It might be too rugged for some, but the redesigned Subaru Outback is still a force to be reckoned with in the countryside, says Simon de Burton.
Anyone with experience of children won’t need to have the word brat defined, but only car enthusiasts of the more intense kind will appreciate the automotive signficance of BRAT as an acronym for ‘Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter’, a sporty pick-up truck that was first seen on the roads of Britain shortly after its Japanese maker, Subaru, arrived here in 1977.
It was some years before we really felt comfortable with our pronunciation of the marque, by which time we had become attuned to the unusual, off-beat drone made by the BRAT’s ‘flat four’ petrol engine as these strangely exotic-looking utility vehicles became ever more popular with the farming community, which liked the way they kept running even when ravaged by rust.
But what was most appealing about the BRAT (or MV1800/1600 as it was officially called in the UK) was that it featured four-wheel drive at a time when that was associated mainly with Land Rovers and the Mitsubishi and Toyota equivalents. The difference with the BRAT was that it was small, low, light and drove as slickly as any other Japanese car—and, with hindsight, it was way ahead of its time.
Subaru subsequently made significant inroads into Europe with its range of all-wheel-drive cars that, thanks to the rallying success of the Impreza models, even attracted a cult following among the ‘yoof’, who still like to soup-up their ‘Scoobys’ and drive at high speed with tweaked turbochargers hissing like old pressure cookers.
The thinking person’s Subaru, however, has long been the Outback, the larger-sized, well-appointed estate originally launched 20 years ago—and which has now been refreshed and remodelled to provide serious competition to rivals such as the Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70.
Part of the upgrade has involved equipping the new Outback with high levels of electronic options, including a touch-screen Starlink ‘infotainment’ system and, on versions with CVT automatic transmission, something called EyeSight.
This is a new form of nannying device comprising cameras in front of the rear-view mirror that scan the way ahead and, among other things, set off bleepers if you’re about to stray across the white line. It can even apply the brakes and ‘helps drivers make a sharp turn’ in the event of an impending front-end collision.
If you like a car that thinks for you, EyeSight is undeniably impressive and such aids have come to be expected by today’s tech-savvy buyers. What strikes me as being far more appealing about the new Outback is that, like generations of the model that have gone before, it combines a relatively low-key appearance with a high degree of practicality.
Subaru’s so-called ‘symmetrical’ four-wheel-drive system provides a 60-40 front to rear split, its well-known effectiveness being enhanced by an X-Mode switch that invokes hill-descent control and enhances off-road ability. And this is a car that’s really intended to be used as an off-roader, too, as evinced by extensive underbody protection, rubber bump strips along the flanks and a tall stance giving 200mm (8in) of ground clearance and useful wading ability.
The Outback — which comes with a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty — also feels as if it’s built to last (those days of Subarus rotting to dust are in the past) and grows on you the more time you spend with it.
Mrs de Burton even suggested that it could be her ‘car for life’, so enamoured was she with its greedy, 2,000-litre carrying capacity and generally useful nature. That’s probably not going to happen, but if you’ve a mind to buy an Outback, you should choose the model wisely, as it may well be with you for a long time, if not a lifetime. There are only two engine options (a two-litre turbo diesel and a 2.5-litre petrol) and either the CVT transmission or a six-speed, manual gearbox.
I’d go for the two-litre turbo diesel with a six-speed, manual gearbox and keep the extras to a minimum, then look forward to a long and happy relationship with a characterful car that’s a little less obvious than much of the opposition. You might even want to hand it down to your brats.
On the road: Subaru Outback 2.5i SE Premium Lineartronic
Price: £31,495 (for the model Simon drove)
Annual road fund licence: £180
Combined fuel consumption: 40.4mpg
0–62mph: 10.2 seconds