Subaru isn’t really big on surprises. As its rivals have dived headlong into new niches, it has stuck staunchly by cars that made it.
Perhaps the best example of that is the Outback, a high-riding wagon (no, it’s not an SUV) for people who love hiking, biking, skiing, and other outdoorsy pursuits that’s been around since 1994.
The sixth-generation model released in 2021 represents yet another gradual evolution of the formula. It’s bigger than before, comes loaded with a full suite of active safety assists, and has a more luxurious interior than ever… but it still couldn’t be anything but an Outback.
Power still comes from a boxer engine, all-wheel drive is standard, and there’s plenty of black cladding to tell the world you’re an adventurous family, not a boring one. There’s no doubt it’s a sharp-looking wagon in person, with a handsome profile and more presence than its predecessor.
The Outback Sport here doubles down on the adventurous vibe with lime green accents and black wheels on the outside, and water-resistant trim on the seats.
Is it the smart buy in the Outback range?
The 2022 Subaru Outback AWD Sport on test here is priced at $45,190 before on-road costs, making it $3800 less expensive than the range-topping AWD Touring.
It’s short on like-for-like rivals, given wagons are thin on the ground in Australia. You could logically put it head-to-head with mid-sized SUVs like the Subaru Forester 2.5i-S ($44,190) or Toyota RAV4 XSE AWD Hybrid ($45,825), or with the slightly smaller Skoda Octavia wagon which is worth between $40,000 and $51,000 before on-roads when comparably specced to the Outback.
Whichever way you spin it, the Outback represents good value.
2022 Subaru Outback pricing:
- Subaru Outback AWD: $40,690
- Subaru Outback AWD Premium Special Edition: $44,190
- Subaru Outback AWD Sport: $45,190
- Subaru Outback AWD Touring: $48,990
All prices exclude on-road costs.
Outback AWD Sport highlights:
- Water-repellent sports seat trim
- Heated front seats
- Heated rear outboard seats
- Front- and side-view cameras
- Black exterior highlights
- Hands-free power tailgate
- Satellite navigation
- Dark metallic 18-inch alloy wheels
That’s on top of the base Outback’s specification, which includes:
- 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment system
- Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- 4.2-inch trip computer
- DAB+ digital radio
- Cloth upholstery
- Body-coloured mirrors
- Roof rails with integrated cross bars
- Grey 18-inch alloy wheels
- Dual-zone climate control
- Paddle shifters
- Six-speaker sound system
- Four cargo hooks in the boot
- Automatic windscreen wipers
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
Features reserved for the top-spec Outback AWD Touring include:
- Nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with CD player
- Nappa leather upholstery
- Ventilated front seats
- Manually-adjustable driver’s seat thigh support extender
- Electric sunroof
- Heated steering wheel
- Silver roof rails with integrated cross bars
- Gloss finish 18-inch alloy wheels
- Black or Ivory/Black interior
The Subaru Outback has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on testing conducted in 2021.
It received an adult occupant protection score of 88 per cent, a child occupant protection score of 91 per cent, a vulnerable road user protection score of 84 per cent, and a safety assist score of 96 per cent.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- AEB (forward and reverse) with pedestrian/cyclist/junction assist
- Autonomous emergency steering
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Driver attention monitoring
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Traffic sign recognition
It’s hard to look past that massive screen dominating the dashboard. It’s not quite Tesla big… but it’s not far off, and it instantly makes the Outback feel more modern than the Forester or Impreza from behind the wheel.
The basics are all excellent. The front seats are cushy armchairs with plenty of adjustment, and the steering wheel is a chunky leather-wrapped unit that feels meaty in your hands. Vision is excellent in every direction, making this an easy car to place in the city despite its size.
Subaru has dialled back on the buttons in the latest Outback, thanks in no small part to that massive, vertically-oriented touchscreen. It takes care of your climate control and media, and has also swallowed up the trip computer Subaru has traditionally situated atop the dashboard.
With sharp graphics and smooth responses, it manages to make moving away from buttons relatively painless. There are prominent shortcuts for commonly-used functions like fan speed, and the physical controls for the volume and temperature are a welcome touch.
It’s a shame things like the auto brake hold (which turns off every time you stop the car) are buried in sub-menus, though. It’s also a shame Subaru doesn’t offer wireless phone charging, or wireless smartphone mirroring for that matter.
The inbuilt navigation (supplied by TomTom) has live traffic updates, and is handy if you’re touring in areas with no mobile reception, but Google or Apple Maps are always preferable.
Apple CarPlay worked flawlessly using the USB-A port up front, and there’s a slot beneath the dashboard that’s well shaped for a modern iPhone or Android phone. You also get deep cupholders – almost too deep for a small latte – and a spacious two-tiered bin beneath the padded central armrest.
There’s even a little slot ahead of the passenger, so road trip snackers won’t struggle to find places to stash their chocolate.
If there’s a complaint, it’s that Subaru is throwing too much information at you. Between the touchscreen, the trip computer atop the touchscreen, and the compact screen between the dials, there’s a lot of numbers on show at any one time, all of them in the same slightly hard-to-read font. The ability to pare it all back would be welcome.
Rear seat space is impressive, proving once again you don’t need an SUV to lug your family around in comfort.
Legroom and headroom are excellent, and the bench itself is supportive and well-padded. With tall windows and a classic wagon window line (alright, almost classic) there’s plenty of light back there, and the fold-down armrest, USB-A chargers, heated outboard seats, and air vents will keep children happy.
