COMBINING practical family estate space and functionality with genuine ruggedness and off-road capability, the Subaru Outback has been in a niche pretty much of its own for more than 25 years.
Retrospectively fashioned as the original crossover by the Japanese car maker, the Outback arrived long before the current crop of hatchbacks on steroids and pseudo 4x4s that have been all the rage in recent years.
Many of this current crop of SUV wannabes put form firmly over function and, though they may look tough, aren't much good for tackling anything more challenging than the occasional sleeping policeman on the school run.
The Outback, though, is made of much sterner stuff. While it may not win many beauty contests, it is built from the ground up as a dedicated 4x4 and is as accomplished on a wet, muddy field as it is on a motorway.
Subaru's well proven symmetrical all-wheel drive system permanently powers all four wheels, ensuring great grip and traction in rain, snow and other slippery situations. It'll certainly keep you on the move during the average British winter.
Ground clearance of 200mm means that rocky, rutted tracks and shallow streams won't halt your progress either, while Subaru's X-mode function incorporates hill descent control and takes command of the engine, transmission, 4x4 system and brakes to help you navigate trickier terrain.
While other manufacturers may now offer jacked-up versions of their estates, with chunky cladding and all-wheel drive, none can match the Outback's go-anywhere credentials - which is obviously worth bearing in mind if that's what you're after in your family wagon.
Choice is straightforward, with just two trim levels - SE and SE Premium - and one engine and gearbox combination available to UK buyers, priced from £32,995.
Fortunately all cars come with plenty of kit including a touchscreen interface, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, dual-zone air con, keyless entry and ignition, heated front seats, rear privacy glass, reversing camera, and a powered sunroof. SE Premium spec adds leather upholstery, a bigger touchscreen and a powered tailgate.
A comprehensive array of safety features is also standard, underpinned by Subaru's innovative twin-camera EyeSight system and including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and front and side view monitors.
The sole engine is a 2.5-litre petrol unit configured in the brand's familiar Boxer format - characterised by its ‘punch-counterpunch' piston action - and mated to a continuously variable transmission.
The Boxer layout means the engine sits lower in the car, creating more even weight distribution and benefitting the Outback's handling and stability, making it a surprisingly agile car to drive for a high-riding estate.
It's not necessarily the quickest, with the 0-62mph benchmark arriving in a leisurely 10.2 seconds and a top speed of 123mph while, typically of cars using a continuously variable transmission, acceleration is steady rather than punchy.
That said, there's no noticeable lack of pace when needed in day-to-day driving and urban traffic and motorway cruising are handled with equal aplomb.
The steering is accurate and well-weighted, the ride comfortable and largely composed and the controls simple and unfussy - making the Outback a nice easy car to drive if not the most engaging.
Family practicality is a big plus, though, given the car's estate proportions.
The spacious cabin offers generous head and leg room for five with a good array of personal storage spaces and, while the look and feel is not particularly upmarket, everything has a solid, durable feel that's in keeping with the car's general no-nonsense character.
At 559 litres, the boot is comfortably big enough to cope with most needs, and rises to 1,848 litres with the 60-40 split rear seats folded down.