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Subaru Outback 3.6R
Click to view picture gallery“Designated 3.6R, Subaru’s latest
s badging could lead you to
  believe it
s a Racy number. But while
  it undoubtedly has the lungs of a
  racer, at heart it
s a family car —
  albeit quick and none the worse for
  it, either...”

A 3.6-LITRE 24-VALVE FLAT-SIX ENGINE usually makes any car pretty damn quick. In the Outback, the horizontally-opposed 3,630cc six-cylinder powerplant kicks out 256bhp and 258lb ft of torque at 4,400rpm — enough to get it to the benchmark 62mph in a satisfyingly swift 7.5 seconds. For the record, 225lb ft is available from 2,000rpm all the way to 6,000rpm. Top speed, where permitting, is exactly twice the legal limit — 140mph. A tyre-shredding racer? No, but certainly respectably rapid...

Externally, this new, fourth-generation Outback is fronted by a thrusting, almost predatory nose; a look underscored by new 'hawk eye'-style headlamps that cut into the bonnet and front wings. Strongly defined wheel arches — whose outer edges look as though they've been machined flat — give the deep, cleanly styled bodyshell a measure of understated road presence. Finished in metallic royal blue and rolling on chunky six-blade alloys, our test Outback looked really striking.

To put the R's power down, the latest range-topping incarnation of Subaru's tough AWD estate — bigger in every dimension over its predecessor, save from being an inch shorter — comes equipped with Subaru's famous symmetrical all-wheel drive system; in normal operation, the Outback's AWD distributes power 45 percent to the front wheels and 55 to the rear.

Unlike many estate cars
of this size, all of
the Outback
s seating
are big,
well-padded and
very comfortable
Inside, thanks to an extra 2.8 inches in the wheelbase plus an extra two inches of width, as well as an increase in height, you'll find yourself sitting in a cavernous cabin that's one of the most spacious for both front and back seat passengers.

Unlike many estate cars of this size, all of the Outback's seating positions are big, well-padded and very comfortable. And in the R, all are upholstered in leather.

The front seats have good supportive backrests with well-considered side-bolstering, particularly around the lower back areas. A large front armrest with a well padded lid is wide enough for the driver and front passenger to share. Those travelling up front also enjoy power-adjustable seats (driver 10-way with memory; passenger 8-way) with two-stage heating. The driver has up/down and side-to-side power lumbar adjustment as well as a one-shot up-down window. The other three windows are operated electrically, as are the heated door mirrors, which power fold on demand.

Making life even easier for the driver is an electronic parking brake that releases automatically so long as the doors are shut and the driver is belted-up, a Hill-Hold function and a keyless locking and ignition system. Just get in, buckle up and thumb the Start-Stop button on the dash to the right of the steering wheel. Talking of which, there's plentiful height and reach adjustment which combined with the commanding, upright seating — you feel you're sitting almost as far off the ground as in an SUV/4x4 — ensures clear all-round visibility, even over the shoulder.

Rear legroom has also increased — by a very substantial four inches — and the rear seats are especially roomy. We can state without any exaggeration that there's absolutely masses of room in the back, even for three adults. If there are just two travelling in the rear then they can stretch out their legs as though they were in a limo while sharing the well-padded centre armrest and a built-in cup-holder each. Just to make certain of your comfort, even the rear outer armrests in the doors are wide and well-padded. Dedicated rear air vents keep passengers warmed or cooled as appropriate, and large glass areas add an airy feel to the rear cabin's open ambiance.

Sit normally (no slouching!) and there's five inches of space above your head and around eight inches between your knee and the back of the front seat.

The standard-fit
touchscreen SatNav
is easy to use; dual-zone
automatic climate
control does Arctic-cold
and Sahara-hot
equally efficiently
There's also lots of foot room beneath the front seats. It really is amazingly spacious and two near-six-footers can lounge in luxury behind two near-six-footers. Add in comfortable rear headrests, multi-adjustable rear seatbacks also with good lower back support and those in the know will insist on sitting in the back of the Outback.

But the first class seating is only the half of it; the cabin quality is much improved and shows off a touch of class with a brushed aluminium-effect centre stack and centre console and some good-looking burr wood door inserts. Very well-appointed throughout, it's conventionally, and logically, laid out. Controls and displays are clear and the steering wheel features remote controls for cruise and audio functions — the leather-wrapped rim is nicely grippy, too.

Other nice kit includes a DVD satellite navigation and audio system with Dolby Prologic II, an on-board computer and Multi-Information Display, AUX video input, Bluetooth connectivity and a 6-CD tuner with RDS, six speakers and speed-adjusting automatic volume control.

Centrally-sited, the standard-fit touchscreen SatNav is easy to use. Dual-zone automatic climate control does Arctic-cold and Sahara-hot equally efficiently, helped by four large air vents. AV input and a 12v power socket can be found inside the front armrest storage box. Elsewhere you won't go short of storage thanks to the large glovebox with an upper shelf, good-sized front and rear door pockets, two more cubbies on the centre console and plus a drop-down glasses holder.

