Subaru has always worn quirkiness on its sleeve. Although its more recent offerings are now on the verge of becoming mainstream, they’re still quite some ways away from the Corollas and CR-Vs of the world. Take the Outback: Subaru’s unique twist on the executive vehicle segment. While the Legacy is available for more conservative folk, the Outback pretty much exemplifies what the Pleaides brand has gone for: a loveable oddball that appeals to the thinking set.
Launched in the Philippine market in 2015, the Outback has undergone a minor nip-and-tuck this year that irons out some aesthetics and mechanical shortcomings while also adding some additional equipment that make it an absolute value.
A minor facelift. When it comes to its exterior, the 2018 Outback sees most of the changes upfront. Subaru’s trademark “Konoji” LED daytime running lights make an appearance, now made to jaunt out of the main headlight cluster, which comes fitted with a steering responsive system. The new headlights necessitated changes to the grille (less brightwork) and bumper (more angles). The changes are capped off with new, but more sedate-looking two-tone 18-inch wheels.
Overall, the look doesn’t stray far from the Outback playbook, meaning it’s basically a Legacy wagon with additional ride height and cladding. Suffice to say, it’s not the prettiest executive sedan/wagon in the market today, but everything has been done for the sake of practicality rather than aesthetics. Some excellent details include how the lower cladding is made to extend a bit above the sill—deflecting mud and other debris away from the painted door surfaces. Another is how the roof rack features foldaway crossbars for fitting in luggage racks and bike carriers without the need to purchase a separate accessory.
Inside: some new, some old. Inside, the Outback is a smorgasbord of new and previous-generation Subaru parts. The dashboard remains generally the same one from three years ago; and this includes some switchgear which can be traced to models a decade or so ago. Still, at least the steering wheel has been migrated to the same one found in the current Subaru XV and upcoming Forester, while the center console sees some rework to reduce the number of faux metallic accents. And speaking of the center console itself, that’s perhaps the best upgrade made here. The larger 8-inch Starlink infotainment screen (up an inch from before) boasts of crisper graphics and snappier responses while the climate controls, with the temperature read-out migrating to the rotary knobs don’t just look high-tech but are much easier to decipher even at a glance.
In terms of driver comfort, the Outback is starting to feel its age. Though the general ergonomics remain solid (control placement, amount of available adjustment, visibility), the driver’s seat lacks the comfort and support needed for long drives. Compared to its segment rivals and even to Subaru’s newer offerings, the seats just don’t contour around the back and thighs that well. Another surprising weakness is the upscale Harman/Kardon sound system, which doesn’t deliver the same level of aural quality expected of a modern executive sedan.
Solid performance. For these weaknesses though, the Outback manages to counter that with commendable on-road performance. Mechanically, it remains unchanged with the same 3.6-liter flat-6 making 260 horsepower and 350Nm of torque. While this powerplant’s at the end of its lifecycle (Subaru says they’re going to stop making 6-cylinder engines), it’s plenty powerful and buttery smooth. The trick is how the 2018 update sneaks in changes to the Lineartronic CVT. Already commendable before with its virtual shift points and kick down function, the new one has a more linear response. Whether it’s a partial throttle tap or a full throttle hammering, this Outback isn’t lacking in power. What’s lacking though is fuel economy: 5.6km/L at 22km/h is enough to make even monied executives cry. And even with its big 70-liter tank, twice-a-week gasoline station trips is a real possibility.
Having said that, at least those gasoline station trips are made slightly more bearable with the Outback’s newfound handling chops. With retuned dampers, steering, and brakes, the overall drive is now smoother and more linear than before. Gone is the steering’s on-center deadness and instead, it feels more direct than ever. It also has pretty good road manners, obedient and controllable even through challenging curves, easily matching crossovers even twice its price. Plus, the ride’s more sorted now with the rear end feeling less firm than before. It also manages to quell potholes better and it’s much quieter now too.
Safety-wise, the Outback gains the EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which adds functions such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking, and Vehicle Lane Departure Warning. The system also comes with Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Detection/Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Change Assist. This system alone already makes it a worthy upgrade compared to the old Outback. Plus, there are two additional cameras (a total of three) for better maneuverability in tight spaces. Aside from the rear camera, which now sports dynamic guidelines, it has a camera on the right-side mirror (for curb-side parking) and a front-camera (for nose-in parking).
The 2018 Subaru Outback continues to appeal to those who want something truly different. While sensible (a.k.a. boring) folk may not think twice and flock to more traditional three-box sedans, the Outback’s unique station wagon with added ground clearance (all 213 millimeters of it) design actually makes it more adept for Manila’s every day situations. While it’s let down by poor fuel economy and uncomfortable seats, it remains the lovable oddball, appealing to those who want a bit more fun, more value, and lots more safety in their executive sedan/wagon.