Subaru Outback Touring 2021 road test review

Silver Subaru Outback in nature

Tim Nicholson

Posted July 29, 2021


Tim Nicholson puts the all-new Subaru Outback SUV through its paces.

The Subaru Outback may have just been a jacked-up version of the Liberty wagon when it debuted in 1996, but it’s been an Australian favourite ever since. The new sixth-generation Outback features an evolutionary design, but it’s hiding big changes under the skin. A larger cabin, more driver-assist features and big improvements to infotainment headline the update, but is it enough of a step change to keep Subaru fans happy?  

Thumbs up

Lots of car for your money, spacious and comfortable cabin, safety gear, reliable and solid.

Thumbs down

Australians miss out on the zingy turbo-petrol engine, sensitive driver aids.

Subaru Outback side view

The latest Subaru Outback has an evolutionary design, but there are big improvements in the cabin and under the skin.


How much does a Subaru Outback cost? 

As part of the rollout of the new-generation Liberty (or Legacy as it’s known in the US) and Outback twins, Subaru has dropped the regular Liberty wagon globally, and the company’s Australian arm has ruled out the new Liberty sedan given the low take-up of medium sedans. Subaru has ditched the potent 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol and the diesel powertrain this time around. Australian buyers miss out on the more powerful 194kW 2.4-litre turbocharged engine offered in other markets. The 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine is the only engine for now.

Pricing for the three-variant range starts at $39,990 before on-road costs for the entry grade, simply dubbed the Outback – about a $2500 jump over the previous model. That climbs to $44,490 for the mid-range Sport and tops out at $47,790 for the fully-loaded Touring we tested.

There's no shortage of standard gear across the range, particularly in the Touring and nothing is missing from the Touring's specs list compared with other large SUVs. 

The Outback is a rarity in the large SUV market. It only has five seats, while almost all other models are fitted with a third seating row. It's essentially a station wagon with a higher ride height and rugged exterior styling treatments, which is not a criticism, by the way. The closest rival in terms of packaging is the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack – another jacked-up station wagon. Powered by a 162kW turbocharged petrol unit, it comes in two grades, ranging from $46,990 to $58,790. 

 


What safety features does it have? 

The 2021 Outback has acheived a 5-star ANCAP rating. It is packed with safety gear from the entry model up. Innovative features include a driver monitoring system with a distraction warning, a drowsiness warning and facial recognition. It's fitted with eight airbags and the latest version of Subaru's 'EyeSight' driver-assist system, which now features a lane centring function, emergency lane keep assist and speed sign recognition with an intelligent speed limiter. 

It's an impressive safety package on paper, but in practice, there's room for improvement. 

The lane centring isn't as smooth as systems from some competitors. It tugs at the wheel to correct itself or to ensure the vehicle is centred in the lane. It feels like you're battling with the system at times. The collision warning lights at the base of the windscreen are slightly delayed when detecting a potential crash, and the system that detects a vehicle ahead beeps every time a new car is in its path. It can be switched off, but it's annoying. The Outback's safety systems are overly sensitive and beep a lot.   

 

Subaru Outback front interior

The Subaru Outback's dash is dominated by the large 11.6-inch central multimedia display.


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 verdict

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. 

Subaru Outback Touring 2021

Pricing

List price: $47,790 before on-road costs.

Price as tested: $47,790 before on-road costs.

Model range: $39,990 to $47,790 before on-road costs.

Drivetrain

2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, continuously variable transmission, all-wheel drive.

Power: 138kW@5800rpm.

Torque: 245Nm@3400-4600rpm.

Wheels: 255/60 R18.

Fuel

RON 91 ULP, 63-litre fuel tank.

Consumption:  7.3L/100km (government test), 9.2L/100km (RACV test).

Emissions: 168g/km CO2 emissions.

Standard safety

5-star ANCAP rating, autonomous emergency braking, lane centring function, emergency lane keep assist, speed sign recognition, intelligent speed limiter, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, driver attention alert, reversing camera with washer.

Standard features

Keyless entry and start, Nappa leather-accented trim, heated steering wheel, electric sunroof, power tailgate with handsfree senor and memory function, 11.6-inch LCD multimedia display with satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. 

Warranty

Five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing schedule every 12 months/12,500km. Five-year/62,500km capped-price servicing. Twelve months roadside assistance. 

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