The Subaru Outback is one of the few wagon nameplates (no, it’s not an SUV) that hasn’t really suffered as a result of the world’s shift to higher-riding crossovers.
Other brands with long-running jacked-up wagons like Audi and its allroad line have seen a sales decline in favour of SUVs, but nearly 30 years on from the original the Outback is thriving.
What makes the Subaru Outback so popular? It stays true to its ancestor’s formula, and offers an excellent blend of value, space and driving refinement.
Here on test we have the flagship 2022 Subaru Outback AWD Touring which is as luxurious as an Audi allroad or Volkswagen Alltrack for tens of thousands less. At under $50,000 plus on-road costs, it’s something of a bargain.
Should this be at the top of your family crossover/SUV shortlist? Let’s find out.
The top-sec Outback in Australia is priced from $48,990 before on-road costs, with the company’s configurator showing a drive-away price around $54,100.
Subaru’s pricing of the Outback is sharp, at least on paper, given you can have a decked-out Outback for the same price as a low- to mid-spec Kia Sorento or Toyota Kluger – although both those rivals offer three rows.
Conceptually similar rivals include the Audi A4 allroad 40 TDI quattro (from $75,200) and the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack (from $48,990). The entry-level Passat is line-ball in price with the top-spec Outback, and has a punchier turbocharged petrol engine.
The Outback is only marginally more expensive than Subaru’s own Forester Hybrid S despite having a newer interior, more kit and much more space.
2022 Subaru Outback pricing:
- Subaru Outback AWD: $40,690
- Subaru Outback AWD Sport: $45,190
- Subaru Outback AWD Touring: $48,990
All prices exclude on-road costs
Key rivals include:
- Audi A4 allroad 40 TDI quattro: $75,200
- Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2D AWD: $49,050
- Kia Sorento S 2.2D AWD: $53,790 D/A
- Mazda CX-8 Sport 2.2D AWD: $47,190
- Toyota Kluger GX V6 AWD: $51,650
- Volkswagen Passat Alltrack 162TSI: $48,990
- Volvo V60 B5 Cross Country:$64,990
All prices exclude on-road costs unless specified
Outback AWD Touring highlights:
- Silver roof rails with integrated cross bars
- Gloss finish 18-inch alloy wheels
- Nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with CD player
- Nappa leather upholstery
- Ventilated front seats (new for MY22)
- Manual driver’s seat thigh extender (new for MY22)
- Electric sunroof
- Heated steering wheel
- Black or Ivory/Black interior
Carryover specification from lower grades includes:
- 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wired)
- Satellite navigation
- DAB+ digital radio
- 4.2-inch trip computer
- Body-coloured mirrors
- Roof rails with integrated cross bars
- Dual-zone climate control
- Paddle shifters
- Six-speaker sound system
- Four cargo hooks in the boot
- Automatic windscreen wipers
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Heated front seats
- Heated rear outboard seats
- Front- and side-view cameras
- Black exterior highlights
- Hands-free power tailgate
All versions of the Subaru Outback feature a five-star ANCAP safety rating with 2021 date stamp, based on tests conducted by Euro NCAP.
The Subaru scored 88 per cent for adult occupant protection, 91 per cent for child occupant protection, 84 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and an impressive 96 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Pedestrian and cyclist detection
- Junction assist
- Backover (reversing)
- Autonomous emergency steering
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Lane centring
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Driver attention monitoring
- Reversing camera
- Traffic sign recognition
- 7 x airbags
The Outback is a return to form for Subaru inside, blending attractive design with quality materials.
The Nappa leather seats and stitched, padded leatherette accents are supple, the portrait-oriented infotainment touchscreen has a degree of wow-factor, and the clean driver’s cluster is a step forward from the busy design of previous-generation Subaru interiors.
Comfort and space up front is impressive, with supportive seats that offer plenty of power adjustment, heaps of storage cubbies littered throughout, and decent ergonomics with most key functions falling within arm’s reach or less.
Both front seats are eight-way electrically-adjustable, with the driver’s pew offering two-position memory and powered lumbar. New for 2022 is front seat ventilation to go with the existing heating, which is great for Australia’s hot summer.
There’s a small cubby under the centre stack to put your phone, which also houses the USB port for smartphone mirroring. It was a bit of a tight fit for my iPhone 13 Pro Max, but at least it kept the phone and cables out of sight.
Dual cupholders and a large cubby between front seats bolster the front-seat amenities further, and there’s big door bins with bottle holders as well. It’s very parent friendly up front.
The small powered moonroof lacks the theatre of a full panoramic sunroof, but it’s still a nice addition for those sitting in the front row.
That 11.6-inch screen is an interesting one.
It definitely makes you go ‘woah’ when you first step in, and the fact Apple CarPlay has been engineered to make the most of the real estate is a nice touch. However, the graphics and response times are just fine, and the mix of fonts and colour scheme makes it feel a little dated.
There’s plenty of features though, including satellite navigation, AM/FM/DAB radio tuners, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and in Touring spec, a nine-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system with amplifier and subwoofer.
We did a couple of longer trips in the Outback hauling a few friends, and the inevitable fight for music management was met with all-round positive reviews for the audio system’s deep, clear sound with thumping bass.
The Outback’s second row is about as impressive as the front, with space for at least two large adults, and it’s complete with heating, reclining seatbacks, air vents, and two 2.1A USB charge ports.
A fold-down armrest with cupholders adds to the feature list, and there’s ISOFIX anchors on the outboard positions. It’s worth noting the skinnier centre seat and large floor hump hinder the Outback’s three-across ability, but it’s fine for adults on shorter trips.
