Subaru has a habit of selling cars that can’t compete with more obvious mainstream rivals, which are invariably more luxurious and packed with extra high-tech gadgetry. There’s an element of that with the Outback, which isn’t as utilitarian as some of Subaru’s other models, but is still overshadowed by rivals such as the Volvo XC70 or Audi A4/A6 Allroad – all models that are more costly to buy used, and which will may well be less dependable than the Outback. A new Subaru Outback has just gone on sale in the US, but UK sales have yet to be confirmed. Whether or not the sixth-generation model comes to this country, the outgoing one is worth a punt if you want to tow a trailer or you live in the countryside and need to get about in the winter – or if you just want a really reliable, spacious and well equipped car.
Ever since Subaru arrived in the UK in 1977, it has built up a reputation for making cars that may not be the most luxurious or cutting-edge, but which tend to be incredibly reliable and eminently practical.
Subaru can also be innovative, too; the firm claims that with the original Outback of 1997 (when it was known as the Legacy Outback), it created the crossover segment, although it’s generally the Nissan Qashqai that gets the credit for this. Either way, the Outback was a new type of family-friendly car that offered go-anywhere usability for those who valued dependability above soft-touch plastics and the latest luxury gadgets.
Car group tests
As a result, the Outback has always been a niche product, but don’t let that put you off; this is still a car that appeals in many ways.
- • Subaru Outback Mk5 (2015-2019) – Japanese SUV is rare but a good buy if you tow regularly or need 4×4 ability.
Subaru Outback Mk5
The Mk5 Subaru Outback arrived in April 2015 with a choice of 2.0-litre diesel or 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engines. While diesel fans could choose between manual or automatic transmissions, the petrol unit came only with a Lineartronic CVT auto.
Fifty Black & Ivory special editions arrived in September 2017, based on SE Premium trim, then a facelifted Outback was launched in April 2018. Its headlights, bumpers and grille were redesigned, and a camera was mounted in the grille. With its 180-degree field of view, this made off-roading and parking much easier, especially when combined with the camera mounted on the underside of the passenger door mirror.
Also new were active (cornering) headlights and a bigger touchscreen (now eight inches on the SE Premium), although there was no longer a diesel option.
Subaru Outback Mk5 reviews
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Which one should I buy?
Most Outbacks have a petrol engine and few diesels have a manual transmission, so whichever you buy, it’ll probably be an auto.
The diesel has more torque than the petrol (350Nm vs 235Nm) and is more frugal, but if you’re a low-mileage driver the petrol can make sense. The Outback SE has automatic LED headlamps, cruise control, 17-inch rims, heated front seats, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, plus privacy glass. A seven-inch touchscreen with nav, Bluetooth and a rear parking camera are also fitted.
Petrol SE cars have stop/start and Subaru Intelligent Drive, with selectable engine modes depending on road conditions for improved economy and performance. SE Premium models add a sunroof, keyless entry and push-button start, 18-inch alloys, leather trim and a powered tailgate.
Alternatives to the Subaru Outback
The Outback is up against a raft of niche products, including the Audi A4 Allroad and its bigger brother, the A6 Allroad. Both are more luxurious and extremely desirable, come with excellent engines and a lot of tech, but are more expensive to buy.
The four-wheel-drive Skoda Octavia Scout has raised suspension, too, and offers good value, as do the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer, and Volkswagen’s Passat Alltrack and Golf Alltrack. The above cars all sold in small numbers, however, so you should also consider a compact SUV such as a Volvo XC60, Toyota RAV4, VW Tiguan or BMW X3.
What to look for
The spare-wheel well isn’t big enough for a full-sized wheel, so you have to make do with a space saver instead.
Windscreens on Outbacks seem to crack more readily than you might expect. This is a result of using thin glass in manufacturing.
The EyeSight safety system works well, but some owners find it somewhat intrusive because of the frequent bleeps and alerts it issues.
The Outback comes with a five-year/100,000-mile warranty (whichever comes first), but dealers are few and far between.
This Outback’s cabin is a huge advance over the Mk4’s, with high-quality materials and excellent build. While the design and ergonomics impress less, the infotainment works well and practicality is a plus point, because the Outback can stow up to 1,848 litres with the rear bench down, or 512 litres when it’s up. With comfy seats and ample rear head and legroom, the Outback is very family-friendly.
The Outback needs to go into the service bay every 12 months or 12,000 miles, with each service priced differently. The first five check-ups are around £295, £350, £370, £490 and £500, with a slight variance between petrol and diesel cars. The brake fluid needs to be replaced every two years, and these prices include the cost of doing this, while long-life coolant means this only needs changing once every 10 years.
Both Subaru’s petrol and diesel engines are fitted with a chain-driven camshaft, which means there are no timing belts to replace. As a result, the Outback’s routine maintenance costs are pretty much on par with those of its more obvious competitors.
The Outback Mk5 has been recalled twice. In August 2016, 255 cars built from 1 December 2014 to 1 December 2015 were affected by stalling due to a cracked intake duct. The second recall affected 422 cars built from July 2017 to August 2018, whose information display could show the wrong fuel range. Putting things right was a question of updating the software.
Driver Power owner satisfaction
Coming 12th in our Driver Power 2019 new car survey is impressive, as is sixth overall for Subaru in our brand chart. Outback owners love the decent connectivity, versatility and all-round visibility, while safety, economy and the smoothness of the automatic gearbox get more praise. The main gripe is poor fuel economy, which is no surprise because most models have a big petrol engine.