The Subaru Outback is one of those vehicles which has developed a local icon status within New Zealand. Sure, it’s not as ubiquitous as a Toyota Hilux or a Ford Ranger for that matter, but the Outback has always identified with a Kiwi’s adventurous spirit.
For this reason, the Outback has always been an appealing vehicle, offering practicality, comfort, ruggedness, and 4WD capability. It did the crossover thing, before crossovers even started pretending to.
It’s not surprising that the Subaru Outback has a bit of a legacy – no, not the Subaru Legacy – but one forged on its own merits. Those that own an Outback tend to love them, and in the past, I completely understood why.
This model marks the 7th generation of Outback, which Subaru has dubbed the G.O.O.A.T – the Greatest Outback of All Time. Let’s put that theory to the test.
What’s In The 2021 Subaru Outback Range?
The Subaru Outback is offered with three different models in its line-up. These are priced below:
From the beginning of the range, the base model is simply called the “Outback”. Yup, that’s it. Easy, right?
The base Outback is well appointed with many standard features, including; 18’’ alloys, a 11.6’’ touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cloth seats, 10-way power driver’s seat, 8-way power passengers seat, auto LED headlights (which are steering responsive and self-levelling), auto-dimming rear view mirror, roof rails, blind spot monitoring, lane change assistance and rear cross traffic alert and also a driver attention monitoring system which detects distraction and drowsiness.
Move to the middle of the range, you’ll find our test vehicle; the Outback X.
The Outback X adds four heated seats, front and side view cameras, SatNav with live traffic, power tailgate with hands free sensor, water-resistant synthetic leather upholstery, a leather steering wheel and sports pedals.
The Outback X also has its own exclusive aesthetics package, offering dark grey metallic 18’’ alloys, plus a few blacked out terms including the front grille, fog light surrounds, front and rear bumper guards, wing mirrors and a few other facias. Most distinctively, the Outback X gains several green accents, including green side badging, interior stitching and also on the accent points for the roof rails.
Topping the range is the Outback Touring, which adds even more features on the Outback X.
The Touring gains Nappa Leather seats, a sunroof, driver’s memory seat, reverse sync-d passenger wing mirror, a heated steering wheel, Harman Kardon audio with sub and amp, and a CD player (?!).
The Touring loses the blacked out aesthetic package of the Outback X, but instead is offered with a gloss finish on the 18’’ alloys, and silver finishes for the wing mirrors, and roof rail points.
All models of Outback receive Subaru’s Eyesight safety suite which offers adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition, lane centring assist, lane departure warning with steering vibration.
True to the Outback’s capability, each Outback offers Subaru’s dual X-mode with deep snow/mud for the rough stuff.
All models are powered by a 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder direct injection Boxer engine, producing 138kW of power and 245Nm of torque, paired to Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT gearbox.
The Outback is offered with nine colour options, including; Autumn Green Metallic, Brilliant Bronze Metallic, Crystal White Pearl, Magnetite Grey Metallic, Crimson Red Pearl.
For more information on the Subaru Outback range, visit the Subaru New Zealand website.
First Impressions Of The 2021 Subaru Outback X
When Subaru calls this Outback the G.O.O.A.T, or the Greatest Outback Of All Time, how literal are they being? Is Subaru referring to size?
It would make sense if they were, because this Outback looks massive!
Even though this is a wagon, Subaru calls the Outback a “Large SUV” on their website. This probably goes against the grain for those that know the Outback as a wagon, but I am starting to see SUV proportions with the new model.
Although the Outback has grown for the 7th generation, it isn’t actually much larger than its predecessor. The size perception is mainly due to the beltline of this Outback, making it look huge.
Also, my historic perception of the size of the Outback comes into play here. Compare this model with the ubiquitous 3rd generation Outback, which are commonly seen all over New Zealand, and the perceived size difference will seem substantial, despite that it’s mainly the width which is the difference between them.
So yes, it looks big. But otherwise, it’s all rather pleasing to look at. I especially like the Outback X’s green badging and accents, they’re pretty cool. The LED front and rear lights also look sharp too.
Our black press vehicle hides much of the body details, but if you manage to spot a lighter coloured one (particularly an Outback Touring), the Outback is demonstrably a handsome machine.
What’s The Interior Like On A 2021 Subaru Outback X?