For those times when you want to see the sky and feel the air, there's a tilt-and-slide glass sunroof. Power-operated with one-shot up/down and open-close functions, it also has side shielding to minimise draughts whilst in the tilt position. When closed, there's an inner sunshade to keep the sun's rays out. Incidentally, all front, rear and side glass is UV protected.

There's only one transmission choice for this range-topping Outback: a five-speed tiptronic automatic with a manual mode for those who like more control. And it's a real smoothie.

All changes, up and down and at any throttle loading, truly are fast and genuinely seamless; it also kicks down readily, and when it does the Outback surges forward with real purpose — reassuring when you need to overtake. The wheel-mounted paddle-shifters work well and ensure you hands stay on the wheel while your fingertips do the changing.

In real-world driving the
Outback serves up a
very good and very well
controlled ride that
soft yet supple
Exclusive to the 3.6R is Subaru's unique engine and transmission management system — Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive). Located easily to hand on the central tunnel next to the driver is the SI Drive controller — a rotary knob that can be used at any time by the driver to select the most appropriate driving mode: Intelligent (I) provides modest levels of power delivery for greater efficiency during city- and long-distance driving; Sport (S) delivers increased acceleration while Sport Sharp (S#) takes throttle response to the next level — ideal when the driver wants to exercise the full potential of the engine.

While the Outback's mission statement, if it had one, would be sure to include the word 'family', that doesn't mean that it can't handle some spirited driving and give keen drivers something to smile about. Select 'S' or 'S#' and the R is persuasively quick.

Factor in steering that's fine, powerful progressive brakes (hefty ventilated discs front and rear), good grip from the Yokohama Geolander tyres and, of course, the all-wheel drive system that provides full-time all-weather traction and security, and you have a big estate that is more than willing to hold its line when pressing on.

Basically, unless you drive like a complete loon, you're never going to be taken unawares by this taller-riding Subaru estate thanks not just to the all-wheel drive but also to the full complement of electronic stability aids: Vehicle Dynamics Control stability system, Traction Control, ABS, EBD and EBA braking systems. Other safety equipment includes automatic headlamps and automatic rain-sensing wipers and front, front-side and curtain airbags.

Nor does the high-ish ride height degrade the handling because under the bodywork a new chassis design with a double wishbone rear suspension (including self-levelling) replaces the previous model's multi-link set-up.

Dynamically, this delivers better handling and a smoother ride. In real-world driving the Outback serves up a very good and very well controlled ride that's soft yet supple. In fact, those aboard will never notice the majority of road irregularities passing beneath them.

All of which contributes to one of the Outback's core strengths: a quiet and refined cabin whatever the pace. Wafting along the motorway, the 3.6R is a very relaxing machine to drive, its unruffled mile-eating gait made even better by the notable absence of engine and road noise when 'in the cruise'.

To use the vernacular,
the V6 is a ‘fine motor
punchy when you
need it; muted but
locked-and-loaded when
you don’t
The Outback also has serious load-lugging capabilities. Lift the tailgate and you're presented with an accommodating 526-litre boot; fold the rear seats — simply pull the release handles each side of the boot and the 60:40 seatbacks tip forwards by themselves — and the resulting flat load bay will take 1,677 litres.

Loading is easy, courtesy of a convenient floor height. And if that's not enough, lift up the boot floor — thoughtfully there are proper catches to hold it in place — and you'll find two tiered large storage trays: the lowest holds all the car's tools and the tyre mobility kit; the upper level is for additional 'out of sight' storage. Other well-considered touches include pop-out bag hooks. And should you need to tow, then the 3.6R will handle a braked 2,000kg.

Another plus point: a reversing camera comes as standard and while it does make parking considerably easier, even without it the Outback is an easy car to manoeuvre thanks to decent rearward visibility and variable power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering that lightens up helpfully.

While the Outback is a perfect fit for families, active families will benefit even more — its off-road ability, helped by a useful 8 inches (200mm) of ground clearance and under-body protection, offers the freedom to roam safely off the beaten track where the majority of estate cars would be incapable of venturing.

To use the vernacular, the V6 is a 'fine motor': punchy when you need it; muted but locked-and-loaded when you don't. With a broad spread of torque on tap from 2-6,000rpm and an eager tiptronic transmission, overtaking urge is there whenever, and at whatever speed, you need it.

We drove our Outback pretty hard, making regular use of the quick Sport and even quicker Sport Sharp modes, and still saw 27.2mpg. Officially the figures for urban, combined and extra-urban are, respectively, 19.6, 28.2 and 37.7mpg. 'Regular' drivers, we feel sure, should be able to get closer to the official figures.

All-in-all, this top-of-the-range Outback is a first class all-rounder: it's good to drive, goes and handles much better than the average estate, is nicely understated — some may say too understated for its own good — has the reassurance of full-time four-wheel drive and not only accommodates a real-world family and their baggage but pampers them every mile of the way. — MotorBar

Subaru Outback 3.6R | 35,795
Maximum speed: 140mph | 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds | Overall test MPG: 27.2mpg
Power: 256bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 232g/km