2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i PZEV Premium (USA)

 photo Picture 130_zpsn3zyta7c.jpg  photo Picture 128_zpsh6qaog0h.jpg  photo Picture 120_zpsfmkrmjtn.jpg  photo Picture 107_zpsufpfyg0g.jpg  photo Picture 122_zpsztoyhldq.jpg
 photo Picture 115_zpszpwteolk.jpg  photo Picture 118_zpslgazbeck.jpg  photo Picture 117_zps16zlq3w6.jpg  photo Picture 109_zpskm2ufln1.jpg  photo Picture 104_zpseqnor3to.jpg
 photo Picture 037_zpsaaxi5ooy.jpg  photo Picture 033_zpsvvb6ldre.jpg  photo Picture 035_zpsepjd82rm.jpg  photo Picture 046_zpsjk8qj3os.jpg  photo Picture 030_zpsoqhnxspm.jpg  photo Picture 028_zps9o27olct.jpg
 photo Picture 069_zpsb61bwwpe.jpg  photo Picture 058_zpsd7dnmy8g.jpg  photo Picture 075_zpsbyd1dynu.jpg  photo Picture 064_zpszscc4grb.jpg  photo Picture 059_zpszj8zkhkf.jpg  photo Picture 067_zps4402es5g.jpg  photo Picture 085_zps68merlyt.jpg  photo Picture 132_zpsfpxhaefn.jpg  photo Picture 062_zpsfv7oduwj.jpg  photo Picture 057_zpsgkb1uw83.jpg
 photo Picture 124_zpsevmriyqk.jpg  photo Picture 121_zps3unc6n6a.jpg  photo Picture 119_zpsf11hdkwx.jpg  photo Picture 123_zps0dxautic.jpg  photo Picture 127_zpsdfghu3lp.jpg  photo Picture 129_zpst5hfafga.jpg
 photo Picture 071_zpsygvvvjm3.jpg  photo Picture 074_zpsy4y6a6n2.jpg  photo Picture 070_zpsbes3pylg.jpg  photo Picture 073_zpsvt0gf5w5.jpg  photo Picture 116_zpsxisceau4.jpg
 photo Picture 090_zpsf254t3oy.jpg  photo Picture 082_zpsnl1hldrj.jpg  photo Picture 087_zpsvirlfein.jpg  photo Picture 133_zpsyn81rjxm.jpg  photo Picture 081_zpszeu79jg3.jpg
 photo Picture 100_zpspsukfq6r.jpg  photo Picture 103_zpshrqwqvbk.jpg  photo Picture 096_zpsqpdfkfr4.jpg  photo Picture 106_zpshzgpdcyt.jpg  photo Picture 113_zpseq94hn7c.jpg  photo Picture 112_zpsgp2jox4v.jpg
 photo Picture 111_zpswvzjbjts.jpg  photo Picture 110_zpsqk2t3blz.jpg  photo Picture 105_zps5dhak9ij.jpg  photo Picture 114_zpsnbscyqsq.jpg  photo Picture 108_zpszrrlqqvv.jpg
Like companies in many other sectors, car makers spend more than a small fortune on building up their brand, using all manner of tricks, techniques and media. Conventional advertising still has its place, but many have also used some form of motorsport, following the adage of “race them on Sunday means we sell them on Monday”, as someone at Ford once observed. None of this comes cheap, but sustained over a number of years, there is generally believed to be a worthwhile return on investment. Subaru, a relative automotive minnow compared to the gargantuan likes of Toyota and Nissan have certainly followed this approach. Having established themselves as the maker of somewhat quirky cars, with standard all- wheel drive as their USP long before the fashion for it got established, with cars like the Leone and L Series of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the combination of this feature, and excellent handling from the low centre of gravity thanks to the flat four engines and the adoption of turbocharging for more power in the 1994 Impreza Turbo gave them the basis for a successful rally car. And successful it really was. Suddenly, a brand that had appealed to those who live in remote and hilly countryside was one not just that everyone had heard of, but which enthusiasts clamoured for, as they rushed to buy their own versions of the cars that rally-driver heroes like the late Colin McRae and Richard Burns were using to such all-conquering effect in the forests and on special stages. The looks were not, let’s say, universally admired, and interior quality was clearly not a priority area, but the cars drove phenomenally well, and became extremely popular. And then, as rally regulations changed, Subaru, along with Mitsubishi and others pulled out of the sport, leaving a range of cars which were positioned in the market nearer to the sort that they had been building in the late 1970s. But by now the market had changed, not least because most European countries had adopted a fiscal regime which made diesel engines essential, and Subaru had none. With the notable exception of Switzerland, where the standard all-wheel drive comes in rather handy during the winter months, sales dropped to very low volumes. Eventually., a diesel engine did appear, and it was anticipated that this could help the brand see something of a renaissance, but it did not, and the low sales volumes did not generate the business case to develop it further, so whilst other brands resorted to all sorts of tricks (literally, in some cases, as we know now!) to get the CO2 ratings ever lower, even the diesel powered Subaru models looked increasingly uncompetitive for volume sales. At the lowest point, Subaru sold just 1500 cars in the UK in a year. And yet, on the other side of the Atlantic, where the World Rally Championship was something that barely registered, the return to the Subaru of old, coupled with the fact that the cars were now being made in America saw an explosion in sales. Every year, new records were being broken, with annual sales exceeding half a million units by 2014, so it should surprise no-one that the current range are designed very much with America in mind. The cars are still sold in Europe and the UK probably still gets them only because the domestic Japanese market is a right hand drive country, so the cars are engineered for that, as otherwise the business case to make them available to the UK would be wafer thin.

