2021 Subaru Outback Review: Crossover Pioneer

Subaru’s Outback delivers SUV-like practicality without carrying the stigma of driving one


Well before the term ‘crossover’ even entered the mainstream vehicular lexicon, Subaru was among the first to pioneer the trend of mixing two different body styles into one. The original Outback from 1994 started out as a raised version of Subaru’s Legacy Wagon, effectively turning it into a pseudo-wagon SUV of sorts, a formula that was later copied by Volvo and Audi.

Today’s Outback has been spun off into its own nameplate, but the car’s Legacy roots remain evident. It still looks like a Legacy Wagon on stilts, although ironically Subaru doesn’t actually make a regular Legacy Wagon any more, so the Outback serves as a de facto estate version of the new seventh-generation Legacy.

That said, there are signs that Subaru are trying to make the split between the two a bit more explicit. For starters, the regular Legacy saloon is no longer produced for right hand drive markets (including Japan), whereas the Outback remains available. So if you want a large-sized Subaru that’s not a Forester, the Outback is now your only option here.

It’s not a bad option too. Subaru has tended to give the Legacy evolutionary rather than revolutionary changes through the generations, and the same applies to the Outback. The car’s styling is relatively conservative, instantly recognisable as a Subaru wagon, with the raised ride height, heavy-duty roof rails and plastic cladding around the wheel arches outlining its rugged character. It’s not really a head-turner, but the Outback has always been about function more than form anyway.

The interior is somewhat more impressive though. A very modern setup sees a large, vertical-oriented 11.6-inch touchscreen (a la Volvo) take centrestage on the dashboard. Most of the car’s functions are accessed through this screen, which can make things a bit fiddly on the move, but the display is clear and the system runs quite smoothly.

There’s some very clever tech on offer too. The Outback features what Subaru calls the Driver Monitoring System (DMS), first featured on the recently updated Forester. Essentially Subaru’s version of Apple’s Face ID, it uses a set of cameras and sensors on the dashboard to scan your face, and then set the car up according to your preferred preset settings, like the seat position and even the air con temperature. It’s quite a cool feature actually, although do remember to remove your mask so that the system can properly identify your mug.

Then there’s also Subaru’s Eyesight suite of driver assistance technologies, which incorporates stuff such as adaptive cruise control with lane centering function, autonomous emergency braking and steering, and lane departure warning, to name but a few functionalities. 

The rest of the interior does feel decidedly upmarket, with nice soft touch materials and Nappa leather upholstery helping to uplift the overall ambience of the car. And of course, as a wagon, there is plenty of cargo room at the back, with 522 litres of boot space on offer, expandable to 1,726 litres if the rear seats are folded down.

On the road, the Outback is probably about as average as they come. It majors more on comfort really, with a very pliant ride quality that smooths out most road bumps. Refinement is excellent too, with barely any noise permeating through the cabin even at speed. The 2.5-litre boxer engine is smooth and effective, although performance feels slightly blunted by the car’s CVT gearbox.

The handling of the Outback can best be described as competent. Given that it’s not as tall as your usual SUVs, body roll is kept nicely in check. The car’s all-wheel-drive system keeps it tracking neutrally in the corners, and safe is probably the operative word here. It does the job, but it doesn’t feel particularly exciting.

Nevertheless, there’s much to like about the Outback otherwise. At the very least, it’s a credible crossover alternative to most modern crossovers, being actually comfortable, rugged, spacious and practical, without carrying the negative stigma of driving a towering SUV. All of the good stuff, with few of the bad stuff, in other words.

Subaru Outback 2.5 i-Touring Eyesight

Engine2,498cc, horizontally-opposed four
Power188hp at 5800rpm
Torque245Nm at 3400-4600rpm
GearboxContinuously Variable Transmission
0-100km/h9.6 seconds
Top Speed206km/h
VES BandingC1 / +S$10,000
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
AgentMotor Image Enterprises
PriceS$170,800 with COE
Verdict:Legacy-based Outback offers most of the benefits of a crossover SUV but with few of the drawbacks

about the author

Ben Chia
CarBuyer's senior staff writer went out to explore the Great Big World, including a stint working in China (despite his limited Mandarin). Now he's back, ready to foist upon you his takes on everything good and wonderful about the automotive world.