If you’ve experienced any previous generation Outback, you’ll appreciate that the interiors are often well equipped, but geared towards being utilitarian over luxurious. This new Outback nearly flips that notion on its head, significantly so, that it might present a culture shock for some.
Stepping inside the new model, you can immediately tell that Subaru has aimed for a more luxurious experience for the occupants. My first encounter left me genuinely astounded; the material choices, the abundant use of leather across several surfaces, the contrasting green stitching, the styling and geometry of the cabin – it’s all highly impressive.
The attention to design and detail is a major step-up from Subaru, which if I’m being blunt, hasn’t always been the brand’s strong suit.
After you’ve finished marvelling at the interior, you’ll soon begin to appreciate the amount of space inside the cabin. I am not exactly a short bloke, but the amount of free real estate in the head room department made me feel on the short side. The same courtesy is extended to the rear, where passengers will find ample head and leg room.
This brings us to seating, which from my experience, is an area that Subaru consistently gets right. The front seats are excellent; they’re plush and supportive. There’s plenty of configurability in both the front and passengers’ seats to set yourself up optimally. The only criticism I would make is that the seat base is slightly on the shorter side, meaning that you may be a tad short on under thigh support.
All four seats are heated in the X model, which is a nice plus. The seats and parts of the interior of the Outback X are wrapped in a water resistant, two-tone leather (grey/black), which should suit those into water sports.
Being a wagon, the boot is massive too. There’s plenty of little utilities back there too, including a number of tether points, plus some door handle style seat releases, making it super easy to put the rear seats down.
The space in this wagon is easily on par, if not better, than many similarly priced large SUVs.
A common thought amongst buyers, and an obvious advantage of SUVs, is that higher ground clearance makes ingress and egress for those with stiffer joints. Although a wagon, the Outback offers high ground clearance and thus a level entry point. Climbing inside is therefore easy as!
With all the discussion directed to space, seats and materials, we should move to perhaps the most noteworthy change to the Outback’s interior, and that’s the new 11-inch infotainment system.
The screen has a portrait orientation, which is a similar layout to modern Volvos. The screen is segregated into three zones. Those familiar with Subaru’s technology will recognise the Subaru’s Starlink interface (only scaled up a bit) occupying most of the centre of the screen. Up top is the X-mode display, which is usually separated to another screen in other Subaru models, like the Impreza and XV. Down the bottom, there’s soft controls for the climate control and front heated seats.
I love the concept of what Subaru is doing with the infotainment, unfortunately, it seems that the infotainment left the factory in need of an update. Subaru’s user interface (UI) is friendly enough and resolution is good, but the system is a bit clunky and sometimes will noticeably lag between touching the screen and the system executing the command.
There are also other parts of the UI which aren’t so well thought out. For example, on the lower screen with the climate controls, Subaru has needlessly made a simple one step process of turning on heated seats into a frustrating two-step process. The soft button for the front heated seats controls is combined with the climate temperature, meaning when you press the button for the heated seats, another entire menu for both functions’ pops-up requiring another interaction to turn them on.
It’s even more absurd when you realise the integration of the climate temperature is totally unnecessary, as you can adjust the temperature using the physical controls on the screen bezel. It’s far simpler turning on the rear heated seats, which use a physical button.
Yet, it’s not all bad. A redeeming quality of the infotainment is all the exterior cameras connected up it. The camera displays have decent resolution and refresh rates.
The infotainment system is connected to a six-speaker audio system, which unfortunately, are another weak point of the Outback’s interior. I have mentioned in other reviews that the number of speakers in a car does not matter if they’re incorrectly set-up. Six-speakers with good amplification should be enough to perform in a satisfactory manner. For our test vehicle, the Outback X, I found the audio quality to be quite poor.
The speakers sound tinny, with no real depth to the soundscape. The speakers fail to capture the lows well, and the highs are mediocre. Furthermore, the focal point of the sound seems to be well in front of the driver and passenger, even with the system on its most balanced settings.
For a vehicle that will inevitably be used for cross country touring, a good sound system is a must, and therefore this feels like an oversight from Subaru. It is worthwhile noting that the Outback Touring appears to remediate this issue, offering an upgraded Harman Kardon system. However, it would be appreciated if Subaru could fix this for the commoner folk in base and mid spec vehicles.
Overall, the interior of the Outback is a proper step forward for range and for Subaru. It’s well designed, and exceptionally spacious and comfortable. However, there are some clear oversights on the technology front, which could benefit from improvement.
