2021 Subaru Outback range review & buyer's guide | Auto Expert John Cadogan

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New Subaru Outback - the sixth generation of what began as a mad experiment with the Liberty wagon in 1994 - I’m at the end of a week in the poverty pack 2021 Outback, and about to swap to the high-spec Outback Touring. What’s it really like, and is it a contender for you? Here’s my initial assessment.

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So, I’m being facetious referring to this car as ‘poverty’ in any way. It’s simply a piece of insider slang - the entry-level model always called the ‘poverty pack’. This is anything but.

Poverty Outback gets the big centre screen (11.6 inches - portrait orientation, too - bucking that ‘landscape’ trend). Plus, virtually all the safety systems are standard - which, admittedly, are a bit intrusive at times. Nature of the beast.

Poverty Outback is, essentially, fully-loaded on safety - including driver monitoring and autonomous emergency steering. This is one area where Outback really delivers across the range.

LED lighting too - like, LED headlamps, turn signals and daytime running lights, even in ‘poverty class’. Respect to Subaru for packing all that in, for the basic price, and remaining competitive.

2000 kilos of braked towing capacity, CVT’s got manual mode. Plus, 213mm of ground clearance, so Outback has some legitimate off-road ability.

Senior executive Subaru dudes say the engine is 90 per cent new - but I’m on the fence about this engine. Like, it’s still 2.5 litres and atmo, and a boxer, and I’m sure it’s perfectly adequate for 90 per cent of Outback owners.

It’s refined, but mediocre … adequate - meaning it’s exactly what a lot of people need/want. Speaking personally, however, I’m not one of those people. I’ll take ‘more’. I did take more. I’ve owned two WRXs and a Forester XT: all awesome, trouble-free cars.

It is, therefore, a deadset shame in my view that they do not make the 2.4 turbo petrol engine available here, as it is in ‘Murica. That’s a real step backwards - they dropped the 3.6, and didn’t replace it with anything punchy or otherwise inspirational.

On balance, I’d suggest Outback is a net evolution for Subaru - long awaited, but a proper step forward, in most respects. Subaru does have its bolted on fans. They don’t shop around. The Symmetrical AWD and the awesome customer care - it certainly builds loyalty.

Outback has a lot of appeal - especially if you are in Club Conservative. Nothing wrong with that.

But the passion deficit is a thing. It kills brands. Just look at Honda and Nissan - both having near-death experiences today. I think some other brands - like Hyundai and Kia - are taking the fight to Subaru, and their incremental evolution is proceeding at a faster rate than Subaru’s.

You know that expression: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’? I think Subaru needs to channel its inner product planning Ghandi, and reverse the tide on passion - if only to protect the terrain it has fought so hard to occupy today.

Outback is a really good SUV. The value proposition is solid. And the company is awesome at customer care. And I don’t say that about every vehicle, as you know. In fact, Outback is the right SUV for a great many people … it’s just unfortunately not quite as good as it otherwise might have been.
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