Taking the long-termer to France has become a tradition, so this farewell to the Subaru Outback is being penned from the middle of the English Channel, somewhere between Roscoff and Plymouth. Itís a tad choppy, so seasickness pills might be required. But how will we reflect on the Outback?
Itís no surprise to discover that the Subaru Outback is incredibly popular in the US and Australia, where the purchase is driven by necessity rather than desire. For some people, owning an Outback could be the difference between getting home and getting stuck. It’s not a particularly big seller in the crossover-obsessed UK, thanks partly to our topography, but also Subaruís relative lack of might in the motoring sector. A mere 3,612 Subarus were registered in the UK in 2016 (788 of them Outbacks), compared to a record 615,000 in the US. But if the Americans ëget ití, why donít the Brits? And should you buy one?
The answer to that question comes down to the aforementioned issue of necessity. If you live at the end of a rutted track, experience months of inclement weather or regularly venture off-road, the answer is a resounding yes. There’s something uniquely reassuring about Subaruís symmetrical all-wheel drive system, which somehow manages to feel mechanical in an age of electronics. However sophisticated the on-demand all-wheel drive system appears, it will always be reactive rather than proactive. Subaru, then, has the edge over many of its rivals. It also proved to be effective off-road, even if we discovered that we don’t enter the rough stuff as much as we previously thought.
It all comes back to ëneeds and wantsí. There are more people who want to own a high-riding estate car with an Audi badge than there are with a desire to own a Subaru. Itís going to get worse, too, with Mercedes-Benz and Volvo set to launch new premium wagons, even if theyíre priced significantly higher than the Outback. The V90 Cross Country kicks off at almost £40,000, while the E-Class All Terrain is likely to cost in excess of £50,000. Ouch ñ it makes the £35,000 Subaru is asking for the Outback diesel seem like a bargain.
Which, if you scratch beneath the surface, it is. The aforementioned all-wheel drive system is the undoubted highlight, but the EyeSight technology also deserves high praise, even if I wonít miss the beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep of the lane departure system. Itís also very well equipped, although the infotainment system and the lack of DAB radio and Apple CarPlay are definitive negatives, especially in this sector and at this price point. The new 2018 Outback ñ unveiled at the New York Auto Show ñ looks like a step in the right direction, with a stylish new look, improved interior and updated infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
My lasting memory of the Subaru Outback will be of a car that just gets on with its business with the minimum of fuss. Itís at its best when tackling the often wet and pitted roads of Devon, swallowing huge loads and getting its wheels dirty when pressed into off-road action. It also proved to be surprisingly adept at handling motorway runs, with wind and road noise providing the only real cause for complaint. I even grew to like the Lineartronic transmission, which is something I never thought Iíd say about a CVT gearbox.
Not that I can say the same about the fuel economy. Whilst acknowledging that the Outback spent most of its time tackling local roads, 35.5mpg isnít good, especially when Subaruís own figures claim 37.7mpg on an urban cycle. But perhaps thatís the trade-off for driving a proper all-wheel drive estate car, rather than a brand-led wannabe? Because hereís the thing ñ I like what the Outback stands for and I like the image it portrays. Will I miss it? Come the winter of 2017/18, almost certainly. Should you buy one? If you have a genuine need for an off-road estate car, absolutely. Just ask your dealer about the 2018 model before you sign on the dotted line.
Date arrived 20th October 2016
Fuel economy 37.7/53.3/46.3mpg (urban/extra urban/combined) 35.5mpg (on test)
No fuss, no frills – just a highly competent and practical estate car.
The infotainment system is a league behind what’s expected in a modern car.