What Does The 2021 Subaru Outback X Drive Like?
As part of the Outback’s adventurous image, it’s an unspoken requirement that it needs to be able to cover miles comfortably, especially across New Zealand’s varying road surfaces. It also needs to be adept on twistier roads, has the guts for a passing lane, and occasionally the ability to competently tow.
This means there’s somewhat of a heavy expectation upon the Outback. So how does she go?
Starting with the engine, powering the Outback range is a 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder boxer engine producing 138kW of power and 245Nm of torque. This is paired with Subaru’s lineartronic CVT transmissions, which drives all-four wheels via Subaru’s symmetrical AWD.
The performance from the engine and gearbox duo is satisfactory, but I wouldn’t call it ample. There’s plenty for the day-to-day, and enough juice for a passing lane. However, drivers will notice a lack of immediacy, stemming mainly from sparse low-mid range torque carrying a relatively heavy body. Peppy, the Outback isn’t. But it’s not slow either.
More frustratingly, the engine sounds a bit exasperated when pushed for the power, but this is a trait of the boxer engine and of the Subaru range. I’ve generally noticed there’s enough power available, but the accompanying sound is disproportionate to what is being delivered.
The CVT transmission also scores a satisfactory mark. It’s considerably better than older Subaru units, and has been continually improved to improve robustness, and reduce CVT flaring or high rpm hang. Subaru says that more than 80% of the structural parts have been improved. The result? You get a (mostly) well-behaved CVT, which is exactly what you should want.
I am somewhat sceptical of a CVT being used on an Outback. A CVT just doesn’t seem rugged enough, nor the most durable choice, for a vehicle which is off-road capable. Nonetheless, there are plenty of videos on YouTube of the Outback being bush-bashed and holding up perfectly well.
Speaking of off-road, you may have already noticed the Outback ground clearance – the whole 213mm of it. This means it has proper usable ground clearance, and it isn’t simply masquerading as an off-roader like the majority of the SUV market.
That ground clearance does offer decent elevation for outward visibility, but not quite as much as you’d get from the SUV competition. On the subject of visibility, the Outback has great side and rearward visibility, devoid of any major blind spots.
Above all, the real attribute to write home about is the ride quality. The Outback’s ride quality is truly superb, akin to a couch on wheels. The Outback glides over bumps, making easy work of managing New Zealand’s varied road surfaces. Although I had mentioned the engine can be noisy, the cabin is nice and quiet at cruising speeds. The Outback is great for chewing through open road miles.
Because of the comfort bias, the Outback does roll a bit through corners, but Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive helps the Outback retain a reassuring footing on the road, meaning it does not ever feel out-of-control if you are moving quickly.
The all-wheel drive system is prone to some understeer, but you’d be a lunatic to fly through every corner in a vehicle this large. Subaru does blunt the steering, meaning every input needs to be a bit more deliberate, but it gives it a nice sturdy feel when cruising at higher speeds.
The Outback is equipped with Subaru’s latest Eyesight technology (Eyesight 4), which controls the adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and alike. Subaru calls the system “Eyesight” because it utilises a series of cameras (eyes) mounted up near the rear-view mirror.
The older tech (Eyesight 3) generally worked well, but it had some rougher edges. Eyesight 4 has ironed out the kinks, meaning many of the assistance systems are better adjusted and less prone to false positives. The adaptive cruise control in the Outback operates smoothly, and functions down to a halt.
However, Subaru hasn’t corrected my main gripe with Eyesight, which is all the unnecessary beeps the system produces. For example, the adaptive cruise will beep every time it locks onto another vehicle. No other manufacturer I’ve encountered does this, and it can’t be turned off either. Annoying.
So far, the Outback has delivered a great driving experience. The ride quality is exceptional, and the slightly weaker points, being the engine and transmission, are still competent performers.
Unfortunately, this part of the review is where I begin to discuss some major annoyances with the Outback, many of them are technology related. Like many modern cars, Subaru has fitted a start/stop cycle to the engine to shut-it down when idling in traffic. Many vehicles have this today, so what’s the problem? Well, the sequence is harsh and slow to initiate.
Unlike Volkswagen group products, where their cars are far too eager to cut out on you, Subaru has the opposite problem. However, this isn’t a problem specific to the Outback, as I’ve come across it before in other vehicles of the Subaru range.
