Subaru Outback 2.0D SX Lineartronic road test

  • Subaru refreshes its Outback crossover for 2014
  • Auto option for the diesel engine; 44.8mpg claimed
  • On sale in November for £31,495; manual £1,500 less

Despite being one of the first crossovers on sale, Subaru’s Outback has tended to be a left-field choice. Sales of less than 11,000 examples since 1996 corroborate this.

For 2014, the Japanese four-wheel drive specialist has introduced a new engine and gearbox combination and tinkered with the Outback’s styling to broaden its appeal, but is it enough?

New engine and gearbox combination

Breeze past the chunkier grille, revised front lights, darker interior trims, clearer instruments and new seats, because the most significant changes to Outback are evident from the centre console.

Ahead of the relocated electronic parking brake is an automatic gear lever. Nothing especially novel there, but this is Subaru’s first mating of its Lineartronic transmission with a diesel engine.

Granted, it’s not earth-shattering news in an industry with a rapid change of pace, but it will give brand loyalists new products to mull over, as well as putting the Outback on the radar of buyers who’d not considered one before.

It’s a positive outcome too, the familiar 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel ‘boxer’ engine (the engine cylinders lie flat helping keep car’s weight lower down) performs willingly and feels well-matched to the seven-speed gearbox.

Should you wish to change gears yourself you can use the steering wheel paddles (or save £1,500 and opt for the six-speed manual version) but rarely will you feel the need. With 350Nm of torque available from 1,600rpm, the Outback responds promptly.

All that low-down torque proves beneficial when the going gets tougher, which it did on the test. Traversing rutted, muddy and undulating fields wouldn’t have been possible in a regular estate but the Outback’s four-wheel drive system and 200mm of ground clearance enabled it to pass this challenge with ease.

Running costs

Opting for Lineartronic over manual has a negative effect on the Outback’s running costs. Claimed fuel efficiency drops from 47.9mpg to 44.8mpg for the automatic, cutting the potential range from 684 miles to 640.

Similarly, road tax for the automatic is more expensive too, the 166g/km CO2 emissions pushing it into band H compared to the manual’s band G rating.

In automatic guise, the Subaru lags a little behind the Passat Alltrack and XC70, both of which claim fuel efficiency and emissions levels in line with the manual Subaru, but at £31,495 the Outback Lineartronic undercuts them.

Revised model range

Subaru cites improvements to the suspension as being responsible for more refined ride and handling. There’s no evidence of Impreza WRX DNA at play here but the Outback responds accurately to steering input changes although it doesn’t iron out minor road imperfections as capably as it does deeper ruts.

As part of the revised Outback range, now limited to the diesel engine and new SX specification, the interior’s well-appointed with part-leather upholstery, reclining rear seats, electric windows and sunroof, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity.

Despite the darker metallic centre console trim and smatterings of faux carbon fibre, the interior lacks the gravitas buyers expect of a £30,000 car. Dashboard plastics aren’t in the same league as Subaru’s acknowledged, and more expensive, rivals from Volkswagen and Volvo.

Buyers can remain confident though as Subaru’s five-year, 100,000-mile warranty is superior to those on offer on the Alltrack and XC70.

Should you buy one?

Fitting the boxer diesel with an automatic transmission allows Subaru to target the Outback at a niche within the market hitherto closed to it. It lacks the tangible quality feel enjoyed by the competition from VW and Volvo, but it’s bestowed with a reputation for reliability backed up by a customer-centric dealer network.

Steer off the beaten track, literally and metaphorically, and the Subaru will prove to be a satisfyingly left-field choice.

You can read the Parkers Subaru Outback review here.

Also consider

Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer

Same recipe as the Outback but using an Insignia estate as the main ingredient. Cheaper than the Subaru too.

Volkswagen Passat Alltrack

More spacious than the Subaru with arguably nicer furnishings too but you’ll pay a premium for it.

Volvo XC70

Also pricier than the Subaru but surprisingly not as roomy. Exceptionally comfortable seats and premium image.