Subaru Outback Lineartronic: The thinking person’s 4x4
Refined and capable, but useless for driving into walls
Oh so quiet
Both the petrol and diesel engines are tractable and refined (the diesel especially so, it's one of the quietest I've encountered) and the CVT Lineartronic transmission does a good job of not sounding or feeling like a CVT. It comes across like a traditional seven-speed automatic. There are even flappy-paddles to manually move between the seven “ratios”.
For a family 4x4 the Outback is a pretty quick car too. The 150bhp diesel can hit 124mph and get to 62 in 9.9 seconds, the 175bhp petrol 130mph and 10.2. Both engines have been tuned for low-end torque as much as power, so they always have something to give when you press the accelerator.
Seven-inch touch screen looks good and works well. Pinch-to-zoom handy for satnav
In case any of you expect me to start banging on about the inherent advantages of the boxer design, I'm not. Yes, the design allows of a lower centre of gravity, but I would be lying if I said the Outback would be any worse with a traditional four-pot under the bonnet. I'm glad Subaru does its own thing in the engine bay, but it isn't really a reason to buy one.
Lineartronic Outbacks have Subaru’s new EyeSight safety system. This is a crash-avoidance system that uses two cameras mounted ahead of the rear view mirror to look down the road and detect potential hazards. At speeds up to 31mph the system will bring the car to a stop even if you have your foot on the throttle. At speeds over 31 it will do its level best to reduce the speed of impact.
EyeSight cameras peer down the road looking for obstacles
A slight twist on the idea is that when the EyeSight system detects an obstruction and you attempt to steer around it the car will try to help you as best it can by redistributing the available torque.
If you are daft enough to park nose-up to a wall and try to drive away forward EyeSight will even keep the car stationary no matter how hard you push the throttle pedal.
I got to try all the EyeSight features on an abandoned airfield and the fact I am still here to write this means they clearly work.
The benefit of using large stereo cameras is apparently how far ahead the system can detect approaching calamity: 110 metres in reasonable visibility. And then there is the added ability to detect the brake lights of cars ahead earlier than comparable radar or camera and radar-based systems.
EyeSight tested on abandoned airbase. Outback unbent, Reg hack still alive. Result
The downside is that EyeSight can’t detect anything below one metre in height. That means that it won't see a low trailer, though it will try to stop you hitting the vehicle that is towing it. Still, these are systems designed to reduce the chance of collision and not compensate for the driver being an utter boob.
The Reg Verdict
The new Outback is the essence of Subaru. It combines drivetrain tech from the more off-roady Forester and the more on-roady STi WRX, adds massively improved levels of refinement, a much better cabin, a reasonably entertaining tarmac driving experience and bundles it all into a practical, spacious and solid five-door body.
Unless you truly do need the ultimate off-road performance of something like a Land Rover Discovery – and keep in mind that will involve parting with an extra £13,500 – then the Outback is arguably the most practical 4x4 on the market. ®