MANUFACTURERS spend a great deal of time and effort, not to mention money, when it comes to choosing model names for their range.
Even so, it didn’t stop Proton sheepishly coming up with Jumbuck for its pick-up truck – like a lamb to the slaughter, Proton has been killed off by UK buyers. Mitsubishi couldn’t resist a mis-spelled Carisma for a car that truly lacked far more than an ‘h’ in charisma.
But what about Subaru and its Outback? Is that just an exaggeration or does it go down a storm in the land of Oz? Our friend Ben, an Aussie who eats, breathes, and sleeps petrol-powered V8s, reckons Subaru is just wizard in Oz. Luckily for the small-scale Japanese brand, it seems to be recovering its fortunes in the UK, too.
It’s a deserved revival. Subaru has been in the UK since the late ’70s after its quirky cars found huge success in the States. As a young family, we had great fun in Subaru cars when we were living in Cotswold country.
One winter we pulled a friend’s Mark 3 Cortina up a snow-covered and icy hill when he was stuck. All it took was a bit of rope and a lion-hearted burst of energy from the 1.6 litre Scooby and we were at the top (about a mile of serious work by the Subaru).
As a result, we’ve always had tremendous respect for Subaru cars in the Hardy household, albeit not quite the same enthusiasm for the WRX models that Ben radiates.
There’s a lot to like about the Outback, which used to come with just a big capacity petrol engine and a thirst to match. These days it benefits from Subaru’s adoption of a diesel set-up for its quirky flat four engine, a layout that lowers the centre of gravity and still gives a great power output, albeit with a slightly odd thrum from under the bonnet.
You might think a 150bhp power output is not a lot for an off-road machine but then again the Subaru is a lot lighter than many country cars, tipping the scales with a kerb weight of 1,691kg.
A drawback is that you can’t hang any more than 1,800kg on the drawbar if you want to tow anything but even 1,400kg equates to a pretty big caravan or horsebox.
In fact the 150bhp engine and stepless CVT transmission are ideally suited. The beauty of such a transmission such as this on a car with fulltime 4×4 is that there’s no loss of traction when changing gear ratios, as there can be with a manual transmission no matter how good the driver is at operating the clutch.
Loss of traction in difficult conditions can bring a car to a halt in no time, just the thing 4×4 is really intended to avoid.
If you regularly pull trailers out of tricky places, as caravan and horsebox owners will, then the advantage of the CVT will not be lost on you. You’ll also appreciate its ability to deliver 41.5mpg, only marginally less than the first time we tried this CVT/diesel combo a couple of years ago.
Since then, the Outback has been given a makeover and its 1,848 litres load capacity with the seats folded and 559 litres while carrying five people is a pretty generous amount, matching many estate cars you would perceive to be larger, soundly beating serious rivals, and significantly improving on the old Outback.
Even better news is that the Outback, even in the SE Premium trim of the test car and with the optional CVT transmission, has an on-the- road price of £32,995 which means it tops out where many continental rivals start.
The car comes well equipped with its electric leather seats, thankfully heated in this cold weather, and plenty of electronic gizmos.
Only the slightly chaotic ergonomics of the switchgear remind you that Subaru is not a mainstream player. But you soon learn its idiosyncrasies and appreciate its slightly left field ways, particularly after you’ve just left a field where other cars might have kept you stranded!
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Subaru Outback 2.0D SE Premium Lineartronic estate
Does it fit your ego…
0-62mph: 9.9 secs
Top speed: 124mph
Bhp: 150 @3600rpm
Torque: 258lb ft @ 1600rpm
…and your wallet…
CO2 emissions: 159g/km
Insurance Group: 19
Best bits: quirky but highly competent.