- Comfortable and quiet driving experience
- Interior quality and space
- Strong value equation compared with rivals
- Lacking some features
- Boot could be larger
- Strange service intervals
It’s no secret that SUVs are everywhere, much to the distain of car enthusiasts. Regular people wanting a higher driving position and – seemingly – more practicality has come at the cost of several types of cars, including many coupes and convertibles. But in particular, the SUV rise has come at the cost of the traditional station wagon, with many manufacturers withdrawing their wagon models globally. But what if we told you that you could have a wagon that’s branded as an SUV? Enter the 2021 Subaru Outback Touring AWD.
Subaru was one of the first manufacturers to offer a raised wagon, and the Outback has been easily the best-selling example of the breed since. It’s killed off the Liberty wagon that it used to be based on, and it also sells quite well – especially in Australia and North America. There are several rivals to the Outback, including the Volkswagen Passat 162TSI Alltrack, Skoda Superb 200TSI Scout and Volvo V60 Cross Country. So why buy the Outback? Let’s find out.
Price & Specs: 9/10
The 2021 Subaru Outback range has been condensed down into just three models: the $39,990 plus on-road costs entry-level model known as simply ‘Outback’, while the $44,490 +ORC Outback Sport sits in the middle of the range. We tested the top of the range 2021 Subaru Outback Touring, which is priced at $47,790 plus on-road costs (around $53,000 drive away, depending on your location).
The Outback Touring is very well equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, an 11.6-inch tablet-like touchscreen, satellite navigation, digital radio, a nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry with push button start, automatic LED headlights and rain-sensing wipers, electric front seats with driver’s memory functionality, Nappa leather upholstery, heated rear outboard and front seats, a heated steering wheel, a power tailgate, heated and auto-folding exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming rear view interior mirror, a full size spare wheel, an electric sunroof and roof rails.
In terms of safety kit, the Outback Touring comes with eight airbags, high and low speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and steering with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear AEB, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, lane trace assist, Matrix adaptive high beam functionality, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, speed sign recognition, tyre pressure monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, driver monitoring, front and rear parking sensors and a front, side and rear camera system that’s not a proper 360-degree camera.
While the 2021 Subaru Outback Touring does come with a huge amount of standard equipment, it does miss out on a few items – as we mentioned, the Outback has a front, rear and left hand side camera and this is very odd as it would take just one more camera on the driver’s side to complete the set and make a proper 360-degree camera system. There is also the lack of a digital driver’s display, a heads-up display, a third climate control zone and a full panoramic roof. But that’s it.
The Subaru Outback Touring’s main rival is the 2021 Volkswagen Passat 162TSI Premium, which is priced at $58,890 plus on-road costs – a full $11,100 more expensive than the top spec Outback. Over the Outback, the Passat gains an extra airbag (nine vs the Outback’s eight), an alarm, a proper 360-degree camera, auto parking, larger 19-inch alloy wheels (compared to 18s), an extra speaker to its sound system (ten for the Volkswagen versus nine for the Subaru), a full digital drivers display and cooled front seats. But is that extra kit worth an extra $11,000?To put it bluntly, no.
There are no options on the 2021 Subaru Outback Touring as everything is standard kit. There is not even an extra charge for metallic or premium paint as all colours come at no further cost. These colours include ‘Crystal Black’, ‘Dark Blue Pearl’, ‘Crystal White Pearl’, ‘Brilliant Bronze Metallic’, ‘Crimson Red Pearl’, ‘Storm Grey Metallic’, ‘Autumn Green Metallic’, ‘Magnetite Grey Metallic’, ‘Crystal Black Silica’ and our test car’s ‘Ice Silver Metallic’.
Performance & Economy: 7/10
The sole engine offered on the new sixth generation 2021 Subaru Outback in Australia is a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol unit. This may seem familiar as it is the same size as the previous Outback’s engine, but Subaru claims that the engine in the new Outback is 90 per cent new. According to Subaru, this means it is quieter, more fuel efficient and more powerful as well. The only transmission option is a CVT automatic, which has eight stepped ratios to mimic a traditional automatic transmission. Gone is the option for a diesel or six-cylinder Outback that we have previously seen, which is sad, as is that a 194kW 2.4-litre turbocharged engine is offered in the Outback in North America – though not in Australia just yet.
The new 2.5-litre engine produces 138kW of power and 245Nm of torque, which is 9kW and 10Nm more than the engine it replaces. Most engines that are paired to a CVT transmission can feel like they work in overtime to get the car to move but the one in the Outback doesn’t feel this way at all. It actually reacts well and doesn’t feel like it is exerting itself at all. It is also quiet when comparing this engine to the one in the previous Outback and it is also more responsive and easier to live with on a day to day basis.
The CVT transmission is one of the better ones we have tested and doesn’t have much of the loose, rubbery feeling that most CVTs have. Even when accelerating hard, the transmission does a good job of mimicking gears and around town there is none of the annoying revving out of the engine that is typical of most CVT gearboxes.
The Volkswagen Passat Alltrack has a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 162kW of power and 350Nm of torque. These numbers so seem like a big step over the Outback and on the road the Passat does feel faster, but not by as much as you would think. The Outback does a fantastic job of using the power it has.
