2021 Subaru Outback AWD: owner review

  • Doors and Seats


    5 doors, 5 seats

  • Engine


    2.5i, 4 cyl.

  • Engine Power


    138kW, 245Nm

  • Fuel


    Petrol (91) 7.3L/100KM

  • Manufacturer



  • Transmission


    8 Spd Auto (CVT)

  • Warranty


    5 Yr, Unltd KMs

  • Ancap Safety


    5/5 star (2021)


Owner Review

For us, the choice was obvious. We went with the Outback and don’t regret it at all.

Owner: Josh V

  • Unique styling and appeal
  • Safety and technology
  • Outstanding family practicality
  • Ride, handling and comfort

  • No front parking sensors despite the bonnet length
  • Stop/start is harsh when auto vehicle hold is active
  • Aspirated engine and no mild/hybrid tech seems a little ‘yesteryear’

In September last year, we found ourselves in the unfortunate position of having our much loved 2020 Honda CR-V VTi-S AWD written off and needed a replacement. Given the worst shortage of new and used cars in history, the choices our insurer offered us were a Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport AWD, a Subaru Forester 2.5-L or a Subaru Outback AWD.

For us, the choice was obvious. We went with the Outback and don’t regret it at all.

It’s a nameplate with an illustrious history in the red continent, but not one I ever gave much thought to before emigrating to Australia.

Growing up in Britain, Subaru cars fell into three categories: Colin McRae wannabees in mid-’90s WRXs; farmers in Foresters; and wealthy but unpretentious country types who could afford to purchase a Range Rover, but baulked at the cost and image of one. Beyond those stereotypes, I’m not sure an Outback would ever have been on my shortlist for a family car, but things are a little different over here.

To start with, the Outback has all the attributes that I want from a family car. It’s got acres of usable space, impeccable active and passive safety credentials, plus it’s comfortable, drives nicely and (in my opinion) looks great.

Not only that, but it comes with a very lengthy equipment list, with some personal highlights being electrically adjustable front seats, matrix LED headlights, and the full EyeSight suite of safety features. The AWD is the base-spec Outback, but the package as a whole really doesn’t feel like it.

To dive a little deeper, it proves beyond a doubt in my mind that estate cars (that’s British speak for ‘wagon’) are far more practical than mid-size SUVs (Subaru calls it a large SUV but they’re fooling no-one). A good example of this is that although the boot size is exactly the same as our previous Honda at 522L, the Outback’s extra length and width (at the expense of height) make it more usable in daily life with a toddler, and it swallows a large pram plus all manner of extras with space to spare.

Moreover, there’s at least as much space in the front and rear rows, and getting an 18-month-old in and out of the back is no more difficult thanks to the fact that it has 21.5cm of ground clearance. Furthermore, given the seats themselves sit slightly lower to the ground in comparison to an SUV, I would suggest it makes it easier for those shorter than my 185cm (i.e. most mothers) to do so.

On the subject of ground clearance, this is another reason why this car is such a great choice for Australia, especially for one-car families with an active lifestyle. It can go anywhere that most people will need it to, and short of proper off-road 4x4s, I doubt there are many cars on the market with the capabilities of the Outback (other than the Forester maybe).

It’s not so much that it’s a great car off-road (I’m not qualified to judge, but my guess is I run out of skill before it does), but that it’s so damn comfortable and sure-footed whenever you find yourself on gravel or dirt in regional areas or national parks.

The other reason why that ground clearance is so useful is you never have to worry about grounding out the front as you drive on and off forecourts, or in our case, our own driveway. This is again something that is quite a factor in Australia I have found.

On the subject of driving, the one area I had my doubts before taking delivery of this car was the engine/powertrain combo. Reviews in this area had ranged from outright derision to ‘meh’, which along with the fact the engine is naturally aspirated was a cause for concern.

Growing up in Briton, I have never driven a non-turbo car that felt anything close to fast, and naturally aspirated petrol cars were something our parents drove in the ’80s and ’90s and were synonymous with underperformance. Almost always featuring a ‘1’ at the start of the displacement figure, they had no power, no fuel economy and no refinement.

By contrast, the bulk of my own driving has been during the era of modern turbo-diesel dominance in Europe with effortless, low-rev torque the main characteristic of the VWs, BMWs and Vauxhalls I have driven as company cars over the past decade or so. All this made me worried about what seemed such a throwback engine to have in an otherwise modern car.

I still have my lingering guilt that I haven’t yet taken the plunge into hybrid/EV, but from a performance perspective I needn’t have been concerned. Combined with the eight-step CVT, the engine fits the Outback’s character like a glove, delivering an easy and quiet performance around town, smooth highway cruising and, to my ear, an enjoyable sonorous boxer growl when pushing on.

Okay, so it’s definitely no WRX, but neither is it underpowered like so many of the Japanese/Korean 2.0-litre aspirated mid-size SUVs in the sub-$40K bracket, and it doesn’t seem to suffer from the need to have to rev out in order to get the most out of itself. This makes for a much more pleasant experience under normal conditions. Plus, even if it does, the sound is so well insulated as to be minimally intrusive.

I actually quite like the smoothness of the CVT experience now I’m used to it. And since I don’t drive another vehicle regularly, it never feels like it’s sluggish or annoying, especially under rolling acceleration when going from 60–100km/h.

Handling-wise, the Outback compares very favourably to any of the SUVs I’ve driven and the ride comfort is just as good. In short, I reckon the Outback is a very pleasant place to spend time around town and on longer journeys cross-country.

Fuel economy is slightly disappointing in 2022, however. Over the first 2000km I’ve driven, I have an average of 8.2L/100km versus a claim of 7.4, so not far off. For context, my miles are probably 60/40 rural versus urban/suburban, so if you do the bulk of your driving in a metro area, it’s likely to be higher, and if you live in the middle of nowhere you can probably match the claim.

Regarding safety, this was very high in our minds when looking for a replacement vehicle. As an AWD model, our Honda featured HondaSense, but the latest EyeSight is far more comprehensive. I’ve read mixed reviews on how this pans out from a driver-experience standpoint, but for me I’ve mostly found it triggers when needed and not before.

I certainly haven’t felt it to be overbearing, and it all feeds incrementally into the sense I get that this is a car designed to lower driver workload (not replace it), which makes for a safer experience. The adaptive cruise is well calibrated and controls speed both up and down hills better than most. And it even features a setting to adjust the acceleration characteristics; something I have not encountered before.

The styling really appeals to me, and it gives the Outback a unique look in the car park, and managing to avoid ‘identikit’ blandness without resorting to being too ‘out there’. My guess is it will age well, in part due to the decision to fit LED lights all round to give it a bang-up-to-date appearance. Proportionately, it seems to have cast off any remaining awkwardness of the previous models, and there’s lovely attention to detail such as the Outback logos stencilled into the headlight fittings.

It isn’t just unique to look at, as I’m not convinced there are any direct competitors, even amongst the ‘jacked-up AWD wagon’ class. Although it’s not as stylish as a Volvo V60 CC, as luxe as an Audi Allroad or as innovative as a Skoda Superb Scout/Passat Alltrack, it is also around $20–$30K cheaper than any of them. For me, the Outback is in a class all of its own, and that’s also part of its appeal.

Owner: Josh V

Owner’s Rating

2021 Subaru Outback AWD Sport Wagon

9.2/ 10

Technology & Connectivity

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2021 Subaru Outback AWD: owner review