A staple at the ski fields and bike trails, the Subaru Outback is a much-loved adventurer’s Daily Driver. With the ability to commute during the week and then load up the bikes/skis/kayaks on the weekend, the Outback has won a lot of hearts in New Zealand over many years.

I last drove the Outback in 2018, testing both the 2.5-litre four-cylinder and then straight into the 3.6-litre, six-cylinder model. The outcome from that comparison? The six only used a bit more gas, and drove far better than the four.

For 2020, Subaru NZ has released the Outback X. For the first time in an Outback model, the Outback X features Dual-function X-Mode. Subaru says the X-Mode helps drivers safely negotiate challenging roads, slippery surfaces and inclines with confidence, by constantly monitoring the traction available to each wheel and centralising control of the engine, transmission, brakes and other components.

The Outback X’s new Dual-function X-Mode includes settings for snow, dirt, and mud, and was first introduced in the new generation 2019 Forester. True to its more rugged nature, the Outback X also has water repellant seat fabric, and protective strips in the boot.

Can the Outback X fill a niche that’s missing for Outback buyers?

The Range

You can read about the full range (sans the X) in our previous review.

The Outback X is available with the 2.5-litre model in a selection of five colours. The Outback X features satellite navigation, an electronic sunroof, rear power tail gate and a unique combination meter with white lighting rings and white interior illumination. 

At $49,990, it slots $2,500 above the base model at $47,490, and $2,500 below the top-spec 4-cylinder Premium model, at $52,490.

Like all Subarus in New Zealand, the Outback X is equipped with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, and crash avoidance technology EyeSight as standard. (EyeSight is made up of eight features, including pre-collision braking system, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, and lead vehicle start alert).

The Outback X’s features include:

  • Dual X-Mode with deep snow and deep mud settings
  • Water-repellent seat fabric
  • Unique black front grille with green accents
  • Black door mirrors
  • Black 18″ alloy wheels
  • Satellite navigation 
  • Electric sunroof 
  • Rear power tail gate
  • Unique combination meter with white rings and white light illumination throughout vehicle. 
  • Protection strips on rear cargo floor board
  • Black and green badging (black badging on the rear, green badging on doors). 
  • Green Stitching on seats and centre console, steering wheel, gear shift boot 

Colours include Crystal White Pearl, Crystal Black Silica, Dark Blue Pearl, Magnetite Grey (our test car), and Wilderness Green.

So other than the new X mode, the Outback X is unchanged mechanically from the model we’ve already tested.

You can read more about the Outback X on Subaru New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

On the outside of the Outback X, everything is blacked out. This is no shiny chrome car that never gets to see mud. I’m not normally a fan of matt black wheels, but they suit the Outback X perfectly.

Readers will know I’m not a fan of grey cars either, but the black-out treatment of the X along with the Magnetite Grey colour actually worked. The green Outback lettering on the sides is a giveaway that it’s the X model, and adds a touch of funkiness.

The Outback may not stand out in a pack of SUVs, but it’s still a good-looking car, from any angle.

The Interior

Quite a bit of déjà vu here, stock standard Outback. There are the Outback X-only protective strips in the boot, that surprisingly could be quite handy. As mentioned, there’s loads of trendy green stitching about in the cabin; on the steering wheel, seats, dash, gear shift gaiter. It does add something to the interior, and helps lift it that little bit, helped along by the beige headlining and pillars.

Something that you see little of, but it’s still right there is the slot for playing CDs. Good on Subaru for sticking with this; I’m sure not everyone plays from Bluetooth or Apple CarPlay.

Rear legroom of course is unchanged from the current model, and there is plenty of it. Rear passengers are treated to two 2.1-amp USB charging ports, so grunty enough to charge an iPad. There’s a 12-volt socket in the centre console cubby, and another 2.1-amp USB port up front, along with an AUX port and another 12-volt socket.

The boot too is pretty decent at 512 litres, and even with a full-size spare under the floor.

