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Subaru's Outback has never sold in huge numbers here in the UK - indeed, to city-dwellers, they're automotive hens' teeth.

However, leave the lights behind and travel to pastures greener, and you'd be hard pushed not to see an Outback hauling a horse box or parked outside the Fox and Hounds splattered with mud.

It's largely this country set who keep the Outback name alive in the UK, but Subaru hopes the interest in it will expand further with the new model, launched in 2015. Changes to the Outback's styling, infotainment, interior quality and chassis dynamics are the reasons for that.

Gone are the days of the cripplingly strong Japanese Yen, too, so the Outback is now more competitively priced against rival off-road estates than ever. Skoda's Superb estate and Octavia Scout are within reach, while Volvo's XC70, soon to be replaced, is actually more expensive than the manual diesel Outback we're driving here on UK roads. Or buyers could spend roughly the same on a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV.

This comprehensive upgrade of the Outback brings with it the addition of the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre petrol engine, although the (now more economical) 2.0-litre boxer diesel is expected to be the big seller. Among the significant changes for this new model are a quicker steering rack, new dampers and suspension geometry, and a redesigned interior complete with new multimedia system.

Measuring 4.8m long, 1.8m wide and 1.6m high, the Outback can be characterised as being more estate than SUV (just), and you can argue that it competes with a vast array of different four-wheel drive models.

Owners of the current Outback won't be disappointed. There remains a huge amount of space inside for four adults and the cabin quality retains its functional feel, but the materials are improved and the switchgear feels slicker than before.

The Outback's boot is bigger, now 559 litres, and aside from some slight wheel arch intrusion, its flush lip and wide opening make it one of the more practical examples on the market. The rear seats can be split 60/40 and lie almost flat, too.

You tend to sit on the driver's seat rather than in it, but even the lankiest drivers won't have an issue getting comfy. The dash is now dominated by Subaru's brand new infotainment system, which consists of a 7.0in touchscreen flanked by menu buttons.

It's bright, responsive and a vast improvement on what went before, even if some of the onscreen buttons are a tad small. It's nice to see it's included on every car, with its integrated sat-nav as a standard feature, too.

Also standard across the range that consists of just the one SE Premium trim level are heated seats, 17in alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, Bluetooth, sat nav, rear-view camera, heated front seats, a leather upholstery and cruise control. An impressive list.

Subaru's engineers have added weight to the Outback's steering, as well as making it quicker, while its dampers and springs have been fettled to give better body control. The result is a car that feels noticeably more capable when asked to change direction quickly, even if the steering provides no more enjoyment.

Current owners are likely to notice the trade-off, though, which is the Outback's new ride. Body float has been almost eliminated, and damping is slightly improved, but this stiffer Outback fails to settle over broken roads, particularly at lower speeds. The results do add up to a substantial improvement over the old model.

Two powertrains are offered on the Outback - a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine with 148bhp and 258lb ft of torque, and a normally aspirated 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol developing 172bhp and 173lb ft. A six-speed manual gearbox and Subaru's Lineartronic CVT automatic transmission are available on diesel variants, while the petrol only comes with the CVT auto.

When mated to the boxer diesel, the CVT automatic doesn’t do the classic CVT thing of over-revving combined with no real performance pick-up - unless you ask for absolutely everything at once, at which point the engine does sound pretty ghastly. Essentially, this is a car that encourages really relaxed progress anyway; it’s fairly slow no matter how hard you rev it.

The 148bhp 2.0-litre boxer diesel engine is more pleasant when paired with the six-speed manual gearbox. Although it fights against the Outback's 1622kg kerb weight and never feels outright punchy, pick from the long gears correctly and it pulls steadily from 1500rpm over a usefully wide range of revs.

Changing gear isn't the slickest process, but the boxer diesel is one of the most refined anywhere, proving vibration-free right through that rev range and noisy only when pushed beyond 3500rpm. At higher speeds there is some wind noise heard around the door mirrors, but that aside the Subaru is a relaxing place in which to cover miles.

Off-road, the Outback's permanent, symmetrical all-wheel-drive system helps it to stand out among its peers. Its approach, departure and break-over angles are greater than those of most rivals, too, helping you traverse even deeply rutted tracks with greater confidence.

There are two things to consider before you pull the trigger on a Subaru Outback. Firstly, diesel models have a lower towing limit than the petrols (1800kg vs 2000kg), and secondly, Subaru's newly launched Eyesight safety system, which includes lane departure warning, city braking and adaptive cruise control, can't be added to manual models.

Even so, the Outback is cheaper than similarly sized premium rivals, a bit more upmarket-feeling than more budget SUVs and is characterised by that unpretentious, durable, 'go anywhere for the rest of time' feel that Subaru loyalists swear by.

For the majority of buyers, though, we still think buying the cheaper, faster, cleaner, more frugal and similarly spacious and well equipped Skoda Octavia Scout is what you should do. That said, the Outback is certainly worth more of your consideration than ever before.

 

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