Get behind the wheel of the latest Outback and you could soon find yourself reminiscing about the past, when most foresters drove Subarus.

I have been reviewing vehicles for Forestry Journal (and Forestry and British Timber before that) for 30 years now, and over that time have reported on 120 vehicles. I have a date record for each. 

My first review was of the all-new Land Rover Discovery five-door Tdi model in May 1992. At the time I was driving a Subaru Leone estate 1.8 petrol with part-time 4WD and selectable low-ratio gearbox, which was my second company car. This had replaced a similar 1.6 model with a simpler 4WD system selected via a button on the gear lever. I had both of these Subarus for two years and really enjoyed them.

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However, when it came to purchasing my own vehicle when I set up my own business in August 1992, I opted for the new Discovery Tdi three-door in ‘Windjammer Blue’ with that famous Conran-inspired sonar blue interior. At the time, a new Subaru Legacy estate cost about £13,000 and the Discovery £15,750. My Subaru estates averaged about 30 mpg, which was similar to my Discovery. The attraction of the Discovery was its cool shape, better ground clearance and towing ability, its constant 4WD and low-ratio gearbox. Mind you, the Legacy would have had constant 4WD too. Back then, the BIK tax system was not such an issue.

So it was interesting to revisit the Subaru family and test its worldwide bestseller, the Outback. This is a real big seller for Subaru in the USA, but the firm’s sales remain low in the UK. However, back in the late 1980s, when I began my forestry career at Bangor University (or I should say University College of North Wales, UCNW), a Subaru estate was the default car for most foresters as it was more or less the only 4WD estate on the market. 

They were known for being tough and reliable. A friend who ran many Subarus once told me the trouble with them is they become a bit unreliable after 200,000 miles!
For a long time, Subaru had no diesel option, but eventually developed a diesel version of its famous flat twin four-cylinder boxer engine. Porsche is the only other manufacturer who has a boxer engine, as fitted in the 911 and Boxer. A few years ago, Subaru ceased producing and fitting diesel engines to its cars, so the popular diesel doing 55 mpg is no more and we are back to 30 mpg after 30 years!

Forestry Journal: The large boot folds flat.The large boot folds flat. (Image: FJ)

The Outback is only available with the 2.5-litre petrol flat twin engine mated to an automatic gearbox, and in my hands averaged 31 mpg. The official average figure is 33 mpg, which I would no doubt have reached eventually. Subaru has recently launched a new electric vehicle, soon to arrive in the UK, but for now the range is all petrol with no PHEVs about.

This new Outback, launched two years ago, is a lot more distinctive than the one it replaced. It has quirky plastic cladding around the wheel arches and more edgy front and rear styling. It does look much better, more distinctive and appealing. It is a large car, being 4,870 mm long, 1,875 mm wide (excluding mirrors) and 1,675 mm high. Three models are available, priced at £36,000 for the entry model, named Limited, £40,000 for the Field and £41,500 for the top-of-the-range Touring. It has a large boot, being 561 litres (with seats in place), expanding to a useful 1,822 litres with the rear seat folded flat. A sun roof reduces the volume by 72 litres.

The fuel tank holds 63 litres – good for about 400 miles – which is okay, but I prefer at least a 500-mile range if possible, which was easily the case in the old diesel or its most common replacement, the Skoda Octavia Scout estate Tdi. I remember the Discovery 2 had a 92-litre tank.

Forestry Journal: Dashboard, a mixture of screen and buttonsDashboard, a mixture of screen and buttons (Image: FJ)

Most foresters now drive pickups, encouraged by the current BIK system which is not really helping the environment much. The Outback weighs 1,646 kg and can tow a braked trailer up to 2,000 kg. Its ground clearance for a car is good at 213 mm. Wheels are 225/60R18s, coping with the mellow power distributed by the constant 4WD system, modest engine power of 169 hp and 252 Nm of torque from its 2,498 cc. Acceleration is leisurely at 10.2 seconds to 62 mph. However, once up and running, the car is plenty fast enough. The gearbox is an automatic Lineartronic device, with only one gear made to sound like six. It works well. The car is nice and quiet.

The interior is a mix of buttons and a large screen, which is smaller than it looks in the pictures as its sides are not part of it. It is an easy car to jump in and drive as all controls are where you would expect them to be. Headlights are LED with auto leveliser and pop-up washers. Other model-dependent goodies include heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, auto power folding door mirrors, automatic rain-sensing windscreen wipers, rear seat release lever in boot space, keyless entry and push-button start system, power tailgate with hands-free function, auto vehicle hold and rear parking sensors, XMode hill decent control, engine stop start, etc.

The auto holding electronic device, which is now a very common feature on most cars, certainly aids driveability, stopping the car rolling backwards when taking off on a steep hill. Subaru was one of the first manufacturers to fit such a device and it was mechanically operated. When stopped on a steep hill, with the clutch pressed, you pressed the brake pedal hard until it stayed that way, holding the brakes on until you released the clutch, giving you a graceful hill start. My first Subaru was fitted with it, but I did not find out about it until I picked up the second one when the salesman told me about it. Today it all happens electronically.

Forestry Journal: Flat four boxer 2.5-litre petrol engine.Flat four boxer 2.5-litre petrol engine. (Image: FJ)

The Outback is a nice car to drive. It fits into the country life really well with its constant 4WD and good ground clearance. Okay, it’s no Discovery 4 when it comes to ground clearance, but it will be good enough for many folk. The dashboard is well laid out and I liked the white instrument dials. The car drives well and is well sprung. It has a comfortable ride and handles and brakes well. The front-door windows comprise a main pane of glass and a wee fixed pane at the front corner, just like that found in the new Range Rover. It looks good, increasing visibility. The seats are comfortable and I liked the perforated leather.

With petrol now 30p per litre cheaper than diesel, the attraction of the Outback petrol is more apparent. It is a very good car, but most folk need 40 mpg and above. However, for a niche part of the market it is now a much more appealing car as the price of Land Rovers skyrockets. 

The Subaru Outback is certainly a car I would consider.