17 May 2018

Subaru Outback 2018 Car Review

Subaru’s Outback has become a bit of a staple on New Zealand roads, if the number we spotted while taking our photos are any guide. And no wonder. For it offers many of the advantages of its Forester sibling, without making all the compromises a traditional off-roader demands.

Subaru Outback 2.5 Premium jm 18
Subaru Outback
Subaru Outback 2.5 Premium jm5 18
Subaru Outback
Subaru Outback 2.5 Premium jm2 18
Subaru Outback
Subaru Outback 3.6 Premium jm6 18
Subaru Outback
Subaru Outback 2.5 Premium jm12 18
Subaru Outback

Those advantages really came into our play during our back-to-back drives of the 3.6R Premium and 2.5 Premium (yes, the photos do reflect two different hues), for the duo arrived in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone-force storm that hit Auckland’s west coast.

Mud and tree debris littered roads pitted by water damage, but neither vehicle put a foot wrong, not surprisingly, as bar the engine size (and related thirst) they’re all but identical.

Outback got an upgrade back in February, without a change in price. Minor cosmetic tweaks include alterations to the grille, front bumper and 18-inch alloy wheel design, while the wing mirror stems are shorter to improve aerodymanics and cut wind noise.

Inside there’s a tablet-style centre display with an eight-inch screen for these two Premium-spec cars, and better smartphone connectivity with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – they’re even Siri compatible.

There’s now not only a reversing camera, but more cameras up front and along the side, there’s lane-keep assist, which is fabulous on long trips — and mildly irritating on back-country swervery — and there’s an update to Eyesight.

Subaru’s Eyesight is very clever indeed, as is much of the other tech – but at times it does feel as if you’ve got your mum in the seat beside you. Like when it tells you the car ahead has pulled away, or when it flashes a red warning as if you’re about to hit a car in front, when you’re merely approaching a speed sign on a bendy country road. At times like that — or on equally twisty roads when the headlights are working so valiantly to produce high beam where it’s needed, without over-glaring oncoming traffic or reflective signs, that the up-down flicker is actually distracting. Sure, its benefits are undeniable if things do start turning pear-shaped, but otherwise you sometimes long for a return to DIY technology.

Especially, it must be said, in the 3.6, which gets a new-gen CVT transmission. Yes, it improves efficiency – we didn’t see a return of 9.9l/100km, but then we did virtually no highway cruising, and rather a lot of inefficient slow-speed ‘watch out for that branch’ driving. And sure, it’s light years better than CVTs started out. But for keener drivers the steady ramp-up of power will always be less entertaining than thwacking through a gearbox, even with Subaru’s SI-Drive.

That said, you really do appreciate the extra urge of the 3.6 over the 2.5 when you’re pressing on, and it certainly can get up and boogy with Sport Sharp selected. It’s just that you have to wonder whether the 2.5 wouldn’t be as good for most buyers, most of the time, with merely a seven-speed auto enhanced by hitting ‘Sport’, and a lower thirst, in part assisted by auto stop-start to cut fuel use in heavy traffic, a feature not available on the 3.6.

Mostly you’ll find yourself in ‘Normal’ mode, and enjoying Outback’s ability to cushion you from bumps while always feeling confident and planted, whatever the surface. And if you head onto rough roads, you may also appreciate the elevated, 213mm ground clearance, though if it gets very rough you could find the longish nose and tail may touch down through deep potholes, unlike a true SUV, which is designed with a nose and tail shaped for steeper entry and departure angles.

What else? Both cars get the same long features list, with extensive safety backup right down to steering-responsive headlights, the same comfy, roomy cabin and capacious boot, and the same handsome looks. There’s very little to tell them apart from outside – unless you lift the bonnet and see the 3.6’s engine cover – or inside, unless you switch the sound system on, when the 3.6 fields a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, to trump the 2.5’s standard set-up.

The Outback is not only a staple on New Zealand roads – it’s Subaru’s hero, for it makes up 44 per cent of all new Subarus sold in New Zealand. Given the term ‘SUV’ covers ever broader definitions, in theory it’s competing against everything from Ford’s rugged Everest and Jeep’s Wrangler, on down. Realistically, Outback buyers will also consider Soda’s Kodiak, Volkswagen’s Tiguan or Toyota’s Highlander when seeking a carry-all for adventurous Kiwi families.

At a glance


Subaru Outback 2.5 Premium, Outback 3.6 Premium


2.5-litre hoizontally opposed four-cylinder, 3.6-litre, horizontally opposed six-cylinder


$49,990 (2.5), $59,990 (3.6R)

ANCAP safety rating


Power and Torque

129kW at 5800rpm, 235Nm at 4000rpm (2.5), 191kW at 6000rpm, 350Nm at 4400rpm (3.6)



Fuel economy

7.3l/100km (2.5), 9.9l/100km (3.6)

Towing capacity

1500kg (2.5), 1800kg (3.6)



Seating capacity


Luggage capacity/payload

512 litres/ 1801 litres

Safety systems

Blind spot detection

Lane change assist

Reversing camera, side and front cameras

Rear cross traffic alert

Seven airbags

2 ISOFIX, 3 child seat tethers

Lane keep assist

Lane departure warning

Previous review
Next review
Holden Commodore 2018 Car Review
Read more
Honda Odyssey 2018 Car Review
Read more