Subaru's new Outback shines on and off the road, finds Damien O'Carroll

The Subaru Outback has always been a very good car. Except Subaru would strongly disagree with you about that.

Not about the "being very good" bit, that is. No, Subaru's point of contention there would be with the Outback's description as a "car".

It is not, they insist, a "car". It is an SUV. You know, those things that other manufacturers make that have always tended to be slightly truck-like?

Well, the Outback is not truck-like in the slightest. In fact, it began life as a jacked-up Legacy wagon with extra black plastic bits on the outside to make it look a bit more tough and utilitarian. It still had real, proper off-road ability, however, making Subaru's argument difficult to dismiss.

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2015 Subaru Outback

Except that now it is 2015 and time, it seems, has caught up with Subaru's broader definition of an SUV. After all, we now have SUVs on car platforms, "Sports" SUVs and 2WD SUVs. SUVs are no longer (and haven't been for a few years now) large and truck-like.

And if, like Subaru, you don't believe it is a "proper" SUV unless it has 4WD, then the Outback looks like it will tick your definition of being as SUV as well. After all, with 221mm of ground clearance and full-time 4WD, the Outback is far more capable off the road than a large number of SUVs on sale today. How do we know this? Because Subaru let us take a fleet of the all-new Outback through the legendary Nevis Valley in Central Otago.

Although the roads through the Nevis aren't the last word in challenging off-road adventure, the sheer number of fords and confrontingly muddy patches make it a place for neither the weak-hearted nor the two-wheel driven.

Common sense and ground clearance are the most important things when driving through the Nevis and, though it can't supply the former, the Outback has the latter taken care of.

The Outback will be available in a vastly expanded number of models after the last generation's two-model line-up. This time Subaru is shaking out the model bag with five models and a choice of three engines.

The Outback 2.5i Sport opens the range with a revised 2.5-litre four-cylinder horizontally opposed petrol engine that produces 129kW of power and 235Nm of torque.

2015 Subaru Outback

Packed with safety electronics, the entry model now includes Subaru's EyeSight camera system that features a pre-collision braking system, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning, as well as hill-start assist, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a reversing camera, Subaru's X-Mode off-road system that includes hill descent control, dual zone climate air conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a leather multi-function steering wheel with paddle shifters, 18-inch alloy wheels and as well as retaining Subaru's clever roof rail system that features integrated cross bars.

The 2.5i Sport Premium adds an electric sunroof, leather trim, electrically adjustable heated front seats, satellite navigation, electric/heated door mirrors, a 7-inch touchscreen audio system, LED headlights, a powered rear tailgate, a smart-entry proximity key with push-button start and silver front and rear bumper guards.

The 3.6RS Premium goes even further by taking all that and adding a grunty six-cylinder boxer engine that produces 191kW and 350Nm, a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system, xenon HID low-beam headlights, dual exhausts and Subaru's SI-Drive system.

Then, sort of off to one side in terms of spec, we have the diesel variants.

The 2.0 Diesel pretty much mirrors the 2.5i Sport's spec, but misses out on the 18-inch alloys (getting a set of 17-inch ones instead), the EyeSight system, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

It does gain a very impressive 2.0-litre diesel turbo boxer engine, however, that pumps out 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque, the latter from just 1600rpm.

The 2.0-litre Diesel Premium adds and the rest of the 2.5i Sport Premium's spec to proceedings, again minus the EyeSight system, auto headlights and wipers.

All models are now hooked up to Subaru's Lineartronic transmission (SLT), which is essentially an intelligent, far less annoying version of a continuously variable transmission that actually makes pretend "gear shifts" to avoid what it technically known as "flaring".

Otherwise known as "sounding like the driver doesn't know how to change out of first".
This even makes the SLT a handy piece of kit off the road where, it has to be said, the new Outback shone.

On the Otago roads, the Outback felt powerful, comfortable and utterly assured in all its guises. Off it the diesel-powered cars had a distinctive edge through the rougher stuff, but all models acquitted themselves admirably.

Handsome, well-equipped and ridiculously capable on and off the road, the Outback should be a strong seller for Subaru in New Zealand.

We say "should" because there is one thing we don't actually know yet - the prices.

2015 Subaru Outback

The last Outback was an excellent car, but it was rather pricey. And with the new one, Subaru faces another challenge - the lack of a Legacy wagon, meaning the Outback also has to reach down and offer something to wagon owners who don't want to wait for the forthcoming Levorg sport wagon.

This explains the widening of the Outback range for one thing, but also leaves the recently launched, similarly styled and competitively priced Skoda Octavia Scout sitting ready to pounce if Subaru NZ can't negotiate a good price with head office. If they can nail that price just right, then the Subaru Outback will be a very hard car - sorry SUV - to go past.