You would think that when people can’t agree on what a product is, that might be a marketing problem. Not so with the venerable Outback, an adopted favourite son of Canadian consumers. Is it a wagon? Is it an SUV? Does it matter?
Apparently not. Subaru is currently riding a wave of relative success with a majority of its products, a benefit of the years-long head start it got in the field of utility models ahead of the current craze. Ironically, though, the brand’s top-selling model in the U.S. remains… a wagon. OK, Subaru persists in calling it an SUV, but in reality we’re dealing more with a wagon in slightly high heels.
Whatever, the Outback is deeply appreciated for the comfortable cabin and drive it delivers, and even the simplicity but high quality of its interior finishing. Then of course there’s Subaru’s excellent all-wheel-drive system, the Japanese brand’s defining element and a valuable plus for Canadian motorists.
The Subaru Outback is, as we await a revised 2020 edition, still an excellent choice in 2019 for those who want a versatile, spacious ride that’s heavy on the safety features and can go almost anywhere, within reason. Crucially, this edition does nothing to incite the brand’s loyal fans to head elsewhere.
Do no harm
In terms of esthetics there’s little change for the 2019. What modifications have been made for the new edition mainly involve the technologies and a few visual tweak.
My model for the week, the Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited, gets 18-inch alloy wheels as well as directional LED headlights with projection beams, not available on the two lower models on the food chain (the 2.5i and the 2.5i Tourism).
The Dark Blue Pearl finish has made way for two new colours, the Cinnamon Brown Pearl and Abyss Blue Pearl.
Driver comfort: Priority number-one
The interior of the 2019 Outback is still as “simple” and straightforward, and still as well-conceived and constructed as always, notably thanks to the wood touches. The seats are in soft leather and are 10-way power adjustable with shape memory. Everything, clearly, is thought out with driver comfort in mind. However, you will have to go for the Limited trim or above to get the heated, telescopic and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The front passenger is not neglected either, with power adjustment for their seat. In back, the seats are heated in the Limited version, and passengers get two USB ports.
The central console features a 6.5-inch infotainment screen, which in this age of ever-growing monster screens seems almost a bit Grinch-like. Fortunately that inflates to 8 inches in the 2.5i Limited we drove. Also, Subaru has included both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility as standard functions on every trim, as well as GPS navigation.
The Limited comes with an impressive premium audio system from harmon/kardon that seduces you with 12 speakers and 576 watts. Take note that you won’t get this with the two entry-level versions.
Starting with the Outback 2.5i Tourism edition, the EyeSight safety suite is available as an option. This includes pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, sway warning, lane keep assist and forward vehicle departure alert.
Overall, the space offered inside is one of the Outback wagon-cum-utility model. The cabin is extremely roomy and the sightlines are great, plus the back-seat passengers enjoy enough legroom to make long road trips pleasant. On top of which, Subaru still manages to offer up 1,005 litres of cargo space, which grows to 2,075 litres with the back bench folded down. This is really practical, as I was able to appreciate when fitting in quantity of hockey bags one night with little fuss.
The current Outback comes with a choice of two engines. Our tester, as its designation indicates, is fitted with a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine making 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, wedded to a continuously variable transmission.
The other possibility is a 3.6R engine for the Tourism, Limited and Premier; this setup features a 3.6L 6-cylinder engine generating 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque.
Of course, Subaru symmetrical all-wheel-drive system is what’s made the Subaru name among those who want/need to drive in tougher conditions than your average trip to the mall. And of course, it’s included standard here as in all Subaru models and trims, and it’s as effective as ever in helping make driving easy when the snow falls and the road ices over. My test took place at the very end of winter, with the last bits of snow still on the ground, so I had at least some chance to confirm once more how well Subaru vehicles grip the snow in comparison with, say, my own FWD compact SUV.
Now, that does have at least some effect on fuel consumption. The official figures for the Outback are 9.4L/7.3L/100 km (city/highway); for someone like me who does most of their driving in the urban jungle this can mean some big spending at the pump. My total for the week in fact was a miserable 14L/100 km. Yes, it was almost all in the city, with some snow on the ground and coldish temperatures, but that’s still pretty bad. In fact I’m at a bit of a loss to explain the huge discrepancy with Subaru’s official numbers. A longer test drive would surely provide a more-accurate reading of how gas-guzzling this Outback is…
On the road
For starters, let me say the ride you get from the Outback is generally a very quiet one. Whether you’re in the city or cruising on the highway, the Outback is not unpleasant to drive; it’s, overall, a competent distance traveler. But competent, and not unpleasant, don’t add up to exciting. In fact the drive is like the interior of my tester: beige. To be honest, when driving the Outback in usual conditions you’ll be had-pressing to squeeze many sensations out of it. The CVT, for one, does its job competently but without much of a soul And while it weights but a relatively sprightly 1,600 kg, the Outback is not exactly nimble.
On the other hand, when you push the Outback at a series of successive curves, for example, you do see where this Subaru outdoes rivals. The vehicle stays quite stable and firmly stuck to the ground, even with that slightly elevated suspension. Steering is crisp and the AWD system combined with the tires ensure strong road grip.
Acceleration is acceptable if not pulse-raising. That AWD system sends 60% of power to the front wheels and 40% to the rear axle, and there’s nothing to complain about regarding its effectiveness.
One of the added benefits of Subaru’S AWD system is the X-Mode function, a parameter that allows the driver to head securely off-road on challenging terrain at a speed of up to 40 km/h. The system maintains a lower gear than the CVT would use on the road all while applying a little harder on the accelerator, which allows the stability control to turn the wheels at a steady, slow speed. For lovers of off-roading, this function will quickly feel indispensable.
The 2.5i Limited version sells for $36,895; add in the EyeSight package and that climbs to $38,395. The 2.5i base model goes for $29,295 or more, while the most-expensive 3.6R Limited with the 3.6L engine will run you $42,295.
While it’s not in spitting distance of perfection, Subaru’s Outback is a mature product, and it’s clear that the company has a strong understanding of what buyers want from this wagon-SUV. Those who want value for their money and a versatile, safe ride will find this model fits their requirements very well. There’s no pretense of luxury inside this model, but that doesn’t mean the cabin is not a well-conceived, well-constructed environment.
The 2019 Outback, as we await the deeper refont due for 2020, is a joy for adventure-minded families who want roominess, practicality and safety features, and who will at least occasionally take their vehicle off the road.
• Interior space and visibility
• Very comfortable cabin
• A decent distance traveler
• Standard AWD, of course
• X-Mode for the more adventurous types
We like less
• Gas gluttony
• Beige driving experience