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Diesel Outback a frugal all-rounder
Subaru has finally responded to consumer demand with the automatic diesel Outback.

Subaru may have been one of the forerunners in the SUV market segment, but it has also been one of the slowest to react to buyer demand.

However, the Japanese car maker has rectified the situation with the addition of an automatic transmission (a CVT to be precise) for its Boxer diesel engine.

More than 60 per cent of large SUV buyers opt for a diesel engine and 90 per cent or more of those want it mated to an automatic transmission. That is a large buyer group that the Japanese car maker was ignoring.

The Outback is a vehicle that already ticks a lot of boxes in terms of spaciousness, robustness, reliability and driving enjoyment.

The self-changing transmission now makes it hard to overlook.

It is probably why this latest upgrade only involves minor styling improvements and minimal changes to an already functional interior.

And with the diesel variants priced from $39,990, it represents one of the best-value vehicles in the large SUV segment.

Over the past fortnight I have driven both the standard and premium models - the only difference is that the latter gains leather upholstery, a sunroof, an electric front seat, rear air- conditioning vents and a $3000 premium.

Both models come standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, a full complement of safety features including a reversing camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, satellite navigation and dual-zone air-conditioning.

But the central piece of fresh equipment in this Outback is the new automatic transmission.

While it is rare to see a CVT used in combination with a torquey diesel engine, Subaru has done a good job of matching them.

Under normal driving conditions it does a great job of ensuring the engine is in its most effective rev range, providing strong acceleration when and if required, and without the whining noise that can quite often be associated with this type of transmission.

But Subaru also added technology that makes it feel more like a conventional automatic, with defined changes between the seven ratios, when you plant your foot on the accelerator.

Subaru says this is to give the Outback a sportier persona. While it works well, I am not really sure of the benefits. The 2.0-litre engine is noisy at idle and under load, but it quietens down significantly once up and cruising.

The suspension has been stiffened to cope with the extra weight of the auto transmission and while it does feel slightly firm over bumpy sections of road, it still provides a comfortable ride in most circumstances.

The steering provides good feedback from the road and, for a sizeable wagon, it corners quite well.

Despite weighing a rather hefty 1600kg, I used just 7.0L/100km over the fortnight driving in a purely urban environment, which makes it extremely fuel efficient for a vehicle that will carry five passengers and a heap of cargo.

VERDICT
The Outback provides that perfect balance between versatile family wagon and outdoor adventurer while being well equipped and well priced. If only it were better looking.

  • SUBARU OUTBACK*
Model: 2.0D Premium
Price: $45,490
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo-diesel Boxer
Outputs: 110kW/350Nm
Transmission: CVT with seven-speed manual mode
Thirst: 6.5L/100km
Safety: Five stars

COMPETITORS
HOLDEN CAPTIVA
Model: Captiva 7 LX
Price: $43,490
Engine: 2.2-litre turbo-diesel
Outputs: 135kW/400Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Thirst: 7.6L/100km
Safety: Five stars

HYUNDAI SANTA FE
Model: Highlander
Price: $49,990
Engine: 2.2-litre turbo-diesel
Outputs: 145kW/436Nm
Transmission: Six-speed auto
Thirst: 7.3L/100km
Safety: Five stars

KIA SORRENTO
Model: Platinum
Price: $50,390
Engine: 2.2-litre turbo-diesel
Outputs: 145kW/436Nm
Transmission: Six-speed auto
Thirst: 7.3L/100km
Safety: Five stars