Monday 18 December 2017

Outback boxes clever

Subaru Outback 2.0 TD

RATING 83/100

I'm no different from any parent. If a smart, with-it, twenty-something thinks a throwaway remark of mine is funny I will milk it for all it's worth. What is seldom is wonderful as far as I'm concerned.

My second youngest, normally one who likes the flashier coupes and cabrios, took a deeper-than-usual interest after I casually mentioned that the engine in my heavily revised Subaru Outback is called a 'Boxer'.

The name derives from the way the engine is built. If you can imagine its pistons go over and back, like sparring fists, rather than up and down like in conventional engines, then you have a good idea of why it gets its name.

Adding to the mystique and attraction for the lady, whose eyebrows so often arch in compassionate exasperation at what she calls DJs (daddy jokes), was the unique nature of this 2-litre turbo-charged powerplant. It is the only diesel Boxer engine in commercial production in the world.

It is a recent and hugely important arrival for the marque, but long before the talk about 'crossovers' and the like, Subaru had this on the road.

Such concepts are all the rage now, as we know. You get mixes and matches of every conceivable genre under the sun. Some work, some don't because they try, like DJs, to be too smart.

The Outback, on the other hand, is a classic example of simplicity done well and can claim to be among the originals of the species. It is a 'cross' between an estate and a sports utility vehicle (SUV). And it looks the part.

It has evolved at quite a rate, though. And it most certainly needed to. For years it had been the preserve of the few enthusiasts simply because it had what can only be described as a truly gas guzzling petrol engine. And that got a knockout blow when we switched over to our current emissions-based taxation system.

Now it has crossed over to diesel with the arrival of this middleweight Boxer and it is an entirely different proposition.

The vehicle itself is a roomy, well-proportioned piece of work that catches the eye because it has simple, strong lines, stands tall without being overbearing and has enough of that 'muscle look' about it without appearing to mimic a steroid-puffed-SUV.

Inside, the cabin is a major improvement. Big, strong seats, plenty of room, a decent boot, lots of visibility and good-quality materials. It felt like I was driving in an upmarket setting -- and it should because we are looking at €40,000-plus for this.

We gave it a fair bit of driving as well as taking it across a grass field just to ensure we had the traction and grip to do so. It was no bother to it on a fine day with good conditions underfoot.

In doing so I was reminded, as the sun shone through that blue mist that makes this country so beautiful despite all our woes, that not so long ago there were people who would have given a lot to own a car with this ability. Forgive me for bringing up the memories of slip-sliding in the snow and ice but, let's be honest, they are never far away.

Indeed, you never know when they might return. Which is why all-wheel-drive is something I can see potential buyers, especially those living in hilly or more remote areas, putting down as a requisite on their next purchase.

With power distributed to the wheels as conditions dictate, there is always manifestly better grip and traction than with ordinary front-wheel-drive or, shock horror as many found, with rear-wheel propulsion. (Of course we often overlook how important a role tyres play in grip, and winter versions can make a hell of a difference).

We were really comfortable in this, especially on the motorways where the engine's flexibility, particularly in fifth gear, meant I rarely had to change or bother worrying about not having enough low-down power. I'd say that is a big, big plus here. This just digs out movement for you even at the lowest of engine revs.

However, it was less smooth and more prone to being a tad fidgety over poorer and harsher surfaces, lacking the height of sophistication that is the hallmark of the good old Volvo XC Cross Country, for example.

That said, this is a far better proposition now and much more like an executive. Given that so many people who buy an SUV don't need all that 4x4 technology, this is a more than adequate option.

It is not a name that drops from everyone's lips and the marque is hampered by a relatively small dealer network. But for anyone considering upsizing from an estate or downsizing from an SUV the Outback is well worth taking for a test drive.

It may not deliver an instant knockout blow but it will go the distance with the best of them.


Subaru Outback 2.0 TD SE (1,998cc, 150bhp, 0-100kmh in 9.6 secs), 6spd gearbox, all-wheel-drive, 6.1l/100km, CO2 of 167g/km; VRT is 24pc; €447 annual road tax. COST: €41,995. Delivery, related charges extra.

Target Market

Families, lifestyle couples, professionals. PLUS: Cabin, engine, space, looks, versatility, equipment levels.


Handling not as good as some rivals, little or no adjustment on steering wheel.

Standard Equipment

Dual-zone air con, six-speaker audio system, allwheel- drive, electric front seats, cruise control, glass tilt-n-slide sunroof, heated leather seats, automatic headlamps/ wipers, hill-hold function, selflevelling suspension.

Others to consider

Volvo XC90, Range Rover Sport, Audi Allroad Quattro, and several mid-size SUVs

Rating 83 / 100

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