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Tested: Subaru Outback 3.6 Premium

2010-03-25 07:51
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Subaru
Model Outback
Engine 3.6l flat-six
Power 191kW 5 100r/min

Hailey Philander

I’m not a big fan of SUVs. I find them wholly unnecessary for most daily applications although I do understand the elevated driving position provides practical benefits, the most notable being, especially for shorter people like me, seeing over those nasty traffic bunch-ups.

Which is why I was not especially looking forward to driving a Subaru Outback for a week or so. Okay, so it was not entirely fair. I love the Forester because, although it is practically speaking an SUV, it is far more like a high-riding wagon than anything else. Even the Outback is not an SUV in the traditional mould; Subaru instead prefers to call it an XUV for crossover utility vehicle. It certainly is a lot less imposing than many traditional large SUVs.

It is massive yes, but you only really notice this anomaly when Outback is viewed amongst other, more regular-sized cars in a crowded car park. It has a wheelbase pushing 2.8 metres and the XUV’s overall length is more than 4.7 metres long.

Compared with the previous model, the new car has a bumper that has been recessed to allow for a better approach angle. The same applies for the rear bumper, too. Even with its size and off-road abilities, Outback takes on a wagon-like appearance. This, along with its softer, rounded edges and overhangs shorter by 10 to 20 mm to its predecessor, conspire to make this XUV feel a lot more compact than it is.

The Outback and Forester have, for me, always been among the prettiest models in the Subaru line-up, unburdened by the desire to be as stylish as its sedan siblings. It’s better for it, though, and this Outback is superb as it treads a fine line between absolute go-anywhere trooper to super-luxury family wagon.

Boxing clever

As an added bonus, we were given the chance to sample the range-topping 3.6 R Premium model introduced to South Africa in February this year. Using a six-cylinder boxer engine mated to a five-speed Sportshift automatic transmission, this model is the business.

The rorty naturally aspirated 3.6-litre horizontally opposed inline six churns out 191 kW at 5 600 r/min and a very useful 350 Nm at 4 400 r/min. Which means that even if you, like me, prefer to potter about rather than blast from point A to point B, you could still summon a fair amount of ferociousness when necessary.

Variable valve timing is employed for both the intake and exhaust valves and ensures fuel efficiency is beefed-up without the need to compromise consumption figures. With a six-cylinder at your disposal, fuel consumption is expected to be punishing although, in our time spent together (with some serious granny-like jaunts included) the Outback’s trip computer reading just barely squeezed beneath the 12 l/100 km-mark.

SI-drive or Subaru Intelligent Drive offers three settings that allow for different characteristics (Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp) for different driving conditions. Because I rarely rush anyway during the week, Intelligent mode in plain old auto was used almost exclusively. Intelligent allows for greater overall comfort and the more efficient use of fuel in stop-start city traffic, and the Outback was happy to amble along with the rest of the city slickers.

Works on-road (and a bit off it)

A date with a rural wedding allowed me to stretch the R’s legs. Quick switch on the rotary dial to the far right and the sport sharp setting made short work of the inviting rural road, the Outback lapping it up with gusto. Steering is sharper, gear shifts swifter and acceleration more violent as the whole experience moves up peg. Of course, in this hedonistic state (even in an XUV), the rate at which premium unleaded is consumed is the least of your concerns.

The latest generation Outback shares its platform and suspension with the Legacy, although the XUV’s spring rates are altered to account for the higher ride height. You wouldn’t guess it by this way this Outback moves, though.

It may not look it, but ground clearance is surprisingly generous – 213 mm – and again amplifies this Outback’s versatility, particularly with Subaru’s Symmetrical All Wheel Drive in place and powering all four wheels around the city and out of dongas.

Like the Legacy, the Outback also uses an engine cradle rather with four-liquid-filled rubber mounts, rather than a sub-frame, to keep the engine in place along with calming vibrations and muting additional noise that may creep into the cabin.

However, when seated within the plush cabin of the Outback, fuel consumption, a muddy exterior and road noise probably won’t feature too high up on your list of XUV priorities. You may be too busy flipping switches and getting completely comfortable in the power-operated leather seats to care.

Because the latest generation Outback again shares its platform with the Legacy, the amount of space on offer to its occupants is ridiculous. There is more space everywhere – from leg room to shoulder room and hip points.

This is definitely the type of vehicle that appreciates a lot of activity. Toss the seats forward (all Outbacks have 60/40 split rear benches) when more space is required and watch the space balloon. Thankfully, although the Outback sits quite high off the ground, it has a very flat load bay and relatively low load sill, so piling goods into the luggage space is manageable. The tailgate also opens wide and evenly, so there is no need for creative packing when carting a load.

Should things really become crowded, you could always hitch up that trailer and let the self-levelling rear suspension ensure things are kept on an even keel.

As expected, the top-of-the-range Outback is packed with a host of convenience features. I always have difficulty holding on to those clever keyless start-and-go fobs and remembering where I put them, but the added convenience of hopping in and going is especially useful when dodging pesky “car guards” or driving home alone late at night.

Other nice-to-haves include climate control, a jack for your iPod, a top notch audio system and a host of additional conveniences.

Safety equipment is right up there too; seven airbags, ABS with EBD and Subaru’s magic symmetrical all-wheel drive system feature high on the list.


The Outback and Forester have, for me, always been among the prettiest models in the Subaru line-up, unburdened by the desire to be as stylish as its sedan siblings. It’s better for it, though, and this Outback is superb as it treads a fine line between absolute go-anywhere trooper to super-luxury family wagon.


More room than you may need makes for a cabin that is infinitely comfortable. Wood grain finish in range-topper does a great job of breaking up the hard plastic and pseudo-metal finish. Driving position through ten-way power seat is superb.


A dream. Outback mechanicals are rock solid, but added shove from the R’s straight six makes this Outback exhilarating, too.


The Outback generally creates a very strong case for itself. It is extremely luxurious, yet undercuts the German (and even a few Japanese) premium offerings in a substantial way. And without the heavy expectation of a premium brand dragging it down, the Outback is free to go about its business in a calm and lumbering fashion.

Its unpretentiousness in a crowded luxury SUV segment is also completely refreshing.

It could be argued that the 3.6R is slightly over the top, but it certainly is reassuring to know one has access to a huge fun reserve with the mere prod of right foot.

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