Words: Mike Ryan
Photos: Subaru Australia
Following its announcement back in January, the sixth-generation Subaru Outback has arrived, bringing improvements to the engine and transmission, a stronger and lighter chassis, increased towing capacity, improved centre console display and more safety technology.
The Outback range has been rationalized, too, down to three main variants, all of which share a common engine, transmission and all-wheel drive system. The three-tier structure starts with the base Outback AWD, above which sits the Outback AWD Sport, with the Outback AWD Touring as the premium grade.
“It’s timely that with the launch of new Outback we celebrate the model’s 25th Anniversary this year and sales of more than 50,000 in Australia,” said Subaru Australia General Manager, Blair Read, previewing the new Outback’s arrival back in February.
“New Outback epitomises all the qualities for which the model has become famous over the last quarter century: strength, quality, style, engineering, safety and – of course – fun.
“This Outback is the perfect platform for Australians pursuing active lifestyles.”
Externally, the new Outback retains familiar styling cues, with the main changes being to the headlights, which are now slimmer, with C-shaped DRLs and changes to the inner edges to accommodate a wider grille design.
Foglamp surrounds have been reshaped, as has the cladding for the sills and wheelarches. The grille now has two vertical bars and there are revisions to the lower grille and front bash plate.
On the flanks, the external mirrors are reshaped and the crease running the length of the body is less pronounced. The roof rails have been redesigned, too.
The bulkier look for the lower body cladding continues at the rear, with the tail lights reshaped and a more prominent tailgate spoiler added. The tailgate opening is also 20mm wider.
A new design of 18-inch wheel has been introduced, applied range-wide with a different finish depending on model grade.
Finally, there are two new colours – Autumn Green metallic and Brilliant Bronze metallic – for a total palette of seven.
Exterior differences across the three grades are limited to selective use of satin, bright chrome and black trim.
The main changes to the 2021 Outback’s interior revolve around the tech upgrades, which are headlined by a new Central Information Display (CID) with an 11.6-inch screen.
Positioned vertically, the CID prioritises the content on display, with constant presentation of information that regularly needs to be accessed, like time and temperature, while various status and information bars can be checked as needed. Frequently used function shortcuts can be added as icons and adjusted based on preference, as per a smartphone.
Flanking this large screen are tactile switches for audio tuning/volume and heating/cooling controls.
Voice recognition, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are all said to be improved, as has the air con system (more efficient and with less noise) and ‘Multi-Information Display’ instrument panel.
A Driver Monitoring System has been added that is primarily a driver alert safety feature, but can also be used to preconfigure preferred seat, mirror, audio and air con settings.
A wider windscreen and repositioned doors are part of a modification of the Outback’s interior that delivers increased front shoulder and hip room, more rear leg room and greater cargo space.
Subaru are moving the Outback upmarket, too, with the addition of premium interior finishes like Nappa leather. For now, this is limited to the Outback AWD Touring, with fabric seats on the standard and Sport grades, but the latter does add a water-repellent finish.
Additional upmarket tech and features include memory function heated front seats, heated outboard rear seats and a nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, all of which are exclusive to the Outback AWD Touring.
Practical features range-wide include a glovebox 12V outlet, USB ports either side of the centre console, eight cupholders, wider door sills, more tilt range in the steering column adjustment, more comfortable rear seats and all-LED interior lighting.
Improving the interior packaging has widened and lengthened the cargo floor area, improving total cargo volume by 10 litres to 522 litres. The Outback AWD Sport and Touring include a hands-free power tailgate, while an easier to use cargo cover has been added to all variants.
Subaru have deleted both the 3.6 petrol and 2.4 diesel engines from the Outback range for 2021, leaving the existing 2.5-litre boxer petrol engine as the sole powerplant.
This naturally-aspirated four-cylinder powerplant is said to be “90 per cent new” for 2021, with direct fuel injection added, weight reduced and combustion efficiency improved. The result is more power and torque, with new maximums of 138kW at 5800rpm and 245Nm at 3400-4600rpm – up from 129kW and 235Nm.
The CVT has been redesigned to suit, with 80 per cent of the structural parts improved. Wider gear ratios (equating to an eight-speed auto, according to Subaru) and an updated hydraulic system to reduce horsepower loss are part of this new transmission.
The cooling system has also been improved and a larger (63-litre) fuel tank added.
For the symmetrical Active Torque Split AWD system, there have been multiple changes, including a new rear diff with a 3.900 ratio, that combine to raise the Outback’s maximum braked towing capacity to 2,000kg (previously 1,800kg).
Other driveline functions, like the Si-Drive modes, X-Mode off-road control and auto stop-start functions carry over, with the latter improved to start within 0.2 seconds.
Related hardware changes include a K-brace that improves steering accuracy, a high-rigidity front suspension crossmember, new mounts and an added rebound spring for the front suspension, revised rear subframe structure and new bushes, a hollow rear stabiliser bar and other suspension tweaks front and rear, all aimed at reducing vibration and noise while increasing stability.
