A much improved interior and driving experience means the Subaru Outback remains a class act. But, with prices starting at £27,995, will it sell better than its predecessor?
Andrew Brady | January 2015
Subaru isn’t a big deal in the UK. Last year it sold just 2,800 vehicles – that’s about the same amount of cars Ford sells in a couple of days. But the message from Subaru is strong: we’re a niche brand, bought by loyal customers who want something a little unusual, and we’re growing.
A big part of that growth is Subaru’s biggest seller, the Outback crossover. This is the fifth-generation model – all-new, says the manufacturer, even if some of the changes require a close look to work out.
What’s the 2015 Subaru Outback like to drive?
Buyers get a choice of just two engines – a 2.0-litre diesel and a 2.5-litre petrol. In typical Subaru fashion they’re four-cylinder boxer engines, and neither are new – both featuring in the previous Outback. Both have been tweaked, however, with changes made to the intake, exhaust and combustion systems resulting in lower emissions and improved fuel economy.
The petrol engine is only available with the CVT automatic gearbox of its predecessor. That’s not necessarily bad news – as CVTs go, Subaru’s “Lineartronic” system is one of the best on the market. That’s faint praise, however – it does a good job of mimicking a more conventional auto ’box but it’s still more vocal than we’d like when pressed.
Despite 175hp, it’s not exactly a thrilling powertrain. Wannabe rally drivers will have to look elsewhere in Subaru’s range, but for those who want a robust, simple engine which is more than capable of cruising at motorway speeds the petrol engine will do the job.
However, around 60% of buyers in the UK are expected to go down the diesel route. That makes a lot more sense for this car – the diesel is a willing unit (if not fast, with 150hp), which works well alongside the CVT ’box. We didn’t get to try the manual on the launch, but it’s likely to prove a popular choice – particularly with the automatic commanding a £2,000 premium on diesel models.
One of the biggest revisions to the new Subaru Outback is to its handling. It’s stiffer than before – no longer is it a rolly mess through bends, and its steering is now quicker, even if it’s not exactly dripping in feedback. Ultimately, thanks to its four-wheel drive system, it’s an extremely confident and safe vehicle to thread down a variety of roads, even (or especially) when conditions are less than ideal.
It also manages to combine this safe, predictable handling with a ride that does an outstanding job of soaking up less-than-perfect road surfaces. Even on the 18-inch alloys of our test cars, the ride just couldn’t be fazed.
Should I buy a 2015 Subaru Outback?
Alongside the improved handling, Subaru’s invested a lot of time into taking the Outback’s interior up a notch. It’s still not quite up to German standards, but it feels solid and is much more pleasing to the eye than the previous model.
The problem for the Outback is that it’s not particularly cheap, nor does it have the brand image that many of its rivals have. For those who want something genuinely capable it’s a good purchase, and it’s a bit leftfield to the norm. Buy a Subaru Outback and you’re unlikely to see many others on the road – but then, you’re not exactly going to stand out, either. Although the latest generation Outback is a fairly handsome bit of kit to our eyes, Subaru’s stayed conservative with its design.
Fortunately, people don’t buy Subarus to stand out, or have the latest thing. They buy them because they have an excellent reputation for reliability. Subaru’s also trying to muscle in on Volvo’s patch, with systems like its EyeSight safety assist (which uses cameras to detect potential collisions and apply the brakes if required). It’s arguably too little too late if Subaru wants to be taken seriously as a competitor to Volvo in safety terms, but it has always had an image as a manufacturer of robust all-wheel drives.
Verdict: 2015 Subaru Outback
The Subaru Outback will make sense for a small minority of people. But Subaru’s cool with that – it’s proud of being a niche brand in the UK (compared to the US, where sales topped half a million last year). For your money you get a genuinely capable, practical all-rounder – and with competitive economy figures and a much-improved interior, perhaps we should start to take it a little more seriously.
If you don’t need off-road capability and are looking at crossovers solely from a fashion-statement point of view, you should head straight to your nearest German manufacturer showroom. But for those who want the capability to go with the lifestyle image, the Subaru Outback is a commendable choice. If a slightly leftfield one.
Rivals: 2015 Subaru Outback
- Audi A4 Allroad
- Skoda Octavia Scout
- Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer
- Volvo XC70
Despite not being a massive sector in terms of sales, a number of manufacturers now offer four-wheel drive estate crossovers. The Audi A4 Allroad is more upmarket than the Subaru Outback, but it has the pricetag to match. The Skoda Octavia Scout is probably the wisest choice of the bunch, offering good value and a refined driving experience. The Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer is also a sensible choice, while the Volvo XC70 is perhaps the Subaru’s closest rival.
Specification: 2015 Subaru Outback
Engine 2.5-litre petrol, 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Gearbox Six-speed manual, CVT automatic
Price from £27,995
Power 150 – 175hp
Torque 173 – 258lb/ft
0-62mph 9.7 – 10.2 seconds
Top speed 124mph
MPG 40.4 – 50.4mpg
CO2 145 – 161g/km