 photo Picture 019_zpskseepxs0.jpg  photo Picture 056_zpsqzpmm5vx.jpg  photo Picture 014_zpssp0dedpi.jpg  photo Picture 044_zpsuolvkcei.jpg  photo Picture 053_zpspbgntmoq.jpg  photo Picture 048_zpsfsgl9zuq.jpg

You don’t see recent Subaru models on UK roads very often, and the chances of getting to drive one are accordingly quite slim, but in America, that is not the case. As large car rental companies carry models from almost every brand that is on the market, you would have thought that sourcing one in the US should not be that hard. But, certainly in the Pacific South West, it is. For the past few years, there have been very few Subaru models in the fleets of Hertz (and, I gather Avis and National are equally lacking in them), and on the odd occasion that they do appear, they are always quickly snapped up. My chance to get behind the wheel of one came on arriving in Phoenix, well after the evening busy period, when I spotted the latest Outback model parked up in the area which under their new Ultimate Choice rules means I could simply get in it and drive it away. I noted that it bore Oregon plates, so not a local car, but this does not matter. The fact that it was in a rather bold blue colour, which Subaru call Lapis Blue Pearl, was an added bonus, as this would make quite a change from a sea of white, silver and grey rental cars.

 photo Picture 017_zpsjzgffo8e.jpg  photo Picture 094_zpsjb42fw91.jpg  photo Picture 091_zpsdxfm1set.jpg  photo Picture 092_zpswclmlunl.jpg  photo Picture 020_zpsikiperpg.jpg  photo Picture 089_zpsw170iiwt.jpg

Subaru have used the Outback name since 1995 when it was applied to the second generation Legacy Estate, and was properly titled Legacy Outback. Principal differences were the lower body cladding and raised ground clearance. Successive generations of the Legacy have included an Outback variant, and gradually, market by market, the name Legacy has been dropped, meaning that outside Japan, the last two versions of the car have been known simply as the Subaru Outback. The latest model was launched at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, along with the Legacy Sedan, and went into production for the 2015 model year, reaching US dealers at the very end of 2014. The sixth generation Legacy and Outback presented a careful evolution of the successful (in the US), fifth generation car, with styling that was closely related, but a little more cohesive looking, an upgraded interior, extra safety features and the addition of the latest in infotainment set ups. The Outback (but not the Legacy) reached European markets in the first half of 2015, but has remained a rare sighting, with only a few hundred being sold each year, whereas in America both models have continued to find additional favour each year. The Outback is now the best-selling Wagon (Estate) in America.