Access through the rear doors isn’t quite as easy as in the Forester, which has a broader opening and doors that swing to 90 degrees, but you won’t struggle to load child seats – or the children who sit in them.
There are ISOFIX points on the outboard rear seats, and three top-tether points. The rear bench folds 60/40, and can be lowered using handles in the boot or on the rear seats themselves.
Although folding them frees up a massive, flat load space, it’s annoying Subaru still mounts the middle seatbelt in the roof, and the lack of a ski port or central passthrough is an oversight on a car designed with practicality in mind. The boot itself is massive (522L/1267L), with handy touches like netted pockets and fold-down grocery hooks.
Subaru also has fitted a luggage blind that can be slid higher without actually needing to remove it entirely, which makes it easier to get items out from beneath it.
There’s a full-sized spare wheel beneath the floor.
The whole Outback range is powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine producing 138kW of power and 245Nm of torque, mated to a continuously-variable transmission and all-wheel drive.
Keen for more power? You’re out of luck at the moment, although Subaru has indicated a more powerful turbocharged engine could be coming to Australia.
Claimed fuel economy is 7.3 litres per 100km; we saw 7.9L/100km with a skew to highway driving.
City traffic quickly saw that figure blow into the eights, albeit in weather that meant the air-conditioning was constantly cranking and the auto start/stop couldn’t really function.
The car drinks 91 RON regular unleaded, and has a 63-litre fuel tank.
Press the start button and the Outback’s boxer engine settles into a high, slightly frenetic idle to warm up, backed by a sound that’s muted, but still distinctly Subaru. Some things never change.
It’s not just the startup sequence that will make the Outback feel instantly familiar to previous-generation owners, the driving experience represents a gentle evolution of the last few models.
The ride in particular is excellent. Not only has Subaru fitted sensible 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 60-profile tyres, it’s not tried to make the Outback feel like a sports car. It has plenty of suspension travel for a plush feel over highway dips and inner-city speed bumps, but the body is also well enough controlled that the car never feels like a floaty barge.
With direct steering and a solid, planted stance, you’re able to tip it confidently – if not necessarily quickly – into corners, even on greasy road surfaces. There’s a reason Subarus still sell strongly among people who take their cars to the snow, or to remote surf spots.
The weak link in the chain is the engine, which is adequate but nothing more. It’s happiest at city speeds, where the CVT can shuffle between the quiet, smooth low-end of the rev range and the torque peak at 3400rpm without feeling or sounding strained.
It’s one of the better CVTs on the market, and manages to fade into the background for the most part. It’ll occasionally pretend to be a torque converter, mimicking upshifts on medium throttle inputs and slurring through shifts if you take charge with the paddles behind the steering wheel, but it’s best left to its own devices.
Really put your foot down and the engine struggles. It’s light on torque for such a heavy car, which means you really need to work it hard to get going in a hurry. Put your foot down to pick a gap on the highway and you get more noise from the engine and a slightly elastic feeling from the transmission, but very little in the way of performance.
It’s acceptable with two passengers on board, but with a carload of people and luggage the Outback is working hard. It’s a shame the 3.6-litre engine from the last car is gone, although we’re still holding out hope for the American 2.4T engine.
Subaru pitches this car as a large SUV, but even in the mid-sized SUV world there are very few cars that can’t be optioned with a torquey turbocharged petrol or diesel engine.
Wagon rivals are limited, but similar money to the Outback Sport will get you behind the wheel of a generously-equipped Skoda Octavia wagon with a 140kW engine.
Once you’ve hit the legal limit though, the big Subaru settles down to a refined cruise. The engine hums silently away in the background, although there’s still a bit of tyre roar in the cabin on Australian back roads. It’s more refined than the older Forester, so clearly some work has gone into suppressing unwanted noise and vibrations in the cabin.
The EyeSight driver assist suite has become a major Subaru selling point, and it holds up well here – save for the fact the adaptive cruise control is prone to creeping on rolling hills.
Then there’s the driver monitoring system. It’s a good idea in theory, chiming when the driver takes their eyes off the road to discourage distractions on the move, but it’s also prone to false positives. Leaning to one side of the seat? No you’re not, you’re distracted.
Turning the system off involves taking your eyes off the road to flick through two layers of touchscreen menus every time you start the car. How ironic.
A quick Google reveals plenty of owners have tried and failed to permanently disabled the system.
All 2022 Subaru models are covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 12,500km in the Outback, and Subaru offers five years of capped-price servicing.
A three-year service plan costs $1299.65 if prepaid, and a five-year plan is priced at $2458.63.
If you liked the last Outback, or even the Outback before that, the current model will also make you happy.
It doesn’t do much to move the game forward, but it’s still a comfortable way to carry around five people and lots of stuff around the city or, if you’re feeling bold, some mild off-road trails.
The Outback AWD Sport is probably the smart pick of the range. It’s meaningfully cheaper than the Limited, but comes loaded with luxuries, and wears a rugged look that fits the car’s rugged reputation well. It’s easy to imagine the water-resistant seats coming in handy if you’re a parent with messy kids, too.
For all that’s good about its evolutionary approach, some Subaru traits are starting to grate in 2022. The gutless boxer engine is undercooked alongside the hybrid and turbocharged powertrains becoming common in mid-sized SUVs, and some of the Outback’s driver technology is too clever for its own good.
Neither is a fatal flaw, but both are avoidable that we’ve been complaining about for what feels like forever with modern Subarus.
An Outback Sport with turbo power and the option to switch off the driver monitoring system for good, though? That could just be the perfect family car.
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