Curves still at home

in the Outback

Subaru Outback, front
Subaru Outback, front, static
Subaru Outback, front, action
Subaru Outback, side, action
Subaru Outback, boot
Subaru Outback, interior
Subaru Outback, rear
Subaru Outback, rear, action
Subaru Outback, boot open

SUBARU'S fifth generation Outback ventures into the premium crossover sector, posing an elegant profile that seems to question its beefy, rugged heritage.

It is a brave move glamourising a mud-plugging, field-romping estate highly respected by farmers and rural residents who have depended on its tough-as-nails, cross-country nature.

But fear not, for while the metal may be smoother and shapelier, little has changed save for a few cosmetic tweaks here and there, including new lights and grille.

The Outback's strong-as-an-ox character and four-wheel drive DNA is preserved and honed, enhanced by the latest technology.

It is 20 years since the first Outback was launched in the UK, pioneering the crossover segment, and although the new model has a very contemporary look, there's no mistaking what it is.

The upshift in quality, build and furnishings is significant externally and internally, ensuring that the flagship model answers its brief - appealing to a wider market while reassuring Outback loyalists that its heavy duty, pedigree has not been compromised.

Subaru believes the new Outback will particularly appeal to buyers downsizing from less manoeuvrable SUVs who are reluctant to sacrifice the space and sense of security of a large SUV interior.

The new model is powered by 2.0-litre diesel 2.5-litre petrol turbo Boxer engines that boasted improved efficiency, power and economy. They are mated to a six-speed manual gearbox or Lineartonic automatic unit and come in two trim levels - SE and SE Premium.

The biggest seller is likely to be the 2.0-litre 148bhp diesel, taking a predicted 60 per cent of sales with prices ranging between £28,490 and £32,995.

The turbo diesel in manual form achieves 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds, a top speed of 119mph and average fuel returns of just over 50mpg.

The same engine with the CVT automatic transmission manages 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds, a top speed of 124mph and average fuel figures of 46.4mpg, while the petrol 2.5i CVT automatic takes over 10 seconds to do the 0-62mph dash, hits top speed at 130mph and average fuel consumption is 40.4mpg.

Emissions are 145g/km for the diesel models and 163 for the petrols.

The bonus with the Lineartonic auto transmission - standard with the petrol engine but optional on the diesel - is some highly impressive saftey technology.

Subaru's EyeSight system cleverly identifies obstacles up to 110 metres away via two cameras located at either side of the rear view mirror.

It is one of the most advanced systems of its kind and includes autonomous pre-collision braking control pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control and lane departure and sway warning.

This was neatly demonstrated on the Thruxton race circuit in Hampshire. As the Outback reached 25mph perilously close to a "solid wall" I was ordered to "take feet off".

My grip round the steering wheel became tighter as impact seemed inevitable without my intervention. But no, the intelligent EyeSight takes over and automatically brought the car to an emergency stop.This 'second pair of eyes' makes its European debut in the new Outback.

On the road, in a 2.0-litre, six-speed manual version, the Subaru is unexpectedly civilised and composed even on uneven, winding routes but the biggest surprise is the degree of comfort the improved suspension affords. There is some diesel vocals which become noisier under pressure, but at relaxed cruising level they are much more acceptable.

The permanent four-wheel drive crossover provides superb, reassuring on the road but its off-road ability was even more impressively demonstrated on an army assault course on Salisbury Plain. The military zone provides permitted and public passage in certain areas where the Subaru was able to flex its muscles and agility on the rough terrain.

Its ground clearance coped adquately even with unexpectedly deep tracks dug out by MoD tanks on manoeuvres. The Subaru ploughed on regardless, creating a khaki dust cloud in its wake reminiscent of the Australian Outback.

The Subaru doesn't pretend to be a Land Rover Discovery but it copes admirably with quite rugged and demanding rutted fields, tracks and slippery conditions while providing ample space with a load area that boasts 559 litres.

Equipment levels are impressive with the SE model featuring auto LED headlamps and headlamp washers, cruise control, Active Torque Vectoring, 17-inch alloys, heated front seats, electrically-adjustable driver's seat and privacy glass, as well as a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, incorporating sat nav, audio, smartphone connectivity and a rear view parking camera. SE Premium models add a sunroof, keyless entry and push-button start, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats and a powered rear tailgate.

The Outback goes on sale in the UK on April 1.

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