The 2015 Subaru Outback isn’t perfect. But for some people, it’s probably the perfect car. In an industry growing increasingly obsessed with image and needless trinkets, the Subaru Outback is a refreshingly honest and authentic vehicle. It won’t appeal to everyone, but like we found with Saabs in the past, that’s part of its charm.
Put it this way, if you liked the previous generation Subaru Outback, you’ll find much to love about the new version. If, on the other hand, you looked at the old version and thought no, that’s not for me, the 2015 Subaru Outback deserves a second look.
Quite clearly, buying a Subaru Outback – be it new or used – is a considered purchase. It’s not the kind of car you check out at the car supermarket and drive home after a few hours browsing. People who buy Outbacks tend to do so because they have a genuine need for its load-lugging and off-road abilities. It exists in a small, but fiercely competitive sector, occupying a space between the Volvo XC70 and Audi A4 Allroad and the likes of the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer and Skoda Octavia Scout.
In truth, the changes Subaru has made to the 2015 Outback pushes the car closer to the premium positioning of the Audi and – as far as PetrolBlog is concerned – cements its place above the XC70. Until the new Volvo arrives – which will be based on the same platform as the new XC90 – the XC70 will continue to feel like an old product.
How well the Subaru Outback does in the pint of milk test largely depends on the type of roads you use to get to the shop. On standard roads, the new Outback feels much like it did before, leaning quite heavily through bends and with steering that’s incredibly light in feel, especially at the dead-ahead. There’s also plenty of road and wind noise, not helped by the massive truck-like door mirrors.
Subaru claims to have decreased wind noise by 6 percent and road noise by 15 percent, with the former helped by relocating the mirrors further down the doors. That’s as maybe, but the soundtrack remains intrusive.
When it comes to engines, the choice is refreshingly simple. Buyers can opt for either the 2.5-litre petrol or 2.0-litre diesel, both of which have been heavily modified for the new Outback. Both units lack behind rival engines in terms of refinement, but the diesel engine’s increased torque and better towing capacity makes it the sensible choice in the UK.
Curiously, Subaru’s Lineartonic CVT transmission remains a convincing proposition in the Outback. It’s far removed from the horrors associated with the Impreza 1.6i RC and – although we didn’t get a chance to try the six-speed manual gearbox – we see no reason why buyers should avoid the CVT. Subaru has also modified the system to provide automatic transmission-style step changes. A hard press on the gas pedal will result in smooth, auto-like up shifts.
But the Subaru Outback feels at its best when you venture off-road. Helpfully, Subaru let us play on Salisbury Plain, making use of the MOD’s byways and rutted tracks. The Outback remained composed throughout, providing a real sense that it feels at home on the rough stuff. The Outback is now fitted with X-Mode – previously seen on the Forester – which essentially takes the guess work out of driving off-road. Press it and the throttle response, transmission and symmetrical all-wheel drive system are managed for you. Simple.
Goodness, the new Outback makes the old car look outdated. In a stroke, the old Outback looks frumpy and from another decade. The changes give the Outback a more confident look which is far less fussy than before.
Highlights include the new headlights, a revised front grille, large fog lights, underside protection and LED rear lights. Understandably, given the popularity of crossovers, the Outback looks more ‘crossovery’ (new word) than before.
Crucially, it looks better on the 17-inch alloy wheels – standard on the SE models – with the 18-inch rims of the SE Premium only serving to make the Outback look over-wheeled. Not only that, but the ride quality is far better on the SE model, which in itself is a good enough reason to resist the temptation to fork out the extra £3,000 for the SE Premium edition.
Subaru has rolled out a new selection of colours, including Crystal Pearl White, Lapis Blue Pearl, Platinum Grey Metallic and Tungsten Metallic. Do the right thing and order your new Outback in white. In contrasting mud-splatter effect, it works a treat.
The jacked-up premium 4×4 estate sector is small enough in itself, so don’t expect to see thousands of these things on the motorways of Britain. But you will see plenty of Subaru Outbacks in certain hotspots, such as the Cotswolds, Dartmoor, the Lake District and the North Yorkshire Moors. Places where the tremendous all-round abilities of the Outback will be called into action.
Unlike their SUV counterparts, off-road estates tend to be bought by people with a real and genuine need. And that’s a good thing.
