There’s a great Subaru advertisement that features a couple of decades worth of the company’s favourite models all morphing into new Subarus – grinning passengers and all.
It’s schmaltzy, but it also reflects an important truth for the Japanese brand – Subaru drivers are a special breed and they’re as loyal as the day is long.
And through the years Subaru, to its immense credit, has repaid that loyalty by giving those buyers exactly what they want.
Subaru has long been a fascinating company and in many ways is very different to its Japanese rivals.
On the one hand it clawed its way into the psyche, and the driveways, of Australians by dominating the rally tracks of Australia and Europe, becoming one of the most successful cars to contest the World Rally Championship, then building road-going versions.
Yet rolling off virtually the same production line – and riding on the same symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, with the same “chugga chugga” Boxer engine note – was a range of cars that were anything but racy or speedy.
They are more likely to be described as reliable, sensible, practical and dependable. All good, as long as you’re happy to be thought of as motoring’s version of Maccas – no surprises, but you always know what you’re going to get.
Proof of that loyalty was Subaru’s incredible buyer retention (that’s people sticking with the same brand, year after year and car after car) – ahead of any brand except for Toyota.
Why? Firstly, the company’s very practical and pragmatic design in the engineering of its top-selling models such as the Outback and the Forester. They aren’t flashy, but they’re all but unbreakable and unstoppable. Did someone say Toyota?
And, of course, there was also the “halo” effect of Subaru’s generational blue rally machines – and through that the cultish following of its WR-X and WRX-Sti road-going variants.
WRX enthusiasts even created their own fan club and websites for these turbo-twins, which were so powerfully gassed up it sometimes felt like you were driving around with a hand grenade in the back seat.
Yet in just a couple of years the much-admired Japanese manufacturer seems to have pulled off an almost complete about-face with its range of all-wheel-drive models.
The macho rallying image has given way to a strong focus on modernity, comfort and technology in the flagship model, the Outback, which arrived here in 2020 and has just been refreshed for the Australian market.
But here’s the irony. The point of difference Subaru would most like you to know about this MY22-23 Outback is this – it’s got a turbo. Not the ticking time-bomb of those WRI machines – but a force-fed four-cylinder which has transformed the top-spec Outbacks with its easy power and boundless torque.
Until this arrival, Outback buyers have had the choice of a modestly-performed, naturally aspirated four-cylinder, or Subaru’s long-serving H6 six-cylinder powerplant.
Now, buyers can also choose a much punchier, 2.4-litre, turbocharged four which has rejuvenated this car.
While the entry-level four-cylinder brings 138kW and 245Nm; the turbo helps deliver 183kW and a gutsy 350Nm. More simply, the turbo version is more than 20 per cent faster to the speed limit.
Yet that’s not all there is to like about this facelifted, heart transplanted, thoroughly modernised Outback.
The previous thoughtful but unexciting interior has been replaced with a beautiful dash and centre-tower configuration, most notably highlighted by an 11.6-inch vertically-installed, iPad-styled centre touch screen.
The Outback has gone from sensible luxury territory without breaking stride. This new Outback looks, feels and behaves more luxuriously than any previous model to wear the brand.
From the plump leather seats and classy piano-black finish on the hard surfaces to the massive touch-screen that gathers together almost every cabin function and reduced it to a stab and click.
The remainder of the dash and door trims are handsomely stitched, swoopily designed and still practical, with an open glove box in front of the passenger able to handle any number of loose items.
Tested are two variants – the flagship Outback AWD Sport XT and the more sensible Outback AWD Touring.
Inside, the models are almost identical but feel more European than Japanese. That centre screen, for instance, would fit snugly into a Volvo.
The demise of the Liberty sedan (it’s called the Legacy in most other markets) has left the Outback as the flagship of the Subaru range and in this form that feels entirely appropriate.
The two engine choices are markedly different and not just in the power delivered by the force-fed engine, but its performance in every respect,
But there are two key numbers that will no doubt draw buyers back towards the non-turbo variant. One is fuel efficiency – the turbo models guzzle a healthy 9L/100km while the loss of performance punch is compensated by a commensurate drop in thirst to just 7.3L/100km.
The other number is this: You’ll spend at least $52,000 for one of the two turbo models while the 2.5-litre, non-boosted models start from a reasonable $42,690 up to the Touring variant tested ($50,990).
The XT appeared decidedly tougher on the outside, where extra emphasis on the wheel arches and roof racks left no doubt which is the preferred off-road version.
The XT also felt a touch firmer in its ride, although cabin comfort and quietness was at least the equal of the more wagon-like Touring model.
The Outback has taken an impressive step forward with this model.
Who knows, perhaps you’ll end up in one of those nice advertisements sometime.
SUBARU OUTBACK SPORT XT AND AWD TOURING
It’s a mid-sized wagon but clever use of space makes it feel bigger.
The new turbocharged version brings impressive power – while the more modest base model requires patience.
Official fuel consumption for the model tested is 9L/100km, but the non-turbo model uses a frugal 7.1L/100km.
As tested the Outback AWD Sport XT is $52,190 plus on road costs.