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Subaru Outback 2.0D R

Click to view picture gallery“For too long the one thing
  Subaru’s competent all-wheel
  drive estate lacked was a
  diesel engine. Now it
s got one,
  and there
s no holding it back

AS THE NAME IMPLIES, Subaru's Outback crossover mid-size estate can take the rough with the smooth. In the UK, these models more rugged versions of the Legacy estate have proved to be quite a hit in the sticks where their practicality, commodious space and all-wheel drive comes in particularly handy.

Look at the Outback from any angle and it has a rugged go-anywhere (well, most places) air best defined by its 'jacked-up' higher-riding stance. It's a good looker, too, with just a hint of hardness from the bonnet air intake, large circular projector foglights and slotted grille flanked by distinctive 'hawk-eye' high-intensity headlamp units. Side protection cladding to the lower doors and pronounced wheel arches complete the picture. At the rear the full-width tailgate is topped by a roof spoiler and bordered by large taillight units that cut deeply into the rear wings and which, seen from the side, are an interesting arrow shape. A large bore tailpipe at each side of the deep rear bumper completes the look.

Matching the handsome styling is a handsome tally of standard equipment. Swing open a door and you'll find yourself in a spacious cabin fitted with generous levels of kit including four electric windows, power-fold door mirrors, cruise control (neatly integrated into the steering wheel), dual-zone climate-control, power driver's seat with two-set memory function, speed sensitive intermittent wipers, CD player with MP3 facility and a reach and rake-adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Other standard equipment includes front projector foglamps, HID headlamps with pop-out washers, alloy wheels, active front head-restraints, dual-stage front airbags, head and chest-protecting side airbags, curtain airbags and ABS with EBD.

Inside you'll find plenty of soft-touch trim and good fit-and-finish. The fascia is sensibly laid out with a wide centre stack housing the audio and climate control with large, rotary knobs and intuitive, easy-to-use switchgear. A nice feature is the 'fast cool' button that does exactly that. Topping off the centre stack is the driver's information screen and a handy, lidded cubby where the SatNav goes if you ticked the right options box on your order form. Siamesed together beneath a single cowl, the four chrome-rimmed dials — two small for fuel and temp and two large for revs and speed — are clearly legible with white on black graphics.

The cabin is roomy, comfortable and spacious for passengers — in the front and the back. The well-shaped front seats are supportive and the driving position good. Rear seat passengers benefit from a comfy centre armrest and a comfortably-angled backrest. If necessary, three can sit side-by-side. Wherever you're sitting, travelling in the Outback is refined and relaxing.

The badge on the nose says 'Subaru' and owners familiar with the brand's rally-honed symmetrical all-wheel drive system will be pleased to find the Outback drives with the marque's expected four-wheel drive composure, providing traction in even the very worst weather conditions. Power is fed full-time to all four wheels and should either the front or the rear of the car begin to slide, torque is rapidly fed to the axle with the most grip.

It turned in a very
impressive combined fuel
consumption figure
during a hard week’s
road-testing —
The Outback also features a rear limited-slip differential, allowing torque to be shared between both rear wheels. Although it can send 100 per cent to either end as and when necessary, the variable AWD torque-split is balanced to provide an initial rear-wheel drive bias for extra handling agility. Not that you're aware of any of this when you're driving: all you are aware of — whether you're travelling in a straight line or along winding country lanes — is the consistent directional stability. Subaru's own stability control system, Vehicle Dynamics Control, is another standard feature and it works well, neatly tucking the rear-end back into line at the first sign of it drifting out.

Motorway cruising is stress-free and made better by a reasonable ride. If you were expecting the high-riding Outback's ride quality to be compromised then you'll be pleased to know that given the 195mm of ground clearance, its well-controlled ride is unexpectedly accommodating; there's minimal body roll and even ridged and rutted roads are hardly noticed with only a muted thud being heard in the cabin to mark the worst irregularities.

While very few owners look under the bonnet of their car today, they still like to know what's under there. Pop the Outback's bonnet and you'll find yourself looking at a 'boxer' engine. This flat-four turbocharged diesel engine is a compact unit mounted low down to maximise the Outback's centre of gravity and contribute to a better-balanced drive. If you still believe old wives' tales such as not using your lights in fog because it flattens the battery (don't laugh; some drivers still swear this is true!) or that diesel engines can never be as smooth as petrol engines, then a drive in this 2.0-litre diesel-powered Outback will show you just what nonsense some of these motoring myths actually are.

However hard or however lazily we drove it, the 148bhp light alloy, horizontally-opposed, four-cylinder engine (with four valves per cylinder and double overhead cams per bank) worked smoothly and quietly. For the record, the new powerplant's official moving sound levels of 70.5 dB are better than those for the Mondeo (71.0) and the Passat (73 dB). In fact, even a Rolls-Royce Phantom is higher, at 72.0 dB.

With 258lb ft of torque from 1,800rpm there's plenty of pulling power from low down which adds to its fuss-free, easy-going character. Better still, it turned in a very impressive combined consumption figure during a hard week's road-testing — 45.3mpg. The official figures for urban, combined and extra-urban are 39.8, 48.7 and 55.4mpg. On that showing, less pressurised drivers than ourselves should certainly be able to achieve the official returns. For the record, the 2.0D Outback runs to 124mph and accelerates off the line to 60mph in 8.8 seconds.

The all-wheel drive
Outback is more than
happy to go where many
estates cannot
Like Audi's A6 Allroad and Volvo's V70 XC, the Outback is a 'toughened-up' estate but apart from its 'off the beaten track' looks and capability, at heart it's still an estate. As such it's more than fit for purpose with self-levelling rear suspension and oodles of room. With the 60:40 split-fold rear seats in use there's still a very practical 459 litres; more than enough for a family's luggage. Fold them down and this increases to 1,649 litres, giving a usefully long and flat load bay accessed through a large — forty inches wide — regular-shaped opening once the tailgate is swung up and out of the way. Other benefits are a smooth-working luggage roller blind and a convenient sill loading height. Also fitted is a reversible cargo floor allowing the choice between carpeting and a hard waterproof surface.

The all-wheel drive Outback is more than happy to go where many estates cannot and, powered by an economical and refined 2.0-litre turbodiesel, is more than able to appeal to a broader range of customers. On long journeys and holiday trips the 14-gallon tank allows a 600-mile touring range between fill-ups. And should you need to tow a boat, caravan or horsebox then it's equally well qualified: it can pull 1,700kg braked. All-in-all, the 'predictable in unpredictable situations' Outback's an all-in-one! — MotorBar

Subaru Outback 2.0D R
| 22,525
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-60mph: 8.8 seconds | Overall MPG: 45.3mpg
Power: 148bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 153g/km | Insurance group 12