Also, thanks to CO2 emissions ranging from 145g/km for the 2.0-litre diesel with a manual gearbox to 161g/km for the 2.5-litre petrol with the Lineartronic transmission, the Outback is unlikely to be driven by fleet and lease buyers. So you’re guaranteed a certain level of exclusivity. Besides, sales types who want to impress their peers in the Little Chef car park will inevitably opt for the Allroad…
If you intend to keep the Subaru Outback for a long period of time then yes, it is most certainly worth it. Don’t think of it as a throwaway vehicle that you’ll chop in for a newer vehicle in three years time. Think of it like the purchase of a new cottage in the country. Or a new puppy. It’s something you buy for life and – if approached in the right manner – will reward you with a lifetime of loyal service.
Prices start from £27,995 for the 2.0-litre diesel SE with a manual ‘box, rising to £32,995 for the 2.0-litre diesel SE Premium with the Lineartronic transmission. If that sounds expensive, remember prices of the Audi A4 Allroad start at £32,680. Sure, the Audi will hold its value better than the Subaru, but you shouldn’t be looking to ditch your Outback in a few years anyway.
The thing is, you don’t get a feeling of being short-changed in the Outback. Subaru has worked hard to improve the interior and it’s much, much better than it was before. Most of the plastics are of a better quality, while the instruments and displays are clear and easy to use. The 7-inch touchscreen display features smartphone-like controls and the entire centre console has the look and feel of a high-end hi-fi system. Remember those?
Subaru is also making a big deal about its new EyeSight technology – a series of safety devices, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management and pre-collision steering assist. Over dinner, Subaru told us it had been in development since 1990, so it has been a long time coming.
Of course, technology such as this is old news now, but Subaru was keen to demonstrate just how good the EyeSight tech is. That said, it has been 25 years in the making, so it ought to be impressive.
And it is. The way in which the adaptive cruise reacts to traffic and the switching of lanes is deeply impressive. And the pre-collision throttle management system – designed to avoid driving into the car in front from a stationary position – is excellent. Subaru claims the response times are improved through the use of black and white low-definition cameras and – based on the evidence – we have to say it’s a job well done.
It’s the little things that enhance the Subaru Outback’s PetrolBloggyness. When assessing the Outback’s luggage capacity – which is up from 490 to 512 litres – a member of the Subaru team showed us how neatly the tonneau cover stores away under the boot floor. Subaru had the foresight to create a neat pocket for it be stored away without impacting on the free space. Good work.
Thankfully, Subaru has resisted the urge to go overboard with soft materials on the inside. The interior still retains a feeling of robustness and of being built to last.
But the single most impressive aspect of the Subaru Outback is how well it performs off-road. The 200mm of ground clearance and X-Mode system make for effortless green-laning.
Choosing the perfect Subaru Outback for you is made easier by the fact that the EyeSight safety kit and X-mode off-road system (including hill descent) are only available on the Lineartronic models. So if you must have a manual gearbox, you’ll have to do without these. Fortunately, the CVT transmission is good, so there’s no real disadvantage.
That said, the Lineartronic does sacrifice around 4mpg and add 14g/km of CO2. But you will want the diesel for the increased torque – 350Nm, compared to the 235Nm of the petrol. Oh, it’s worth mentioning there’s no stop-start on the diesel. Subaru has no plans to add it.
As for spec, that’s for you to decide. The SE is perfectly OK and – as previously mentioned – offers greater levels of ride comfort. But the extra £3,000 for the SE Premium does add leather, an electric sunroof, keyless entry, push button start, power tailgate and a power passenger seat.
PetrolBlog is a huge fan of the 2015 Subaru Outback. It won’t be for everyone – which is part of its appeal – but there’s an unassuming honesty about the car. Some will get it. Others won’t. It comes across in the same way a Saab or Audi would in the 1980s or early 90s. An engineering rather than a marketing-led vehicle. We’ve always known Subaru has been good with the oily bits – the symmetrical all-wheel drive system and ‘Boxer’ diesel engines are prime examples. But Subaru has now caught up in terms of interior quality and gadgets.
If you decide to buy one new, good work. We’ll gladly take it off your hands in four or five years time.
In the meantime, Subaru, please hurry up and release the Levorg…