Some years ago Subaru
handed myself and a colleague the keys for a Subaru Forester at Heathrow Airport and told us to drive to Geneva. It was a trip that earned a new respect for the Forester which, even in those days, looked a tad dated and in need of an interior makeover.
Perhaps that was what was wrong with my encounter with the Subaru Outback. I should have driven it over a few snowy Alps, to prove its four-wheel-drive prowess, before starting to form my opinion.
The reality was that I picked up the keys from a man at a bus stop. No, really, I did. There was not a drop of white stuff on the roads and the only mountain I had to climb was just over 100 metres.
In these circumstances, instead of concentrating on the Outbacks ability, my first impressions were formed by the rather nondescript, uninspiring exterior and an interior. Sitting there I had feeling that I had actually travelled, not in an Outback but in Dr Who’s Tardis and was actually back in the 1980s or early 90s.
The interior was dominated by hard plastics, occasionally relieved by equally plasticky silver highlights. No, cabin ambience has never been a Subaru strong point. The rather unsophisticated looks are not helped by the square after-market style Pioneer sat-nav and in-car entertainment unit, with its garish graphics.
Starting off with these first impressions, the Outback was already on the back foot. It was down to the car’s driving ability to win me over.
The test car was the Subaru Outback 2.0D SE Navplus. As the name suggests the power unit is diesel. But being Subaru this is no ordinary diesel – it stays true to Subaru’s ‘boxer’ heritage by having the cylinders horizontally opposed. One of the benefits of this layout is that it keep the weight of the engine low, which Subaru point out, lowers the car’s centre of gravity.
It’s a notably quiet diesel engine and, possibly as a result of this low mechanical noise level, it did seem as though road noise was relatively high at times.
The two-litre boxer diesel puts out 150 bhp and, certainly, it feels responsive with a good continuous surge of power. The 0-62 mph time is 9.7 seconds which is actually quicker than all but the range-topping 3.6-litre petrol engine. Top speed is quoted at 120 mph. The combined fuel consumption figure is 44.1 mpg, while the CO2 emissions are 167 g/km, putting this Outback into band H for UK road tax.
I also found the Outback handles well with good turn-in and a reassuringly tenacious grip on the tarmac.
However, it did seem that the controls – steering, gearchange and pedals – could be better tuned to work together. The gearchange, in particular, was not my friend and, as a result, driving was not the smooth, fluid experience it should be.
So, the Subaru Outback 2.0D SE is clearly a competent car that will cope with all manner of difficult driving conditions. With Subaru’s tough and reliable reputation, that is a formula that will appeal to many.
For me, however, the price tag of £28,070 (without the sat-nav) means that there are other, rather more appealing options, in that price bracket. Which is a bit surprising, considering I am quite a fan of the Subaru Legacy on which the Outback is based.