 photo Picture 050_zpsp9fivurr.jpg  photo Picture 077_zpsu7ad0rgy.jpg  photo Picture 055_zpsraaqaaj1.jpg  photo Picture 021_zpsxdiu3bpf.jpg  photo Picture 051_zpsg457upbq.jpg  photo Picture 024_zpsxjanxaon.jpg  photo Picture 023_zpshwl0hlll.jpg  photo Picture 031_zpslwl0f23g.jpg  photo Picture 080_zpsto61dftz.jpg  photo Picture 078_zpsxytcs9ad.jpg

As with the previous model, US market Outbacks are offered with a choice of two engines: a 2.5 litre flat 4, developing 175 bhp and 174 lb-ft of torque and a more potent 3.6 litre horizontally opposed 6 putting out 256 bhp. The test car had the smaller engine. It is coupled to a standard continuously variable gearbox. It also came with the PZEV certification. PZEV stands for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle, and I’ve seen this on all rental Subaru models I’ve had (not many, it has to be admitted!) over the past few years. The first time I came across it, I was intrigued, so had to do some research to find out more. I have to confess that I was intrigued by PZEV, so I looked it up. To my mind, Zero is Zero, so I wondered how it could be Partially Zero. Subaru’s explanation is as follows: the catalytic converter features a finer honeycomb mesh to more effectively convert exhaust gases by neutralising them through a chemical reaction. A charcoal filter in line with the engine air filter absorbs fuel and oil vapours that normally escape into the atmosphere when a typical engine is turned off. Special fuel injectors also reduce evaporative emissions when the car is at rest. The ignition timing is automatically adjusted on start-up to heat the catalytic converter more quickly and ensure that the emissions controls are working at peak efficiency at all times. The explanation that I sourced on the web goes onto to say that this can mean a rather unusual noise when you start the Legacy PZEV up. Well, with a flat four Subaru, unusual noise is what you expect, and probably rather revel in. The first time I fired it, I did get a bit of a surprise, but after that, the traditional Subaru boxer-engined noise seemed rather too muted to be particularly distinctive. The net of this is that the PZEV is apparently the cleanest running petrol engine car in the USA, with zero evaporative emissions and meeting California’s SULEV (Super Ultra Low Vehicle Emissions) standard, making it 90% cleaner from an emissions point of view than other cars. It is an interesting idea that what matters is the complete emissions not just the CO2 which has become the sole focus of manufacturers who sell in the EU markets. There is no different in power output compared to the non-PZEV cars, and Subaru claim that maintenance costs are no higher. Clever.

 photo Picture 010_zps0hojuixn.jpg  photo Picture 011_zpswktp82ix.jpg  photo Picture 098_zpsa4rmd5ec.jpg  photo Picture 102_zpsgskidrom.jpg  photo Picture 099_zpsu1viifu9.jpg photo Picture 101_zpsc55sucjt.jpg  photo Picture 097_zps5hbtmlda.jpg  photo Picture 095_zpsnidb5vps.jpg  photo Picture 125_zpslo3pifjs.jpg  photo Picture 032_zpshgmzn4ct.jpg

