12 Feb 2014

2014 Subaru Outback Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the Subaru Outback 2.0D SX Lineartronic

2014 Subaru Outback

Way back in 1994 Subaru released the Outback.  It was an offshoot of the Legacy estate with increased ride height and chunky, plastic body panels.  It looked good but was something of an oddity.  It did, however, create a new niche which the Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70 soon joined.

Then in 1998 the Legacy was revised and a new version of the Outback was launched.  It had a 2.5 litre flat-4 engine, a greater range of colours of panels and bodywork, a twin sunroof, frameless windows, had a hard-wearing but comfortable interior, permanent four wheel drive and 184mm of ground clearance.

I loved that Outback so much I bought one.  Purchased in 2004 it was a 2001 model with automatic transmission, red paint and gold panels.  That might sound a horrid colour combination but it worked well.  Take a look, there's a photo at the bottom of the article.

A few years later I bought another Outback.  There are very few cars I've owned which I look back on wistfully but the Outback is one.  It was a fantastic do-anything car which was comfortable, could off-road, cruise and even handled well.

Clarkson even called it 'the perfect car'.

In 2003 the Legacy was revised again and thus a new Outback was borne.  It was more modern and better, but some of the lustre of the Outback name had been lost.  It didn't look quite so individual.

In 2009 the latest Outback was launched.  It has recently been upgraded.  This was my test car.  It has a lot to live up to.

Gone are the different coloured body panels, gone is the twin-sunroof, gone are the frameless windows and gone, in this version, is the flat-four petrol. It was painted white.

The test car had a 2-litre, flat-4 diesel engine mated to a CVT gearbox.  Sacrilege, surely?

When first viewed the Outback looks much more 'normal' than the older models, although it is much more angular and chunky than the 03-09 version.

It sits tall (only 42 mm lower than a 5-door Range Rover Evoque) but it isn't until you put it next to another car you realise this.  Its jacked-up estate silhouette fools the mind into thinking it isn't so high.

It is a lot longer than most mid-size SUVs.  At 4,801mm long it is 436mm longer than an Evoque 5-door, and has a wheelbase of 2,741mm - 81mm longer than the Evoque's.

An Evoque, Outlander or Qashqai has a smaller boot and rear seats than the Outback, but more headroom which, frankly, is wasted space.

In other words in the space stakes the Outlander is a better proposition than a mid-size SUV, as it always was.  And at 220mm it has just as much ground clearance as most mid-size SUVs.
2014 Subaru Outback

Whilst it may not have been modern or fashionable enough to retain the plastic body panels, and in a different colour, the Outback does lose something without them.  Otherwise it's a fine, handsome car. More chunky and purposeful, less bland like something crafted by wind-tunnel technicians.

On to the interior.  First, the bad stuff.

The interior is spacious and, unfortunately, Japanese.  The older Outback never had European levels of interior design and use of materials but it was bright and the seats were either leather or half leather, half suede.  And they were comfy.

The 2014 Outback succumbs to the curse of acres of black, elephant hide plastic and the leather (black) that is used is Japanese, rather than Euro, spec, i.e. not as good.  The interior design is more conservative than funky and the seats are awful.

The infotainment screen is tiny and it doesn't have satnav or digital radio, and the Bluetooth integration is such a pain to use it is unworkable.  In a week with the car I didn't manage to hook up my iPhone5 to the car's Bluetooth.

Now, the good stuff.

You start to put up with all of the above.  The car's positives outweigh its negatives.  Over the course of the week it grew on me more each day.

The layout and design of the interior is functional.  Nothing, other than the Bluetooth, is confusing and everything falls to hand.  The interior is actually better than a Mitsubishi's or Toyota's but not as good as a Honda's.

The lack of satnav is fine because most manufacturer's factory fitted satnav systems are terrible.  Just buy a TomTom and you have a superior system.

The sound from the audio is clear and fulsome, never crackling or reaching the limits of its capabilities.  To play music from your phone you need to attach it via a cable.

Without satnav the screen doesn't need to be big (although the Subaru BRZ has a great info screen).

After a few days with the car the interior had grown on me.  I liked it.  It's good to spend long journeys in.  Although I never really got used to the seats.

Oh dear me, no.  The lumbar support is too high, the material used is slightly nasty and it takes an age to find the right position.  The old Outback seats were great but these aren't.  I found a position that was tolerable, stuck with it and coped without too much discomfort, but they could be so much better.

The Outback's rear seats are huge and are more comfortable than the front.  There is leg and shoulder room for three six-footers.

The boot is also vast, although being so large and flat your shopping bags tend to empty themselves on the way home from the supermarket.

When you get in to drive it the door closes with a generic thunk rather than the wafty whump of the old, frameless windowed Outback.
2014 Subaru Outback interior

The ignition requires the insertion of a key, which is becoming something of a rarity in modern cars.  Turn the key and the flat-4 diesel fires up.  You would expect it to sound like a flat-4 but it doesn't.  It sounds like any other 4-cylinder diesel.

The CVT gearbox feels like any other automatic gearbox.  You can use it as a fully automatic or use steering wheel-mounted paddles to shift through seven 'gears'.

It's one of the better autos mated to a diesel engine on the market.  Kickdown, gear changes, engine revs are all fine.  You never get the feeling you'd do much different if you were using a manual gearbox.  It can be a tad lazy sometimes but generally it is a superb unit.

The engine might not sound different to most other diesels but it does feel slightly different to use.  Turbo lag is almost non-existent and most of the power comes early in the rev-range.  It's got 148bhp and 258 lb ft of torque which is enough to take it from 0 to 60mph in 9.5 seconds.

The engine and gearbox combination suit it well.  There's more than enough power to pull away from the lights sharply, and to overtake.

The official fuel consumption figure is 44mpg combined.  In a week of varied driving over hundreds of miles it did 38mpg, which is pretty good for a 1,600kg car.

The driving experience is better than in an SUV.  Whilst it might ride quite high most of the weight is low down (having a flat-4 engine helps) so it goes round corners well.

In fact it feels much like the old Outback to drive.  The combination of long car with low centre of gravity and a relatively short wheelbase makes it feel nimble.  I had some good fun throwing the Outback around roundabouts and back roads.

It's in the driving experience where the Outback connects with its predecessor.

It'll off-road too, with permanent four wheel drive and ground clearance aplenty.

The 2014 Subaru Outback is a gizmo free, practical, economical, spacious and loveable car.  Yes, loveable.  I bonded with it just as much as I did my old Outback.  I forgave its foibles and enjoyed it for what it is, a no-nonsense load-lugger that rewards you the more you drive it.

It's a better bet than almost any mid-size SUV.

Thoroughly recommended.


Price: £31,495
Engine: 2.0 turbocharged diesel, flat-4
Transmission: CVT automatic
0-60mph: 9.5 seconds
Top Speed: 120 mph
Power: 148 bhp
Torque: 258 lb ft
Economy: 44.8 mpg
CO2: 166 g/km
Kerb weight: 1,573 kg
2014 Subaru Outback

2014 Subaru Outback

2014 Subaru Outback

2014 Subaru Outback

2014 Subaru Outback

1998 Subaru Outback in red and gold
1998 Subaru Outback in red and gold

Review by Matt Hubbard