Given the popularity of SUVs and crossovers, youíd be forgiven for thinking the off-road estate car was outmoded and out of touch. The reality is anything but, with Mercedes-Benz and Volvo recently unveiling all-new four-wheel drive wagons in the shape of the E-Class All Terrain and V90 Cross Country respectively. In 2016, Audi launched a new A4 allroad, while the likes of Skoda, SEAT and Volkswagen offer a jacked-up estate for when the going gets slightly tougher. Then, of course, thereís the latest long-termer to join the Diesel Car fleet: the Subaru Outback.
Itís hardly new ñ the current Outback emerged from the undergrowth in April 2015 ñ but weíre keen to find out if it remains relevant in light of renewed competition from Germany and Sweden. Boldly, Subaru claims that the original Outback ñ launched in 1995 ñ was the worldís first crossover. Whether or not this is true depends on your definition of a crossover, but it would be fair to say that the Subaru Leone 4WD ñ launched in 1972 ñ was the worldís first four-wheel drive wagon. The Outback has great parentage and stems from a formidable family tree, then.
Of course, six months spent touring the manicured front lawns of suburbia and tackling the odd airport run wouldnít represent the toughest of tests for the Outback. Which is where our rural life in Devon comes in. With a handful of horses, two-dozen chickens, five goats, plus a cat and a dog, we certainly have the animals to justify an all-wheel drive wagon. Throw into the mix a bit of land, a few farm tracks, two children fond of the great outdoors, plus the standard Dartmoor weather, and you have all the necessary ingredients to give the Subaru Outback a proper winter workout.
Buy an off-road estate car with a German badge and youíll be greeted with a list of options longer than the queue for a free coffee in Waitrose. Things are slightly different when you enter a Subaru showroom, as youíre limited to a choice of three Outback models: a 2.0-litre diesel with a manual gearbox, a 2.0-litre diesel with Subaruís Lineartronic CVT transmission, along with a 2.5-litre petrol. Thereís a single trim level available in the UK now: the bells and whistles SE Premium, which means you wonít have to spend an age deciding which option boxes to tick. How refreshing.
Opting for the Lineartronic transmission, as we have here, means you get a little more for your money than you do in the manual version. Our car benefits from the EyeSight collision avoidance system, a five-inch full-colour LCD screen, rather than the smaller 3.5-inch unit, along with paddle shifters and X-Mode with hill descent control. In theory, this off-road mode should ensure the Outback is even more capable when the going gets really challenging. More on this over the coming months.
First impressions are positive. It helps that its arrival coincided with some changeable weather, going someway to justifying life with Subaruís acclaimed symmetrical all-wheel drive system. After six months with an Audi A4, itís fair to say that the interior feels like a bit of a downgrade, but as weíve said on these pages in the past, it certainly feels built to last and fit for purpose. Besides, at £32,995, the Outback undercuts the A4 allroad by £3,000 and the A6 allroad by a massive £13,500. And thatís before you add a few must-have options to the mix. As for the Outback, it comes pre-loaded with an electrically operated tailgate, keyless entry, voice recognition, rear camera, dual USB ports, powered tilt and slide sunroof, Mirrorlink and 18-inch alloy wheels.
With 1,200 miles already clocked up under my care, the Outback has returned 37.1mpg, around 9mpg short of the official figure. Given the fact that the engine is still tight and the car has been thrust straight into rural duties, that doesnít seem too bad to me. With any luck, it might even improve over the coming months. Hereís to a muddy 2017.
Date arrived: 20th October 2016
Mileage to date: 2,949
Fuel consumption: 46.3mpg (combined) 37.1mpg (on test)
Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system: the perfect system for a Dartmoor winter?
The interior quality remains Subaru’s weak point, especially given the nature of the opposition.