Subaru wanted to back up the words of its
New Zealand managing director Wallis Dumper, so it took to the country’s highest road to show off the versatility of the new Outback wagon. “There are not many places you can’t take a Subaru,” Dumper said, before letting nine Outbacks loose in the hands of motoring writers on the demanding Nevis Road, one of the scenic joys of Central Otago.One had a puncture (above) on a rocky stretch high in the misty ranges; another (left) needed a push backwards from a couple of blokes before punching its way through a deeply rutted, muddy stretch on the Nevis Valley floor. The road meanders between Bannockburn and Gaston and peaks at 1300m above sea level. It is closed from June until the end of September. The snow can be metres deep. Between times it’s four-wheel-drive territory only. It’s not for two-wheel-drive SUVs that look like four-wheel-drive SUVs. There are 31 stream crossings and some muddy sections on the roughly 60km route. Dumper labels the all-wheel-drive Outback an SUV, or sports utility vehicle. “It can fulfil the dreams of people who dare to be different”, he says. It’s a throwaway line he has used many times to describe a car that created a lifestyle niche when it first appeared in NZ in 1996. Other all-wheel–drive copycats soon followed: Volvo came up with the XC70; Audi with the Allroad; Holden with the Commodore-based Adventra, a clumsy carry-all once described as the answer to a question no one had actually asked. All along these examples have remained station wagon/estates with all-wheel drive. Dumper says Subaru has never been scared of being different, but why does he call the Outback an SUV, when it is essentially a station wagon/estate? Because he can. Because, he says, the Outback is more of an SUV than many SUVs. “SUVs have been the growth story of the motor industry recently,” said Dumper. “But many don’t stack up, offering only two-wheel drive. At best they can be termed ‘crossovers’ between conventional cars and real SUVs. “Many are just jacked-up hatchbacks. They might meet a market demand and may look as if they can go off the tarmac, but they actually have the potential to truly disappoint. “A Subaru is a proper SUV and helps eliminate the risk of disappointment. The Outback provides the opportunity to get to out-of-the-way places where conventional two-wheel drives can’t go.” There are three engine choices and five spec levels in the 2015 Outback range, all with boxer engines mated to seven-speed continuously variable transmissions, or CVTs, with manual-mode paddles on the steering wheel. It begins with the 2.5-litre Sport and Sport Premium, both powered by a flat-four petrol unit generating 129kW/235NM. There are two diesel choices, 2.0D and 2.0D Premium, both using a 2.0-litre flat-four delivering 110kW/350Nm. Top of the range is the 3.6-litre R Premium, a flat-six putting out 191kW/350Nm. Engines have been refreshed by a claimed 80 per cent to improve economy. Subaru claims town-and-around fuel use of 7.3 litres/100km (39mpg) for the 2.5-litre; 6.3 litres (45mpg) for the 2.0-litre diesel; and 9.9 litres (29mpg) for the 3.6-litre six. Dumper says Subaru errs on the conservative side. Standard equipment falls under the ‘Uncle Tom Cobbley and all’ category; so does the bundle of safety devices, with the new EyeSight camera/radar system recognising colours, such as the brake lights of the car in front. Premium models are better equipped, with things like an electric sunroof and windscreen wiper de-ice system. The fifth-generation model is longer, wider, but lower than the outgoing Outback. There is more shoulder, elbow and hip room for occupants. Distance between the front seats is up 10mm. “It mightn’t sound like much but it makes a difference if you don’t want to talk to the person next to you”, says Dumper. After four hours and 130km at the wheel – 60km over the challenging Nevis Rd and another 70km on sealed surfaces – one thing is clear: the new Outback might just be the most complete model Subaru has ever made. The cabin is classy, uncluttered, efficient. Quiet, too. The ride/handling mix is first class, the higher-riding suspension particularly impressive over corrugated surfaces. No word on prices until February, when the first shipment of around 120 Outbacks is due. Dumper is still negotiating with the factory. “If we can get the price right with Japan, I reckon we can sell 1000 or so Outbacks next year”, he says.