2004 Subaru Outback 3.0R

By Bill McKinnon on 01 February 2004
2004 Subaru Outback 30R

Engine
Transmission
Fuel Economy
16.4 L/ 100km
Output
ANCAP rating

Not Tested

Subaru's 2004 Outback, like its predecessors, is a lightly modified Liberty wagon that's designed to handle dirt as well as bitumen roads. It's no bush basher, but the lightweight Outback is one of the best handling crossover wagons on the market. At the top of the range, the 3.0R features a more powerful six cylinder engine than the H6 it replaces, plus a new five-speed-automatic transmission.

Value for money

Pricing

The Outback 3.0R costs $45,990; the Premium model is $53,440.

Warranty

Three years/unlimited kilometres, which is above average.

Standard features

Standard equipment includes Data Dot security, an in-dash six-stack CD, two front airbags, automatic air, cruise control, trip computer, remote central locking and self levelling rear suspension.

The Premium adds side and curtain airbags, stability control, power adjustable driver's seat, leather upholstery and a sunroof.

Retained value

The Outback is one of the best resale performers on the market, holding approximately 70 per cent of its new price after three years.

Design and function

Ergonomics

The dash layout is as per the Liberty; no fuss, clean and stylish. Everything is easy to reach and operate.

The driver's seat is manually adjustable for height, and the lumbar adjuster is also effective. The Momo leather wheel is height adjustable; reach is fixed, which may be a problem for very tall or very short drivers.

Innovation

Subaru is one of the more technically advanced car companies. The original 1996 Outback was the first "crossover" wagon; this is the third generation model, which has now, of course, been joined by many imitators.

The new model, though larger and stronger, is also lighter than its predecessor - a feat which eludes most manufacturers.

Safety

The new Outback (and Liberty) has not yet been tested, but like previous models it should score well. The Premium model's extra safety equipment - side/curtain airbags, plus stability control - should be provided in the base version.

Security

Date Dot identification is a significant deterrent to thieves, because the car, and its individual parts, can be traced. An immobiliser is also fitted.

Comfort

The driver's seat is firm, with a long, narrow cushion and slightly unyielding bolstering, which some people may find to be a bit hard on the thighs and backside after a couple of hours.

Space and practicality

The rear seat is contoured for two, with a flat backrest and long, comfortable cushion. Leg room is adequate with two average sized adults up front, but tight if occupants are tall. Larger crossover wagons, like Toyota's Kluger, are much more roomy in the back seat.

The load area is spacious and well designed. The 60/40 split fold rear seat backs are easily folded, extending the floor to a flat 1.8 metres, without compromising front seat travel or requiring the removal of the head restraints. The low floor is also easy to load; three child restraint anchors are in the roof, and a load cover is supplied.

You also get a full sized spare.

Build and finish quality

Excellent, as per Subaru's usual standard.

On the road

Fuel efficiency

The Outback's light weight - only 1540 kg - contributes to fuel efficiency, countered to a certain extent by the engine's performance characteristics and the need for premium unleaded fuel.

It certainly uses less fuel than 1800-2200 kg tonne crossover wagons. On the highway, it will return 9-11 litres/100 km; in town, this increases to 13-16 litres/100 km.

Performance

The 3.0 litre six has the same basic dimensions as its predecessor. A new cylinder head, with variable valve timing and lift, plus an electronic accelerator and more efficient exhaust contribute to a substantial power increase.

It now produces 180 kW at 6,600 rpm (previously 154 kW/6000.) Peak torque rises only marginally, from 282 Nm to 297 Nm, at 4,200 rpm.

Add the close ratio five-speed automatic, and the leanest kilo count in the class, and the result is quick acceleration.

The 3.0 litre goes very hard from 3500 rpm, and harder again from 5500, however it is still quite weak where it counts - the 2000-3500 rpm lower midrange. Here, it lacks the long legs and low rev pulling power expected from six cylinders.

The Outback cruises across flat country easily at 100 km/h, where the 3.0 litre is turning over at a smooth, busy 2,200 rpm in fifth.

Hit a hill and the five-speed automatic starts shuffling up and down the gears, almost as though it's bolted to a four cylinder engine. You can use the manual shift feature to overcome this tendency, but it still doesn't disguise the engine's lack of accessible torque.

Subaru claims that the 3.0 litre Outback will now tow up to 1800 kg.

However the engine's peaky nature is not conducive to easily hauling such a load.

Shifts are quite smooth in Drive, though occasionally flared. In change gears yourself mode, shifts are crisp, and the lower ratios will run to the 7200 rpm redline.

Ride

Ride comfort is a highlight. The suspension is firm but always compliant. Across the full range of road conditions it efficiently and quietly absorbs impacts before they reach the body.

Handling and steering

The Outback's light weight, rigid body, low centre of gravity and suspension tuning finesse produce excellent handling in the 4WD wagon context.

It is slightly less taut than the Liberty, and you notice the extra weight of six cylinders up front when turning into tight corners, but the Subaru's balance, agility, responsiveness and steering precision - on bitumen or dirt - are superior to larger, heavier, taller crossover wagons.

Yokohama Geolander tyres provide adequate grip.

The Outback's realistic adventuring limit is a dirt road. Minimal clearance and underbody protection, substantial overhangs at both ends and no low range prohibit ambitious off-roading.

The 3.0 R Premium has stability control, with a high intervention threshold. The Outback's composure and seamless all-wheel-drive delivery on any surface are such that it is only required if things go seriously wrong.

Braking

The brakes are effective on sealed surfaces, where there's plenty of power at light/moderate pedal pressures and emergency stopping distances are short. Some fade was evident on a long downhill run.

The test car's ABS sensitivity was appropriate on loose dirt and gravel, but when activated it allowed the car to roll for far too long after releasing the brakes in response to initial wheel lockup, before reapplying them more aggressively, as required on such surfaces.

Summary

The Outback 3.0R's chief attraction is the fact that it drives more like a car than a 4WD, due to its compact size and light weight. Quality, ride comfort, resale values and refinement are other virtues; on the debit side, the 3.0 litre six misses out on the all important midrange torque which many buyers want, and which is much more useful in everyday driving than outright top end power.

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