Just as with the previous car, I found that the distinctive sound of a Subaru engine is not completely banished, just muted somewhat. Get to around 3000 rpm, and your ears will tell you that this is that bit different from your ordinary 4 cylinder. 175 bhp is around the class average for saloon cars of this size, but the Outback has the extra weight of the estate body and the all-wheel drive system, so it means that the car is not exactly quick. It is OK, though, and provided you are happy to work the engine hard – and you probably will be, as then you get that distinctive Subaru sound – it will cope with even the steeper inclines on my test route out of Phoenix heading up towards Payson. It is generally smooth and refined, with low noise levels when cruising at a steady speed. I drove the Outback for most of the test mileage and the fuel needle did not move, remaining well above the Full mark. Clearly this was a rental car that did actually have a genuinely full tank. It did drop, though, and by the time I was due to return it, I needed to put 6.15 gallons in, which, having covered 159 miles, computes to 25.85 mpg US or 30.88 mpg Imperial, a decent enough figure.

 photo Picture 068_zps30gri5ar.jpg  photo Picture 066_zpssmbjhbly.jpg  photo Picture 063_zpsa2hbkzgx.jpg  photo Picture 065_zpsszjawbdw.jpg  photo Picture 061_zpsqjjfp2ls.jpg  photo Picture 060_zpsvqfhyve5.jpg

The flat four engine does sit lower in the car than a conventional in-line unit, as a glance under the bonnet will evidence, when you are presented with a rather unfamiliar looking sight. In the case of the Outback, though, that does not translate to something with really sporty handling. In fact, there is some understeer present at moderate speeds on the swoopier bends of the test route. The steering is precise, with good weighting and feel to it, and you would have to be doing something pretty reckless to get yourself in trouble with this car, as grip is also good. I did not take it off-road – well, not more than a few yards at various photography locations – but the Outback is designed so that you can. The ride height is raised a little, with ground clearance of a generous 8.7″ and there is some protection underneath. There are settings for off-road and towing that you can set from within the car. Of more interest to the driver and passengers will be how it rides on tarmac, and the answer is that it seemed pretty good. Arizona’s roads are generally well-maintained and smooth, so this was not as arduous a test as it would have in the next State to the west. Some of this must be down to what by modern standards are very high profile tyres, as these were 235/65 R17s. There were no issues with the brakes. An electronic parking brake is fitted, and is operated by a button in the centre console. With plenty of glass and a good field of vision from the door mirrors, visibility was fine. A rear-view camera was fitted, and this projects a good quality image onto the infotainment screen.

 photo Picture 088_zpscgnezupi.jpg  photo Picture 079_zpsefojpqsq.jpg  photo Picture 084_zps2oanri6r.jpg  photo Picture 083_zpsiik3gwpb.jpg  photo Picture 086_zpsiu4asdcl.jpg

I made the comment in my test of the previous generation Outback that the interior was the best I had come across in a Subaru, and this one is a notable step-up again. From being pretty much at the bottom of the class, the firm is now producing something that is now pretty decent. A mixture of materials and textures feature. Leather is only used to wrap the steering wheel and on the armrests. Good quality plastics, that are soft to the touch are used for the main dash moulding, black in the case of the test car, with an inlay across the car of a sort of milled aluminium effect, with a graphite inlay used around the gear lever area. The upholstery was a sort of oatmeal colour, with a box velvet type material used for the central section of the seats, and some of this was also used on the door casings. The fit and finish were good. Couple this with a neat and integrated design to the dashboard and the whole effect is good. A curved binnacle houses the instruments. There are two large ones, with smaller gauges for water temperature and fuel level set within them. There is a blue outer ring to the rev counter and speedometer which was particularly prominent (and quite attractive) at night. Between the dials is a digital display area. As with the previous model, the top of this area contains a digital bar chart, with coloured bars to the right in green and to the left in amber, which reflect an interpretation of your current fuel economy. There is a digital repeater for the speedo and below this the mileometer reading. The centre of the dash contains the touch sensitive display screen for what Subaru call StarLink. Like many current systems this now incorporates most of the audio unit functions, with just an on/off and volume knob, but also – thankfully – one to tune the frequencies also present. Other functions available include phone and Bluetooth integration, and a series of Apps, which include weather forecast and local fuel price search, though when I tried to investigate these, it turned out they were dependent on the SXM subscription, which also covers the XM Satellite radio, and this had expired (the car was about 7 months old). Below this are the buttons for the dual-zone climate control, which proved effective in offsetting the 100 degree heat of the test day. Twin column stalks operate indicators, lights and wipers, and there are plenty of buttons on the steering wheel boss for audio repeater and cruise control. Two buttons in the centre console are for off-road and tow modes, and there is also the electronic handbrake here.

