I will be the first to admit that I am indeed a big fan of station wagons. They can load a lot, provide a lot of versatility and, perhaps its clincher, still drives like a car. For most however, wagons are out of fashion, preferring crossovers and pickup platform vehicles as their haulers and mini family shuttles.
One of the few brands to bravely offer this kind of car is Subaru. The automaker has always had a wagon in its lineup and even offered the Legacy wagon right up until 2015. Wagon duties are now being handled solely by the Levorg, replacing the Legacy wagon. Need a bigger one? It's time to consider an Outback.
While classified as a crossover, its wagon roots are evident with its length and rear overhang. It perhaps only clings on to that classification due to the fact that it has a raised ride height. That's what people want these days right?
I'm not taking points away from it for being a raised wagon. Personally, I like it , mixing in tradition and trend in one package. Being based on the Legacy, it inherits is subtly handsome exterior from its four-door, lower riding sibling but with extra sheetmetal for added practicality. Apart from the added ground clearance, the Outback adds extra body-cladding to give it a more aggressive look and rather chunky roof rails that divided opinion among friends. One source of amusement for me was its sunroof, a treat out in the province.
Inside, the Outback's interior is a carryover from the Legacy as well. Soft touch materials and leather trim are the order of the day for this wagon, sorry, crossover and loads of space. Overall, the look is on the minimalist side but it does boast of a solid feel throughout. The touchscreen was easy to use too although the touch panel takes a little getting used to. I would rate the ergonomics good with the buttons falling into place right where you expect them. Being based on a midsized sedan, it perhaps comes as no surprise that room at the back was generous and the wagon shape provides a cargo area that some crossovers couldn't offer. However, the lack of a third row seat may turn some buyers away from this otherwise versatile package.
Sitting inside the Outback has a bit of an odd illusion. One expects the high driving position of a typical crossover but in the Outback, you are under the impression that you're driving a sedan with its seat perched high. It's not a bad thing though, since the sedan-like feel made me feel more connected to the road.
This particular Outback is powered by a 3.6 liter flat six that produces 260 PS and 355 Nm of torque and is mated to Subaru's continuously variable transmission called Lineartronic. Compared to the old 3.6 liter, power is up by 12 PS and torque by 12 Nm. Being a Subaru, Symmetrical All-Wheel drive is standard.
With its midsize sedan roots, the Outback was a comfortable place to be when dealing with metropolitan traffic. Its seats provided good lumbar and side support along with the air-conditioning kept me cool in 37 degree heat. Ride was smooth and pliant, even along rough streets and complements well with the supportive seats. Steering is typical of electronic power steering systems, being light at low speeds with weighting on the little artificial side but it is better than no feedback at all. Steering is precise and direct although I did note that it is slightly off-center, slightly skewed to the right. Another thing I took note of was pedal feel. The accelerator is quick to respond and it wasn't just in the 3.6 model either, I had the same observations during a brief road rest of a 2.5 liter Legacy. As for its CVT, it was rather impressive, doing its best to simulate a conventional automatic transmission without the shift shock. In Intelligent Mode, the revs climb slowly but the grunt from the punchy flat-6 made made for brisk acceleration. In Sport Sharp, engine response is enhanced and holds the revs higher. Intelligent Mode should be enough around the city given that you have 260 horsepower under the hood.
Where the Outback shines is out on the highway and provincial roads. When we tested the Subaru Legacy last year, we praised it for its ride comfort and the Outback is no different. Expansion joints and undulations were handled with easy, just letting off a muffled thud as I drove over them. Wind noise was well suppressed and the six cylinders keep the engine revs low, quietly thrumming in the background.
There was a lot of confidence in overtaking as well, no surprise since it packs a flat-six engine. This was a big bonus in crests and half throttle applications gets the job done, even when overtaking buses on hills in provincial roads. While in the province, I also encountered “Subaru weather” meaning heavy downpour and wet roads. The all-wheel drive added a layer of security and the Outback felt surefooted on slick pavement.
With six cylinders providing momentum for this wagon/crossover, one would expect fuel consumption to be on the heavy side. On city streets, I averaged 6.4 kilometers per liter while I got a figure of 11.8 kilometers per liter on the highway. Not bad for a naturally aspirated and relatively large six cylinder engine.
To sum up the Outback, it combines the best of both worlds with its large cargo area and the peace of mind of the extra ground clearance without having to deal with the heft of driving an SUV. At Php 2,288,000, pricing is just above the top of the line cars in the D-Segment but undercuts many mid-size crossovers like the Kia Sorento and Ford Explorer. Just like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, pricing is best described as “just right”.
Yes, the Outback is a left field choice in its segment but that's what gives it charm and a bit of a personality. The cure for the common crossover? You bet.