There are also map pockets behind the front seats and bottle holders in the doors, and quality remains good with soft-touch materials on the door tops – something that seems to be taking a hit in many vehicles, even at this price and size point.
All three rear seats also feature top-tether points to complement the aforementioned ISOFIX mounts.
Further back again, the Outback offers 522 litres of cargo carrying capacity with all five seats in place. Fold the second row down and that figure opens up to 1267L.
Measured to the ceiling, Subaru says the Outback Touring’s boot measures 1711L with the back seats folded.
The minimal load lip and flat floor even with the seats folded makes the Outback’s cargo area very usable, and handy extras like remote release levers for the rear seats and netted cubbies add further convenience.
Under the boot floor is a full-size alloy spare wheel, a notable feature if you plan on travelling out of town often like a lot of Outback owners tend to do.
The sole drivetrain for the Outback in Australia is a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder horizontally-opposed Boxer engine, mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and symmetrical all-wheel drive.
The CVT features programmed steps to mimic a conventional automatic in normal driving, though it’ll hold revs under hard acceleration as is common of this transmission type.
Outputs are rated at 138kW (5800rpm) and 245Nm (3200-4600rpm), both of which are fairly mild compared to rivals. It’s outgunned by the smaller Mazda CX-5’s 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated four, which puts out 140kW and 252Nm.
The Outback does feature a more powerful 195kW/376Nm 2.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine in left-hand drive markets such as the United States, and it could be on the cards for Australia due to high demand.
Subaru claims the Outback AWD Touring will use 7.3L/100km on the combined cycle, with regular 91 RON unleaded the minimum rating for the car’s 63-litre tank. Idle stop/start tech is fitted.
Braked towing capacity is 2000kg, with a tow ball download of 200kg.
The Outback’s meek outputs on paper translate to uninspiring straight-line performance, but for its target demographic the big Subaru offers an agreeable drive experience with the added security of permanent AWD.
It’s no wonder there’s a lot of customers begging for the 2.4-litre turbo option, because the 2.5L engine lacks the low-down shove of turbocharged competitors, and the CVT as a result has to hold high revs more often to get the best out of the motor.
Under more sedate acceleration the Subaru’s CVT mimics a conventional auto by stepping through its variable ratios. It adds a layer of refinement and limits the droning, elastic experience common to most CVTs. Plant your right foot though, and that behaviour does rear its ugly head.
The 2.5-litre engine can get a little noisy and rumbly under load, and isn’t the most refined engine on cold start. It’s very typical Subaru though, and it took me back to my Dad’s 2003 Liberty RX 2.5.
All told, however, it gets the job done.
Dynamically the Outback feels more car-like than its boxier SUV rivals, with a lower centre of gravity and lower driving position despite its relatively lofty 213mm quoted ground clearance.
The steering has good weighting to it and a fluid feel with predictable accuracy. Measuring 4870mm long and 1875mm wide, the Outback is no shrinking violet but is surprisingly easy to thread through car parks and city streets.
It handles well, too. Yes there’s a bit of body roll in the bends, but the Outback’s fairly direct steering feel is backed up by grippy AWD and good body control – it’s more secure than sporty.
More impressive is the ride. With a comfort-focused suspension tune and fairly chubby 225/60 tyres, the Outback soaks up on-road imperfections with aplomb whether you’re riding over tram tracks in the city or pimpled country highways.
Refinement at speed is generally pretty good, particularly when the engine and transmission settle into a happy cruise.
Road and tyre noise are well suppressed, though there can be a little bit of wind noise off the Outback’s large mirrors.
Subaru’s suite of assistance technologies are generally quite intuitive, with highlights including adaptive cruise control and lane centring for semi-autonomous highway driving.
The Outback does a good job smoothly keeping a safe distance from the vehicle ahead while also not constantly wrestling the driver for control to stay within its lane. Some won’t like the assisted feel though, and it’s pretty easy to switch the lane-centring off via the steering wheel button.
Outward visibility is good thanks to the large glasshouse, and the standard blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and surround cameras add an extra set of eyes as a safety net. What wasn’t so flash was the driver attention monitoring and speed camera alerts constantly binging and bonging; it got quite annoying.
The idle stop/start tech isn’t too intrusive, with the engine firing up quickly and drive engaging as you’d expect.
The Outback is covered by Subaru’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 12 months or 12,500 kilometres – whichever comes first.
There are three- and five-year service packages on offer, if you’d rather the upfront cost rather than paying as you go. The three-year plan costs $1299.65 and the five-year package is $2458.63.
As for real-world fuel consumption, we managed an indicated 7.8L/100km in mixed driving conditions with a skew to freeways. Not far off the brand’s claim, and impressive for a big petrol-powered wagon.
For quite a while now I’ve been uninspired by Subaru products, as the brand seems to be more focused on the tastes of the American market instead of Europe like it did in the late ’90s and 2000s.
I’ve also grown up with Subarus and have fond memories of its super desirable products like the 4GEN Liberty and Outback of the mid- to late-2000s.
This latest Outback is a return to form for the Japanese brand. It’s handsome, practical, and stays true to the nameplate’s tried-and-tested formula.
Particularly when you line it up against rival SUVs for similar coin, the top-spec Outback Touring shapes up as incredible value for money. It’s not just on-paper value either, the build quality and driving dynamics are more than a match for its competitors.
We just wish there was more pep under the bonnet, especially for when you have the Outback loaded up with people and stuff, or have a trailer hooked up at the back. The US market’s torquey turbo petrol would go bananas here.
If you don’t need three rows of seating, the Outback is a compelling alternative to conventional large SUVs that’s a safe, practical and capable family adventure vehicle.
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