Subaru claim that the average fuel consumption of the 2021 Subaru Outback Touring is 7.3L/100km, which is better than the claimed average for the Passat Alltrack’s 8.1L/100km rating. Our week spent with the Outback saw an average fuel consumption of just over 9.0L/100km – achieved in mostly urban driving. The Outback features a 63-litre fuel tank and requires regular 91RON fuel.
Ride & Handling: 8/10
You would think the ride for the 2021 Subaru Outback was made for Australia. It’s that good. There is no floaty feeling like you used to get in the previous models with good body control, but thankfully the suspension has been tuned more for comfort than for sportiness. Having a higher ground clearance than other regular wagons means that even if you want to venture off the beaten track the Outback is more than capable also thanks to its ‘X-Mode’ permanent all-wheel drive system.
Dynamically, the Outback is not as sharp as the Passat Alltrack – there’s less feel from the slower steering, its handling isn’t as good and it doesn’t feel as nimble. The Passat is certainly more fun on a back road, but will Outback buyers care? We doubt it.
The active safety features in the 2021 Subaru Outback Touring are plentiful and work well. The adaptive cruise control works well, the lane departure warning (though sometimes a little sensitive) works well and the forward collision assist isn’t too intrusive.
Interior & Practicality: 9/10
If there’s one big improvement in the new Subaru Outback, it’s the cabin. Improved upon the previous model, the Outback gains better quality materials, more storage and a more modern cabin design. Your eyes will immediately be drawn to the large rectangular centre screen, which looks more like an iPad than anything else. The cabin of the 2021 Subaru Outback is on the verge of being best in class.
The interior quality in the 2021 Subaru Outback is vastly improved over the previous model. There are more soft touch materials across the cabin and more use of nice Nappa leather upholstery. But in the traditional Subaru fashion, the interior plastics feel like they are hard wearing and will stand the test of time. Even the headlining is made from a nice cloth material that looks and feels great.
The storage throughout the cabin of the 2021 Subaru Outback touring is excellent. There is a small cubby by the driver’s right-hand knee for keys or coins, large door bins, a space for your phone in front of the gear selector, a large glove box, generously proportioned centre console, rear map pockets and a pocket for a wallet or other items in front of the passenger on the dash.
The large 11.6-inch touch screen that fills the dashboard of the Outback looks very modern. There is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, which fills the screen well, and also a very good satellite navigation system that we found very intuitive and easy to get used to. The only gripe to the screen that we found is that there are too many menus and sub menus – it can get a little confusing when trying to use the infotainment system.
Missing in the cabin of the Outback is a wireless charger, digital dials and a proper panoramic sunroof. Instead you get two USB-A inputs in front of the gear lever to charge your devices, a small digital driver’s display with analogue rev counter, speedometer, fuel and temperature gauge and a small sunroof – odd when the 2005-era Outback had a much larger unit.
Stepping into the rear seat of the Outback is an enjoyable experience, thanks to its wagon dimensions. There is plenty of room back there for taller and broader passengers, thanks to its focus on North America. There is also a host of rear amenities for the kids to us such as rear heated seats, rear vents, two USB-A outputs to charge devices, a fold down centre armrest with cupholders and rear map pockets. We would comfortably say that the Subaru Outback is best in class for the rear seat.
The boot of the Outback is electronically operated and can be opened by either the key, a button in the cabin or a button on the rear tailgate itself. There are cargo tie down hooks, a subwoofer, a cargo barrier, handles to fold down the rear seats and a storage area to the right hand side of the boot, making it a very practical space – though we’d like to see a 40:20:40 split to the rear seats. The cargo space is rated at 522-litres and folding down the 60:40 split rear seats increases it to 1,750L. In comparison, a Volkswagen Passat Alltrack features a 650L/1,780L boot.
Service & Warranty: 8/10
As with all other new Subarus products in Australia, the 2021 Subaru Outback Touring comes with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, which is the same that is offered on the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack. There is also 12 months of roadside assistance included with the Outback which is the same that is offered by Volkswagen for the Passat Alltrack – though the VW’s term is extended by 12 months with every scheduled dealer service.
Servicing the Outback occurs every 12 months or 12,500km, which is an odd interval. Usually manufacturers offer 12 months or 10,000km between services (like the Mazda6) or 12 months or 15,000km (like the Passat Alltrack). The cost of servicing the Outback over five years/62,500km is $2,449.54 (an average of $490 per year). In comparison, the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack will cost owners $3,493 to service over five years or 75,000km.
2021 Subaru Outback Touring DiscoverAuto Review: 8.2/10
The 2021 Subaru Outback Touring is a really good all-rounder that we’d go close to calling the ultimate family car. It offers wagon dimensions but with SUV ground clearance and the raised ride height that so many buyers are looking for. In addition to that, it’s very good value for money with a long standard equipment list, its interior is both stylish and functional, it’s endlessly practical and it’s also very comfortable as well.
Of course, it’s not perfect – there are some pieces of equipment not offered, the turbocharged engine in other markets is not (yet) here and it has odd service intervals. But on the whole, it’s easy to see why the 2021 Subaru Outback Touring remains such a popular car after almost three decades of the Outback name. It’s a great all-rounder and if you’re shopping for a mid-sized family car or SUV, it should definitely be on your test drive list.