Subaru’s family car up for an outdoor challenge
Subaru has given its Outback crossover another midlife update together with a slew of safety items
Subaru seems to be doing a few things right with its current range of vehicles. Yes the new Impreza may now be pandering to a more mainstream audience, but the rest of the range is excellent.
The new XV, for instance, is a great proposition as it is not only built on the company’s new global platform, but has also seen a number of driver assistance safety items being offered under its EyeSight umbrella, including things such as Lane Keep Assist and a Pre-Collision Braking System.
The EyeSight system works off two stereo cameras mounted on either side of the rear view mirror, which use images to determine any impending road obstruction, whether it be a car, motorbike, bicycle or pedestrian. The latter is rather critical in our country where pedestrian road accidents are among the highest in the world and the vehicle will automatically brake should you get too close to them while driving.
As part of updates for 2018, the EyeSight safety systems have also been offered in both the Legacy sedan and the subject of this road test, the Outback crossover. We were impressed by the Legacy we road tested some months ago, even without the new safety systems and the Outback has a similar disposition to its sedan sibling as it shares most of that car’s underpinnings, but ratchets things up with even more practicality.
This is mainly due to the wagon design that sees the standard 512l boot increase to 1,801l with the rear seats folded forward. The electrically operated tailgate is also a great inclusion.
In addition to the EyeSight system and new touchscreen infotainment screen that is also in the Impreza replete with Apple CarPlay, the Outback has also been given minor cosmetic updates such as the standard 18-inch alloy wheels across the range, foldable roof rails, new front and rear scuff plates, LED headlights and a slightly spruced up front grille. They might seem like minor updates, but they work well with what is still a modern design.
On test here is the 3.6l boxer engine we also sampled in the Legacy that is good for 191kW and 350Nm through a CVT (continuously variable transmission) to all four wheels.
The added ground clearance of 213mm means the model need not be confined to city dwelling, but is perfect to explore the unbeaten track, too.
This is exactly what the family and I decided to do over the past Easter weekend. We loaded the Scooby with a baby chair and all the paraphernalia that is required by a toddler and a seven year-old. That means plenty of bits and bobs you would ordinarily struggle to cram into a family sedan. The rubberised interior and boot mats make for easy cleaning should there be spillages, which is almost a given with kids.
We took a short trip to Magaliesberg and a rustic retreat called Whispering Pines, which is located just outside of the main town. Out on the road the Outback proved to be a comfortable, consummate open-road cruiser and the adaptive cruise control made short work of traffic and keeping to the speed limit. The ride does tend to wallow slightly, but the upshot is it easily manages to dispense with potholes and rutted roads.
That engine, even in what can be considered as an old-school, normally aspirated guise, is an honest and gutsy performer with ample torque from the get-go and works a treat with the standard CVT gearbox, which for someone who has vilified this transmission in other brands, surprisingly did not mind it in this application.
While it works seamlessly around town and open-road conditions, it is when you dip three-quarters into the throttle travel that the whining, elastic feel inherent of a CVT box does come slightly undone. However, it is something that will not perturb owners as the transmission is actually quite adept outside of that condition.
Surprisingly, the engine is economical as it returned 8.8l/100km on the open road and a worst figure of 10l/100km, but you can expect about 9.2l/100km with mixed driving, which is still exceptional for a vehicle of this engine capacity and dimensions.
We then veered off the main road and onto the gravel road leading to Whispering Pines and the vehicle coped exceptionally well with dongas and ruts, showing little in the way of suspension crash. We arrived at our destination still fresh and the kids, who fell asleep, were amped up to explore the lush green lawns while the adults looked on and enjoyed a picnic.
Thereafter, we decided to head further up the farm where the all-wheel drive system provided prodigious grip and traction up some grassy slopes, while the ground clearance gave us excellent break-over angles with no scraping of the vehicle’s belly while ascending slopes. The vehicle felt it could cope with an even bigger challenge, but the exercise proved just how capable and outdoorsy the Outback is.
We reached the summit, which presented a vantage point to take in the picturesque view while the golden sun setting on the horizon proved once again just how beautiful our country is. On the descent, I decided to use the X-Mode, which activates hill descent control that made light work of the journey down the hill.
The only real issue was a temperamental TomTom-based navigation system that at times froze and refused to work, something that the company’s spokesperson said is an issue they are aware of and afflicts most vehicles in their range with the new infotainment screen. He says that a software fix from Japan will arrive in due course and customers will be able to go to their nearest dealership to have it installed, although he could not give us exact timelines of when this will be possible.
Our suggestion is to touch base with your nearest dealership should you be experiencing a similar issue in your new Impreza, XV, Legacy or Outback models.
The Outback continues to be a great proposition for those families who enjoy an active lifestyle and need a spacious, well equipped and economical family car with a penchant to go off the beaten track when required.