Petrol Outback makes a poor case next to diesel version

What is it?

The new Subaru Outback, fitted with a naturally aspirated, 165bhp 2.5-litre petrol engine and continuously variable automatic gearbox. This model sits at the bottom of the range, costing marginally less than the 2.0 turbodiesel, whilst a 3.6-litre Outback R forms the range topper.

As the ruggedised, high-riding version of the Legacy tourer, the Outback gets 50mm of extra ground clearance over its more road-oriented sibling with a total of 200mm. There is no manual option on this petrol model.

What’s it like?

Slow, but refined and very comfortable. Confusingly, this petrol-engined model is slower than the diesel model thanks to its peak torque output of 169lb ft, which arrives at 4000rpm.

As a result the 2.5-litre Outback struggles to 60mpg in 10.4sec, feeling a lot more strained than the diesel not only due to the engine’s shortcomings but also because of the CVT gearbox.

Cruise along without putting too much load on the engine and the Outback is a relaxing thing to drive down a motorway. The high ride height doesn’t significantly affect the ride, which is soft but very well controlled so you don’t get much body roll and even sharp intrusions in the road surface are absorbed with only a low thud reaching occupants.

Beyond a calm cruise the Outback loses its composure. The gearbox and engine conspire to make this both noisy and slow to respond if you attempt to drive it in a spirited fashion, even if that merely involves more than half throttle coming out of a corner.

Where the Outback excels is in its cabin, where it is one of the most spacious cars in this class for passengers in the front and back. The dash is also a big step forward for Subaru, with build quality improved and some muted metal inserts bringing a much-needed touch of class to the interior.

Unfortunately being better than the rest of the Subaru range in terms of material quality is still not good enough and it falls short in by comparison to its rivals.

Should I buy one?

Not in this form. As a diesel estate the Outback is only a few hundred pounds more, so there is no reason to opt for the less economical, less enjoyable 2.5i unless you must have an automatic – an option that isn’t yet available with the 2.0d.

Even with the likeable diesel engine, the Subaru Outback is a difficult car to justify. It’s sure to be good for most off-road needs, and with its massively improved interior there’s even more reason to like it.

But the driving experience is particularly detached in this new model, and with strong competition from Volvo, Audi and Skoda you must be willing to sacrifice driver involvement and performance for little other than rarity factor in the Subaru’s favour.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
jelly7961 7 October 2009

Re: Subaru Legacy 2.5i Outback

Fred The Fiend wrote:
This car is designed for the American market, where they like their cars big and ugly.

Not necessarily. The reason this current Outback looks this way is that the previous one was too small/dainty for the Yanks. In fact the previous shaped Outback did NOT sell well for that very reason. I understand that Australia/New Zealand are the biggest export markets for this model
IainStirling 3 October 2009

Re: Subaru Legacy 2.5i Outback

Fred The Fiend wrote:
I think a lot of you are missing the point here.

We are not missing the point. The point is the poor range that is available to the UK buyers. As another example, why does the Outback come with the 3.6 l engine (260 bhp) but the Legacy only get the old 2.5 i (160 bhp)? The lower riding Legacy would clearly handle the extra power better than the jacked up Outback.

Rgds, Iain.

Fred The Fiend 2 October 2009

Re: Subaru Legacy 2.5i Outback

I think a lot of you are missing the point here. This car is designed for the American market, where they like their cars big and ugly. (In fact the version sold there is slightly bigger again).

The other issue is that the UK seems to get only a very small subset of the Subaru range. Here in Oz we get a much wider variety of the breed, with a choice of engines, transmissions, states of tune etc. Though sadly, the diesel hasn't got here yet.