Minor changes have been made to the brakes, including a shorter initial pedal stroke, reduced noise and improved corrosion resistance.
Safety features in the new Outback start with the CID, whose simpler layout is said to limit driver distraction. There are also technologies like automatic reverse braking (that applies the brakes when a collision is detected when reversing), auto headlights with a steering responsive function (moving the beam to match steering input) auto vehicle hold (that removes the need to constantly apply brake pedal pressure when stationary) and a break suggestion function (recommending break times on the sat nav display).
Passive safety improvements include more high-tensile steel in the body to limit deformation in front and side collisions, while a front seat cushion airbag has been introduced to limit forward movement by the seat occupant in a collision.
Active safety tech is led by Subaru’s EyeSight system, which has been completely re-engineered and “significantly advanced” for the latest Outback.
New additions include a Lane Centring Function, Lane Departure Prevention and Emergency Lane Keep Assist, Autonomous Emergency Steering, Speed Sign Recognition with Intelligent Speed Limiter and EyeSight Assist Monitor.
Existing EyeSight features that have been improved include Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control and Pre-Collision Braking, while hardware updates in this system include a new stereo camera and electric brake booster.
On the Multi-Information Display in the instrument cluster, the ECO gauge adds more information, including outside temperature, a direction meter, driving range and EyeSight data (like the speed limit), depending on grade.
A new addition to all Outback grades is a Driver Monitoring System that monitors driver attentiveness, providing automatic alerts when distraction or drowsiness is detected. The system, which can be disengaged, provides visual warnings when distraction is detected and can also be personalised to recognize driver preferences for instrumentation, seat, mirror and air con settings.
Vision Assist tech carries over to the new MY21 Outback and includes front, side, rear and blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist and rear vehicle detection functions.
Reflecting the “democratisation” of safety gear by many manufacturers these days, most of the aforementioned equipment and technology upgrades for the new Outback have been applied range-wide, with only a handful of features reserved for the upper grades.
In Detail – OUTBACK AWD
The entry-level MY21 Outback AWD (Subaru add ‘AWD’ to all model grade descriptions) is defined by chrome-look grille bars and foglamp surrounds, body-coloured mirrors and door handles, silver front and rear skidplates and a satin dark grey finish to the 18-inch alloys.
LED headlights, DRLs and foglamps, rear privacy glass, roof rails with stowable crossbars and an electronic locking fuel filler flap also feature outside, while inside, there are cloth-trimmed seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift boot, paddle shifters, a voice-activated six-speaker sound system, electric parking brake, power front seats, power mirrors, dual-zone climate control air conditioning and LED interior lighting.
The aforementioned Centre Information Display is part of the base model’s spec, as is the updated Multi-Information Display in the instrument cluster. The base model gets the Driver Monitoring System, Vision Assist and EyeSight upgrades, as well as most of the other safety upgrades for 2021.
Push-button starting, rain-sensing wipers, two 12V sockets (glovebox and cargo area) and 60/40 split rear seats with reclining function are also on the MY21 Outback AWD spec list.
2021 Subaru Outback AWD - $39,990 (MSRP)
In Detail – OUTBACK AWD SPORT
On the outside, the Outback AWD Sport blacks out most of the chrome trim of the base model and gives the mirror caps a Crystal Black treatment, while the alloys get a similar dark metallic finish.
There’s a matte black rear badge and shark fin antenna, as well as fixed roof rails (no removable crossbars) with green highlights – all of which are unique to the Sport.
Upgrades over the base Outback include the addition of a power tailgate with hands-free sensor and memory function, auto headlights, sports pedals and a factory sat nav powered by Tom Tom.
The steering wheel gets a “premium” leather trim and the seats are trimmed in a water repellant material with contrast green stitching and heating front and rear (outboard rear seats only).
Finally, Vision Assist is upgraded to include a front and side view monitor.
2021 Subaru Outback AWD Sport - $44,490 (MLP)
In Detail - OUTBACK AWD TOURING
While it looks similar to the base model at first glance, the top-spec Outback AWD Touring is defined by a satin silver finish to the mirror caps and roof rails, while the 18-inch alloys add a machined look that’s described as a gloss silver finish. An electric sunroof is also standard.
The mirrors have an auto power fold function when parked, as well as an auto dipping function on the passenger side mirror.
Taking some of the Sport’s features, the Touring also adds more of its own, including a heated steering wheel and Nappa leather seat trim with a dual memory function on the driver’s seat.
The sound system is upgraded to a Harmon Kardon nine-speaker unit with sub-woofer and centre console-mounted CD player.
On the Driver Monitoring System, the Touring adds auto driver seat and door mirror adjustment.
2021 Subaru Outback AWD Touring - $47,790 (MLP)