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It's a crisp autumn morning out in the NSW country town of Wagga Wagga when we touch down to test-drive the new CVT/diesel-powered Outback. Out here in the bush, you still see plenty of Subaru Brumbys rolling round town, evidence of where Subaru has come from in this country. It's a reputation built on AWD, but it's also a reputation built on durability and value.
The upper-large SUV category – think 200 Series LandCruiser – has continued to dwindle in Australia and much of the action has been taking place down in the smaller categories thanks to vehicles like BMW X3, Audi Q3 and Subaru's own XV. However, the large SUV category is still kicking along nicely and that's right where this new CVT-equipped Outback will ply its trade.
"This is a significant and important launch," Nick Senior, Managing Director at Subaru Australia, told us. "We have longed to bring this vehicle to market and it's an important piece of the puzzle for us. We haven't been able to really crack the volume end of the large SUV market because of the lack of an automatic diesel in our range."
The large SUV segment is still the largest by some margin and, as you'd expect, the category is dominated by diesel-powered SUVs; in fact, 55 percent of vehicles sold are diesels. Not surprisingly, 94 percent of those are fitted with an automatic transmission.
Refreshingly, there will be just two models available from launch. The 2.0D CVT will have a RRP of $42,490 while the 2.0D CVT Premium model comes in at $45,490.
Both models feature the same 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine – already fitted to already fitted to Liberty and Impreza - that generates 110kW and 350Nm, while using an indicated 6.5 litres/100km. Importantly, the CVT has been strengthened to suit the high torque of the diesel engine and both models will come standard with a full size spare.
Blissful silence. As strange as it may seem, this is the first impression the Outback CVT gives us as we pull out onto a typical coarse-chip country road. The cabin is serene. Extra insulation throughout the vehicle – even within the windscreen – has ensured country kilometres will tick away beautifully in this Outback, regardless of the condition of the road surface. There's no diesel clatter or strained engine note, either, as the revs rise, just a muted sound emanating from under the bonnet. Technical Manager Sam Hill backs up our gut feel. "There's been a 6.5 percent reduction in cabin noise over the previous model," he tells us.
The base model gets manual seat adjustment, while the Premium model gets electric switches. Visibility is excellent, the driving position comfortable and the view out over the bonnet, expansive. Rutted dirt roads don't upset the Outback's sense of calm, either.
We were a little underwhelmed with the torque, or more specifically the way in which the torque is delivered. 350Nm isn't a stratospheric number these days and the Outback doesn't feel particularly powerful or athletic off the mark, or when you need to roll on from 60km/h to highway speed. This is the tradeoff for fitting a large SUV with a 2.0-litre engine; you'll get great economy at the expense of performance.
Testing the Outback marks the second time that we've thought Subaru might just have the best version of any continually variable transmission on the market. This iteration of the new age auto is smooth, quiet and gets about its business without detracting from the general driving experience.
The CVT has been tweaked too, for faster throttle response and sharper acceleration. Preset ‘ratios' (Step Shift Control in Subaru speak) offer a more conventional automatic driving experience, but we preferred to leave the CVT in its normal mode during our first drive. The Outback also gets an external oil cooler for the CVT as well, to ensure serious bush work in hot conditions won't tax the high-tech transmission.
Taking into account the fact that the Outback has genuine off-road ability (213mm of ground clearance is only bettered in the segment by the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mitsubishi Challenger), it really is an impressive SUV on the sealed stuff. Braking, steering and handling are all very car-like, and there's the requisite Subaru AWD grip you'd expect on all kinds of surfaces.
Both specifications are well appointed and comfortable, with the Premium interior simply adding to the already impressive base model interior. Bluetooth functionality is as good as we've experienced and the dash mounted Sat Nav screen is excellent.
Price- and specification-adjusted competitors are, at best, a grand more than the new Outback, meaning it carries a big stick in the value equation. The only competitor with better fuel economy is VW's Passat Alltrack 2.0 with 6.3 litres/100km, against 6.5 for the Outback.
A five-star ANCAP rating is par for the course but the Outback is now the only CVT-equipped option in the large SUV category giving it a solid point of difference. On the downside, it's not an especially attractive vehicle. Subaru's recent styling is somewhat polarising, and the Outback's fussy grille treatment and jewelled rear lights carry on this theme. However, starting at $42,490, you are getting a lot of quiet, economical, roomy, well-handling SUV for the money.
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||2.0 L|
|Claimed fuel consumption||6.5 L/100km|