get is a large boot, one that has a 559 liter capacity; it more than triples if you fold down the back seat.
Subarus, particularly the ones with the turbo motors, tend to have a deep rumble. The Outback, however, is different; press the ignition and that flat engine lets off a throaty growl that settles into a smooth purr. The motor that generates that nice noise is a naturally-aspirated, 3.6-liter 6-cylinder with horizontally-opposed pistons; yeah, like a Porsche. It has 260 PS available on tap, and 350 Nm of torque; it's no slouch at all. That engine is bolted onto a CVT, one that sends power to every corner of the Outback with Subaru's unique style of all-wheel drive.
If you're taking the Outback into the city, you'll really enjoy what it has to offer. The seating position is more car-like when compared to something like the Forester; you settle into the seat, not sit on it. The ride is indeed smooth, and the tires do well to keep noise on rutted concrete to a minimum.
The CVT (as with other Subarus that have the Lineartronic system) is great especially in Intelligent mode activated, offering a balance of comfort and throttle response upon initial acceleration. Though, despite the inclination of CVTs for fuel economy, there's only so much it can do for a relatively large six-cylinder motor. On my daily city route, I was getting 6.1 km/l (18 km/h average). On the highway, that improves to about 10.9 km/l (92 km/h average).
We did, however, anticipate the thirst. But what we really liked with the Outback is the addition of the EyeSight system. Modern Subarus are exceptionally safe; you won't see a Subaru come out of the showroom without things like stability control, anti-lock brakes, strong passenger safety cells, or just two airbags. EyeSight takes all that a step (or three) further.
As the name implies, EyeSight has a pair of eyes; stereo cameras that are programmed monitor everything in front of the vehicle. The Outback takes that information, integrates it with systems like drive-by-wire and more to come up with more ways to keep itself (and you) as scratch or impact-free as possible. Things like automated emergency braking (if it senses you didn't react to a potential frontal collision) and throttle retard (if you accidentally step on the gas if you're in front of a wall) are just some of the things it can do. Personally, I like the fact that I can set it to manage the throttle and follow a car in heavy stop-and-go traffic; all you have to do is steer and step on the gas to resume it.
Superb safety and excellent manners in the city are great, but to truly see what makes the Outback different, you have to drive it fast, and with a few or more turns for good measure. Set the SI Drive to Sport# (sharp, not hashtag) and you'll feel the difference instantly; the engine and transmission are far more responsive to your right foot. Accelerate hard and you'll hear that the engine is more than willing to rev. Brake hard and you'll feel the Outback squat, not nose dive.
Corner fast, and you'll realize that this is no lumbering SUV; just a taller wagon, but still with a low center of gravity and an inherent balance (thanks to the flat engine and the left-to-right symmetrical construction of the all-wheel drive system) to minimize nauseating body roll. Corner too fast, and you'll realize how good the intelligent torque vectoring of Subaru is to get you out of a crash that would have caught out any other vehicle that isn't as agile, or as smart.
Subaru, long known for their successes in rallying, took all their knowledge and heritage and applied it to every single car in their line up; the Outback included. Everything you feel was engineered to give the driver maximum confidence, regardless of whether you're driving on a dry road, on a soaked one, or even in places without pavement.
No, the Outback isn't for everyone; most people still want a true-to-form SUV or crossover, and that's fine. There are plenty of choices in the market, but the Outback is one-of-a-kind, a not-so-SUV for those with the responsibilities of a grown-up, but doesn't sacrifice the thrills and performance that can make a the weekend drive so much fun.