What's the space like inside?
The Outback's exterior design is an evolution of the model it replaces, but it's sleeker and more modern. The changes in the cabin are more pronounced, with Subaru designers taking a leaf out of Tesla's book with the massive tablet-like 11.6-inch central multimedia display that dominates the dash.
The previous Outback – like most Subarus of that era – had a fussy dash layout with too many buttons and digital displays that were distracting. Now, most functions are housed in the large display, reducing the number of buttons. You'll need time to familiarise yourself with Subaru's multimedia setup, specifically, what the on-screen 'buttons' do. The new system could be more intuitive, but the navigation and graphics are ahead of all its Japanese rivals, except Mazda. Even when Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are activated, users can still access air conditioning controls and other functions within the screen without minimising the display.
Stitching on the dash is a nice touch, and the excellent Nappa leather-accented front seats provide ample upper body support.
Storage gets a big tick in the new Outback, with a ledge on the passenger side dash for devices, deep cupholders with rubber 'lifts' for smaller cups, huge bottle holders in the doors and a sizeable central storage bin with a tray. Two USB chargers and a phone nook sit under the big screen.
The new Outback is slightly longer and wider overall than its predecessor but has the same wheelbase. Some interior dimensions have increased, including front shoulder and hip room and rear legroom.
The spacious second row features slightly bucketed seats with a central fold-down armrest. There is also good bottle storage in the doors, map pockets, knee-level air vents, heated rear outboard seats and two USB outlets.
Folding the 60/40 rear seats is easy thanks to a handy lever in the cargo area or from the top of the seatbacks. With the rear seats upright, the Outback can take 522 litres of luggage (up to 10L on the old model), increasing to 1267L when folded. It's a sizable space, and the boot has handy features like a cargo blind, fold-out shopping bag hooks and a little netted cargo nook. It has a full-size spare under the boot floor as standard.
How does it drive?
Underpinning the Outback is Subaru's latest vehicle architecture that's already used for the Forester and Impreza/XV twins. The new structural frame makes for improved occupant protection and dynamics, according to Subaru.
Powering the Outback is a "90 per cent new" 2.5-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine, delivering 138kW of power and 245Nm of torque – up 9kW/10Nm over the previous model. It uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that drives all four wheels.
Acceleration from a standing start is adequate, but it is capable of overtaking when required. The engine becomes revvy when accelerating hard, but it's muted at regular speeds on urban roads, and the insulation measures keep harsh noise out of the cabin.
Like its Forester sibling, the Outback shines when it comes to ride and handling.
Subaru made significant changes to the suspension set up, and it's now one of the most comfortable riding large SUVs money can buy. A drive to and from Daylesford highlighted just how good the suspension damping is, making light work of shoddy B-roads and gliding over potholes. The high tyre sidewalls play a part too.
Challenge the Outback with some winding country roads, and you'll be rewarded with a family car that's more dynamically capable than you'd expect. Subaru's all-wheel-drive system, of course, helps. It's not quite as nimble as the Forester, but it's planted when cornering. If only it had that turbocharged 2.4-litre engine offered in other markets.
The Outback is more than capable on unsealed roads too. Even without engaging the specific off-road drive modes, there was no slipping, and traction control intervened at the appropriate time.
The steering feel is a little synthetic and heavy during parking manoeuvres, but the Outback has a surprisingly tight turning circle.
The Outback feels solid and safe on the road. And it's not just because of the lengthy standard safety gear. It's the whole package. It marks a clear step up from the model it replaces, which was a decent car, to begin with. Buyers after a diesel or more powerful six-cylinder engine might end up looking elsewhere. But it's hard to see how anyone would be disappointed with this new-gen Outback. Another strong offering from Subaru.