2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Review
Isaac Bober’s 2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell Only minor tweaks to the exterior and interior, but key changes to the ride and handling tune have elevated the new Outback way beyond its predecessor.
2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R
Pricing $49,140+ORC Warranty three-years unlimited kilometres Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol Power 191kW at 6000rpm Torque 350Nm at 4400rpm Transmission CVT Drive Permanent all-wheel drive Dimensions 4820mm (L) 1840mm (W) 1675mm (H) 2745mm (WB) Ground Clearance 213mm Boot Space 512-1801 litres Spare full-size Weight 1673kg Towing 1800kg braked Fuel Tank 60 litres Thirst 9.9L/100km (90-98RON)
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THE SUBARU OUTBACK is a strong-seller for Subaru in Australia. Last year more than 11,000 Outbacks found homes around the country, and now the refreshed 2018 Subaru Outback has arrived with key tweaks and kit to keep it selling strong.
In an unconventional move, Subaru loaned the updated Outback to motoring journalists for a three-day loan instead of the usual FIFO-style launch where driving time is limited to a few hours only, and on roads you’re usually unfamiliar with. It did the same with the refreshed Liberty, but we can’t tell you anything about that car until later this month (February).
What is the Subaru Outback?
Well, it’s not an all-new model, but there’ve been enough changes to the body, features and the ride and handling that this is more than just facelift. The updated Outback has copped a new front bumper, grille and headlights, although unless you placed them side-by-side and stared at them for a long time you’d probably never know… and that’s a good thing, we’re all too familiar with Subaru’s decision to mid-life tweak its cars by completely changing how they look, and usually for the worse.
Beyond the aesthetic stuff at the front, Subaru was determined the changes to the updated Outback would be functional and enhance the driving experience. For instance, it’s something no-one will notice until it’s pointed out, but the side mirror stalks have been shortened by 20mm to reduce wind noise and help make the Outback slipperier. And there are now LED indicators across the range to improve visibility.
The top-spec models in the range, so 2.5i Premium, 3.6R (which we tested) and 2.0D Premium get LED headlights for high and low bean, they’re also steering responsive and with adaptive beam functionality, which means they’ll automatically did and activate high beam to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. More than that, they can also adjust the brightness of the beam to avoid dazzling when you’re driving past a road sign. Clever. And a feature you normally only find on top-spec European vehicles.
There’s been no changes to the engine output, but tweaks have been made to the CVT (2.5-litre variants only which we’ll report on once we’ve driven the range) and suspension (across the range) which we’ll discuss in greater detail deeper down in the review… for now, know that the tweaks have made this thing a much better vehicle and it was already darn good.
Despite the changes, entry-level pricing remains the same as the superseded model at $36,240+ORC for Outback 2.5i and $38,740+ORC for the 2.0D (diesel). Some models have seen a slight increase, though, like the 3.6R which is up to $49,140+ORC (from $48,740+ORC), the 2.5i Premium is up a couple of hundred bucks to $42,640+ORC, while the 2.0D Premium has had the biggest jump to $45,640+ORC from $42,240+ORC.
The Outback sits in the Large SUV segment according to VFACTS but, in truth it straddles the Medium and Large segments and competes with the likes of the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack which in all variants costs more than $50,790+ORC, the Mazda CX-9 which in AWD trim is priced from $47,890+ORC, the Hyundai Santa Fe AWD from $44,850+ORC, the Kia Sorento, from $45,490+ORC, the Volvo XC60 AWD which kicks off at $59,990+ORC, the Renault Koleos AWD from $46,990+ORC, and similar vehicles.
So, you can see, in a lot of cases, the updated Outback even with some jiggery pokery to prices in the upper-spec models, still undercuts its key rivals. And, even in top-spec 3.6R, which we’re testing, undercuts many of its competitors by a considerable margin. And when it comes to being a rough-road SUV, the fact the Subaru Outback has permanent all-wheel drive gives it bragging rights over all its key competitors which run on-demand systems.
What’s the interior like?
Climbing into the top-spec Outback 3.6R it’s clear that Subaru went and found the designers it used on the BL and BP Liberty from 2003 which remains to this day, in my opinion, one of the brand’s best-looking vehicles. The design tweaks were a case of steady as she goes for this updated model, thank goodness.
This current-generation Outback and Liberty look good and carry real presence on the road, and the same goes for the interior. For too long, Subaru was clearly melting down old lunchboxes to use on its cars interiors but that’s no longer the case.
Run your hand across the surfaces of the Outback 3.6R and it’ll be met by one soft touch surface after another. And the stuff is right up there with anything used on more premium vehicles. Yes, there are still some hard plastics in the cabin but they’re down in the places you want hard stuff to be, like on the door bins.
Depending on the model you plump for, you’ll get either a 6.5-inch touchscreen which is too small in this day and age, or a more reasonable 8.0-inch unit (as in our 3.6R tester). It’s the latest-generation Subaru system we’re used to from the new Impreza and XV, meaning it gets Apple and Android mirroring. This screen is set into a larger dashboard design with a gloss black panel surrounds and a silver frame; something that so easily could have ended up looking tacky but it didn’t.
The dashboard treatment (extra stitching on the soft-touch stuff and gloss black panels) looks as good as anything on more premium-priced vehicles. It’s certainly a classier looking and feeling design than you’ll get from Hyundai, Kia or Mazda, and it matches the dashboard design of the Passat Alltrack for quality. The build quality on the vehicle we tested was excellent.