The Drive

Heading off in the Outback X, it’s a far superior drive to earlier Subarus, before they got the CVT transmission more sorted. It’s still not perfect – yet to find a CVT that is – but it’s a big improvement. You get what almost feel like real gear changes, and CVT flaring is not that evident, unless you floor it. Mashing the gas pedal to 100km/h will see one ‘gear change’, and quite a bit of engine noise, which is around the 5,000-6,000rpm range. In general usage though, engine noise is low, and it’s also a very smooth motor – especially compared to the last 2.5 Outback I drove. Up hills or giving it the gas will bring out a reasonable amount of noise, although it’s not a deal breaker.

I think the 3.6-litre, 6-cylinder is still the better car overall, but it is an extra $10K over the X.

Visibility is still top-notch, and is quite possibly best in class. There’s almost no blind spots, and with blind spot monitoring and huge windows all round, you’ve got all your sides covered. The X is a great commuter in this respect, traveling on the motorways is a breeze, with such good vision at any angle. On the motorway, things are very quiet with little engine noise, and just a hint of wind noise coming over those huge outside mirrors. Tyre noise is well subdued on most surfaces, but as happens so often, coarse chip seal will bring out the worst in the tyres.

I’m reminded too how good the ride is in this car. Any surface, any time, it’s sublime, and floats over just about anything the road throws at it. After getting out of a Veloster Limited and into the Outback, I felt like I was in a limo.

Adaptive cruise control is standard, and it will bring you to a stop. Your set speed is shown in the driver’s information display, something that not everyone does for some reason. The only issue with the adaptive cruise is the beeping. I know Alistair found this in the XV, and I’ve had it in all Subarus; you have adaptive cruise control set, and the car in front of you changes lanes so your car accelerates to the set speed. But it will beep to let you know a car has moved in front. It does a beep too, when a car moves into your lane, or when you come up behind another car and yours has to slow down. It feels unnecessary (because it is), and I’d like the adaptive cruise to just get on with it. Hopefully in a later model we’ll be able to turn the beeping off. It’s one of those things that for me, is a deal breaker. First world problem, sure, but it drives me a little crazy.

Interestingly, when I tested the 2.5 in 2018, I used 9.6 litres of petrol per 100km. This time, it was down to 8.0. That’s a pretty big drop, and I wish I knew the reason why. I did do more kilometres this time (600 vs. 350), but it’s still a big margin. It’s still higher than what Subaru suggests, which is 7.3L/100km.

The Competition

One thing is for certain: I’d hate to be buying a car in this range. So many difficult choices.

Brand/ModelEnginePower/TorquekW/NmCargo capacity, litresFuel consumption, L/100kmBase Price – High to Low
Ford Endura Trend AWD2.0-litre, diesel turbo140/4008006.7$56,490
Hyundai Tucson Elite AWD1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol130/2654887.7$53,990
Toyota RAV4 Limited Hybrid AWD2.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol/hybrid131/2215424.8$53,490
Kia Sportage GT Line AWD2.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol135/2374668.5$51,990
Seat Ateca 4Drive Wagon AWD2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol140/3205106.9$51,990
Subaru Outback X AWD2.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol129/2355127.3$49,990
Nissan X-Trail ST-L AWD2.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol126/2265658.3$49,990
Honda CRV Sport Sensing AWD1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol140/2405227.4$48,990
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross VRX AWD1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol112/2543747.7$47,590
Mazda CX-5 GSX AWD2.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol140/2524557.4$46,745

The Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Ride
Ground clearance
AWD surety
Reputation
Interior space
Engine smoothness, NVH 
Beeping
Engine can sound coarse at high revs 
Vehicle TypeLarge, 5-door station wagon
Starting Price$49,490
Price as Tested$49,990
Engine2.5-litre, 4-cylinder Boxer petrol
Power, Torque[email protected]/[email protected]
TransmissionCVT with 7-speed stepped manual mode
0-100km/h, seconds10.8
Spare WheelFull-size alloy
Kerb Weight, Kg1599
Length x Width x Height, mm4820
Cargo Capacity, litres512/1801
Fuel capacity, litres60
Fuel EfficiencyAdvertised Spec – combined – 7.3L/100km
Real World Test – combined –  8.0L/100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing CapacityKg, unbraked/braked750/1500
Turning circle, metres11.0
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 Warranty3-years unlimited kilometres
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Economy
7
Interior
8
Performance
6
Safety
9
Styling
8
Value
8
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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