Outback a winner outdoors
Even if you don't possess a boat, a horse box or spend your weekend surfing the waves, Subaru's top-of-the-range estate will impress, writes Campbell SpraySTURDY: Massive in size and equipment, Subaru Outback will take on anything you throw at it
Oh, how the sands of time change and when lashed by storms alter our very perceptions and their own composition.
Much of the odium that falls on the head of SUVs arises because most of the sales during the boom years were to people who didn't need them and used the vehicles as status symbols that clogged city streets and approaches to schools. They gave their owners an appalling smugness and a remove from reality in a very literal sense.
That is not to say that the SUV does not have its place. The successors to the countryman's Land Rover, the military's Jeeps and the builder's truck -- complete with the labourers hanging on for dear life in the back -- may be more plush and as at home at a First Night as on the farm, but the basic requirement is to travel safely over rough terrain when needed. The name Sports Utility Vehicle did them a disservice. Cut the Sports nomenclature and you have more reality. Yet the horse rider, boat-owner, surfer, climber and country-dweller do still need vehicles that have either towing ability or off-road ability, often a mixture of both. A good estate with four-wheel drive is usually a far better proposition than a bulked-up monster. It also shows a much higher degree of taste.
Cars like the Volvo XC70 have excelled in this area by being a sturdy workhorse with a more estate-like profile. However, to the cognoscenti, Subaru with its all-wheel drive system has been the company of choice, especially with the Forester. The company has never been much more than a niche brand in this country, but now that its new diesel engines have settled in, the cars are far more economical to run and buy and deserve to reach a larger audience.
Subaru has a five-model range, which starts with the well-equipped Justy city car (without AWD) and includes the rally-inspired Impreza, the classic Forester estate, the Legacy saloons and tourer, and ends with the well-named Outback. The Outback isn't for the faint-hearted -- it looks and feels like a very sturdy estate that likes to see itself in the "crossover" territory. But many people think Nissan Qashqai and its ilk when talking "crossover". The Outback is something else entirely. Yet while its length will fill a garage and I initially bemoaned the absence of parking sensors all-round, the car is very easy to control. At €41,995, it is massively equipped with safety and comfort features. The lack of those sensors might indicate that the car is more likely to be used in the country than parking in tight city garages.
The AWD is a brilliant comfort blanket for any conditions and I was secretly wishing for the return of the snow during my week's test. I didn't need to fret. I chose to go to Bull Island on Dublin's north side, which had just been lashed by gales and pounding seas. It was a quagmire and not for the faint-hearted. Yet, although I sank to my knees in very boggy sand when I tried in vain to take the dog for a walk, the car sailed through it all like a ship of state. I could easily see the Outback towing a horse box through snow or pulling it out of the muddiest field.
Although beautifully comfortable, with great driver support, the Outback is too big for me -- and much larger than the model it replaces. But as a car for all seasons this estate is well-engineered, great value. A comfort blanket indeed for shifting sands.