 photo Picture 001_zpsppicgivt.jpg  photo Picture 004_zpsj2frhpg9.jpg  photo Picture 005_zpsihhhcwlk.jpg  photo Picture 006_zpsow3ift0w.jpg  photo Picture 012_zps84wdnbgl.jpg photo Picture 013_zpsfzkj8kt2.jpg  photo Picture 009_zpsjgkddmfs.jpg  photo Picture 043_zpsi9oykzpd.jpg  photo Picture 042_zpswfzgrsum.jpg  photo Picture 126_zps5rui5lxa.jpg

There’s electric adjustment for the driver’s seat in this version of the Outback, with three buttons mounted on the outside side of the seat, so it was easy to get the optimum driving position, and the steering wheel – manually adjusted – telescopes in and out as well as up and down. I did not spend long periods of time driving this car, but all the indications are that you would not suffer were you to do so, as the seat seemed very comfortable, with support in all the right places. The front passenger will have to adjust their seat manually, but gets the same range of options including a height adjuster. Space in the rear of the Outback is generous. There’s lots of leg room, even with the front seats set quite well back, and headroom will not be an issue either. You can alter the angle of the rear seat backrest through a fairly small range, for those who want to recline it somewhat. There is a drop down central armrest with cup holders in its upper surface.

 photo Picture 003_zpsmxd1l9fa.jpg  photo Picture 002_zpsmwotndhr.jpg  photo Picture 027_zpsresfornh.jpg  photo Picture 018_zpsnfsx05ry.jpg  photo Picture 026_zps29ilyluf.jpg photo Picture 034_zpsgcmyfvm2.jpg  photo Picture 025_zpsnych7401.jpg  photo Picture 015_zpsospgm2i8.jpg  photo Picture 022_zpsrvlsr24u.jpg  photo Picture 036_zpsufhtihda.jpg

The boot is a good size, too. A nice regular shape, there are lots of hooks on the side panels so you could anchor things down if you needed to. The rear seats are split 40/20/40 and the backrests simply drop down to create a flat and long load platform. There are release levers mounted on the side trim by the tailgate to do this, as well as using those on the backrest itself. I was pleased to see that although the seat belt for the middle seat occupant is mounted on the roof, it does recall all the way when not in use, so, unlike a lot of cars, this will not cut across the load bay. There is a small amount of space under the boot floor for odds and ends. Of course, if this is not enough, then you can exploit the fact that there are standard and chunky looking roof rails fitted as standard. Inside the cabin, there is a reasonable sized glove box, there are bins on all four doors, moulded to take a bottle, and there is a deep cubby under the central armrest with a movable top tray in it, and as well as a small lidded area over the driver’s left knee, there is a large lidded cubby in front of the gearlever, which also contains the USB and AUX ports. For those in the rear, there are map pockets on both front seat backs, and a small recess in the back of the central console armrest unit.

 photo Picture 007_zps52hrcdz3.jpg  photo Picture 008_zpsccbxwmc3.jpg  photo Picture 040_zpssiyo9wud.jpg  photo Picture 029_zpsrninbkzw.jpg  photo Picture 016_zpsuhvy5raf.jpg photo Picture 049_zpsn9tpb1tl.jpg  photo Picture 054_zps9ll75cm8.jpg  photo Picture 045_zpsi9fzeuoq.jpg  photo Picture 052_zpsmqujftjp.jpg  photo Picture 041_zpss22pxlps.jpg