My next frustration is with the Driver Attention Monitoring system, which is one of those features that sounds far better on paper than actually is in practise. It’s designed to alert the driver when their attention strays from the road. In reality, it just becomes a system that reminds you when you’re scratching your face. It also triggers quite liberally and with the similar beep sound as the other safety systems. We mentioned before that Subaru’s Eyesight already beeps unnecessarily, so all this does is contribute more indifferentiable beeps for the driver to focus on. I can imagine the alert would get ignored most of the time, which makes you question why they spent money developing it in the first place.
Last, and the worst point of all, is the indicator stalk. That’s a weird complaint – what’s the issue? Subaru has gone the way of BMW in the 00’s, where they redesigned the function of the indicator stalk. Essentially, rather than ‘fixing’ into place when you turn it on, it will return to its resting position before you’ve rounded the corner. This makes cancelling the indicator a pain, and you’ll usually bump it too far and it’ll start signalling the other side!
Also, no other Subaru within the range has this indicator either! So why on earth would you change such a universal standard that people are familiar with across virtually all other manufacturers? It’s genuinely such a pain in the butt.
Modern BMW’s no longer have this indicator set-up, showing they had learned their lesson. Furthermore, you’re unlikely to get used to it either unless this is your only vehicle. Honestly Subaru, this is such a big mistake.
What’s The Competition For The 2021 Subaru Outback X?
On a similarity basis, the Outback’s closest competitor is the Skoda Superb Scout and the newly released Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, but its major competition exists within the SUV class. Here are some of the options available:
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power (kW)/Torque (Nm)||Fuel, L/100km (claimed)||Seats||Boot Space, Litres||Towing Capacity, Kg||Price Highest to Lowest|
|Skoda Superb Scout||2-litre 4-cylinder turbo||206/400||9.0||5||660||2200||$65,990|
|Hyundai Santa Fe 2.5 AWD||2.5-litre 4-cylinder||132/232||8.7||7||571||2000||$62,990|
|Volkswagen Passat Alltrack||2-litre 4-cylinder turbo||162/350||7.9||5||639||2200||$59,990|
|Kia Sorento LX||2.2-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel||148/440||6.1||7||616||2500||$59,990|
|Ford Escape St Line X AWD||2-litre 4-cylinder turbo||183/387||8.6||5||556||1800||$55,990|
|Mazda CX-5 Limited AWD||2.5-litre, 4-cylinder, petrol||140/252||7.4||5||455||1800||$55,995|
|Nissan X-Trail Ti AWD||2.5-litre 4-cylinder||126/226||8.3||5||565||–||$55,640|
|Subaru Outback X||2.5 litre horizontally opposed 4-cylinder||138/245||7.3||5||522||2000||$54,990|
|Hyundai Tucson Elite AWD||1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol||130/265||7.7||5||488||1600||$53,990|
|Honda CR-V AWD Sport Premium||1.5-litre 4-cylinder turbo||140/240||7.4||5||522||1500||$53,000|
|Toyota RAV4 Adventure||2.5-litre 4-cylinder||152/243||7.1||5||580||1500||$52,290|
|Mitsubshi Outlander VRX AWD||2.4L 4-cylinder||126/224||7.2||5||477||1600||$45,990|
What’s The Pros And Cons For The 2021 Subaru Outback X?
- Ride Comfort
- SUV practicality
- Well finished interior
- Standard equipment levels
- Comfortable seating everywhere
- Actual off-road capability
- Laggy infotainment
- Meh speakers
- Irritating Driver Attention Monitoring system
- Jerky stop/start
- Annoying indicator stalk
- Eyesight still beeps too much
2021 Subaru Outback X – Specifications
|Price as Tested||$54,990|
|Engine||2.5-litre horizontally opposed 4-cylinder|
|Power, Torque (kW/Nm)||[email protected],800rpm|
CVT with 8-Speed Sport Mode Paddle Shift
|Spare Wheel||Space saver|
|Kerb Weight, Kg||1,629|
|Length x Width x Height, mm||4870 x 1875 x 1670|
|Cargo Capacity, litres||522 (rear seats up)|
1782 (rear seats down)
|Fuel capacity, litres||63|
|Fuel Type||91 Unleaded Petrol|
|Fuel Efficiency||Advertised Spec – combined – 7.3L/100km|
Real World Test – combined – 9.1L/100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
|Turning circle, metres||11|
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
3-year, 100,000Km New Vehicle Warranty
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 Star|