Climb in behind the wheel and the leather seats on our 3.6R tester are comfortable with plenty of adjustment to get drivers of all sizes into the right position. And while you might not realise it, the steering wheel is new for the updated Outback and it feels nice and chunky in the hand with all the steering mounted controls easy to use and read on the fly.
The thin A-pillars mean that forward vision is good, indeed, vision right around the Outback is excellent, and enhanced by the addition of a side-view monitor (a camera mounted in the left-hand wing mirror) and both a forward and rear facing camera. You can toggle between the views, split the view to see two images at once, or just one. It helps when you’re trying to position the Outback on a tight track or when you’re parking it… the forward-facing camera has a good field of view (we’re checking on the exact field) but it does help you to see out into intersections that you can’t see with the naked eye. This camera is active up to 20km/h, the same as the side-view monitor.
Over in the back, there are rear air vents and two USB outlets at the back of the centre console. There are storage pouches on the backs of the front seats. The rear seats themselves are 60:40 split and while they don’t slide forwards or backwards they do recline, they can be folded via a lever on the seat or from a lever in the boot.
The seats are comfortable, I sat behind the driver’s seat which I’d adjusted to suit myself, and had plenty of head, shoulder, knee, leg and foot wriggle room. The seats are shaped well, and the door opening makes getting in and out easy.
Boot space is the same as the old model, meaning there’s 512 litres of space with the second-row seats up and 1801 litres with them down. There’s a full-size spare beneath the boot floor.
What’s it like to drive?
The engine and transmission are carried over from the 2017 model, only the 2.5-litre variants have copped any tweaks to the engine and CVT. This means the Outback 3.6R offers 191kW at 6000rpm and 350Nm of torque at 4400rpm which is Euro6 compliant. It continues with the same CVT offering seven-simulated gears when in manual mode, as well as SI-Drive to adjust the driving mode, from an eco mode to sport and intelligent which allows the vehicle to determine the best mode based on your driving. There’s no stop-start on the 3.6R variant.
This 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine in the Outback could never be accused of being lazy. Grunt and go are only ever a toe-flex away and the transmission does a great job of keeping it feeling lusty and game for a run no matter whether you’re clambering up hills, ripping along a twisting backroad or crawling along on a rough track.
In our time with the Outback we took it out onto our on-road test loop and part of our SUV oriented rough-road loop. As mentioned, the engine and transmission are unchanged and are great, but Subaru’s engineers did tweak the suspension across the board. They didn’t do much, tweaking the vehicle’s bump response and dialling out body roll. And, like, wow.
The Outback, despite its 213mm ground clearance, feels more like a low-slung sports wagon. The steering, which has also been tweaked, now feels more natural, feelsome and sharper in just about every possible way. The updated Outback is happy to hug the corners with minimal body roll and deals with bumps and humps in the road and mid-corner better than a WRX. Indeed, this is a properly fun car to drive on the bitumen with an engine that offers thrust whenever it’s needed whether the whole family is in the thing or not.
Onto dirt and the Outback is as sure-footed as ever, capable of covering dirt quickly and comfortably. The permanent all-wheel drive and the traction control work in harmony to keep you moving forward, rather than trying to slap your hand if you’ve arrived at a corner a little too quickly with the result being that this is a very smooth car to drive.
There’s good underbody insulation across dirt and there’s no kickback through the wheel should you strike a pothole mid corner. Move to some slower rough road stuff and the tweaks to the Outback’s suspension are just as important.
There was a tendency in slower stuff for the car to bump off ruts. The engineers dialled out that “push up” effect and now the Outback rides up smoothly and controlled. One section of our track features moguls that seem to be getting deeper and more severe with every passing week, but the Outback walked up them nicely and neatly with a well-damped side to side motion.
All the pedal responses (throttle and brakes) are smooth and progressive. And the brakes felt nice and strong, pulling the car up straight and true when I nailed them on a dirt section. Some makers tune their ABS for dirt road performance, but Subaru doesn’t, and the Outback’s performance on dirt is as good as anything I’ve tested.
My plan is to do a little more with this updated Outback once I’ve got my hands on a 2.5i Premium or 2.0D variant as they’re the ones that have copped more tweaks. And with the 2.0D sitting on 17s while the rest of the range rides on 18s, it’s the one I’d most like to test in the rough. So, stay tuned.
What about safety features?
The updated Outback carries over the old car’s five-star ANCAP rating and, even if it was tested under ANCAP’s new regime you’d expect it to maintain its five-star rating. See, across the board the Outback gets the latest-generation EyeSight system which can see multiple items at once, and features autonomous emergency braking (which has had its speed differential raised from 30 to 50km/h), adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist which is one of the better systems on the market.
At time when testing Subaru’s EyeSight has been reluctant to operate in bright, direct sunlight or when there’s heavy fog or rain (I’ve often experienced a warning that EyeSight wasn’t operational during difficult weather), but the new-generation is much better. A Subaru engineer explained to me that EyeSight was literally like your eyes which is why some of the previous generations could be dazzled in certain conditions; and it’s better that it warns you that it’s not working. While testing the updated Outback we had some stinking hot days and even travelling into the sun the system stayed operational, even when I was wishing I was wearing two pairs of sunglasses.
So, what do we think?
The updated Subaru Outback is a clever evolution of an already very good vehicle. The changes have been selected to improve the driving experience (suspension, steering and brakes), the cabin (infotainment and passenger comfort) and safety. The Outback was always a good car to drive and be driven in, it’s now even better and right at the top of its segment.