The base Outback 2.5i starts at $25,645, which is relatively cheap for the class. Standard features include symmetrical all-wheel drive, Halogen projector low-beam headlamps with Halogen multi-reflector high-beams, fog lights, cloth seating, a four-speaker sound system, a rearview camera, HD Radio, a USB port, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and the StarLink infotainment system with a 6.2″ touch screen and smartphone integration. There are no option packages for this trim. The Outback Premium trim, like the test car, begins at $27,695 and is only available with the four-cylinder engine. Upgraded features of this trim include a 10-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, two USB ports, a six-speaker audio system, a 7″ touch-screen infotainment display, and dual-zone climate control. For $1,695, you can purchase a package that includes a power-operated tailgate and a moonroof. A $1,995 package with the Subaru EyeSight safety technology suite includes adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, high beam assist, and a power tailgate. For $3,590, you’ll get the moonroof, power tailgate, and all the safety features, as well as a navigation system. The Outback Limited trim starts at $32,390 with the four-cylinder engine and $34,995 with the six-cylinder engine (3.6R Limited). Standard features at this level include leather seating, heated rear seats, keyless entry, push-button start, a power tailgate, a Harman Kardon speaker system, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and a rearview camera. The only option package for this trim includes the EyeSight suite, which adds adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist, as well as reverse automatic braking, high beam assist, a navigation system, and HID (high intensity discharge) headlights. It retails for $1,995 for the four-cylinder model. The package with the six-cylinder model only costs $1,595, since the 3.6R Limited already includes HID headlights as standard. The Outback Touring trim comes fully loaded with all previous standard and optional features, and it offers no additional packages. A four-cylinder Touring model starts at $35,995, while a six-cylinder model (3.6R Touring) starts at $38,195.

 photo Picture 076_zpswmy0xb3x.jpg  photo Picture 093_zpslto1c3e1.jpg  photo Picture 039_zpsmuuu1ll6.jpg  photo Picture 038_zpsv9y9nfik.jpg  photo Picture 047_zpsky8u6dz9.jpg  photo Picture 131_zpssuzyjocl.jpg

I quite liked this Outback, just as I rather liked the one I drove in late 2014. Not a lot has changed with the latest generation, but all the differences are worthwhile. The styling has been tidied up, getting rid of the rather awkward third side window line and there are neater rear light clusters, whilst the latest interior is a lift on what went before. Incorporation of the latest thinking in infotainment systems is a must these days, and has been done as well as by any rival. The core strengths remain: a very spacious, practical vehicle in a modestly-sized overall package, with excellent ratings for safety and likely to prove very reliable. So, if it is that good, why does it not sell in Europe? Simple: the engines offered to American buyers simply don’t meet European requirements for low CO2 ratings. There’s more competition, too. Most buyers who want the attributes of the Outback will be looking at the vast array of Crossover vehicles on offer (indeed, Subaru offer their own, called the Forester), and if they don’t want one of those, then many will consider a conventional estate a viable alternative. There are plenty of makers of those who have gone down the Outback route, of raising the ground clearance slightly, and fitting protective plastic mouldings around the bottom of the body to create something that looks a bit tougher – Audi’s AllRoad are joined by the Golf AllTrack, and the Seat Leon X-Perience and Skoda Scout models, as well as the Insignia CrossTour, the CrossCountry Volvo V60 and V90 models and even Mercedes have gone down this road with the larger and costlier E Class All-Terrain – and most of these are excellent cars as well, more clearly configured to meet the (fiscal) challenges of the European market. So, whilst the Outback is now a pretty decent car, it is likely to remain a very niche choice in Europe until, among other reasons, there is a lower CO2 emission version available. But in America, there is no such challenge, nor, it would seem, likely to be. So your challenge there, as a rental car customer, is simply to find one. But if you do, take it, as an interesting alternative to a sea of regular Crossovers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *