It’s never a good look when a brand new model is recalled to fix a severe fault, especially a safety-related one. However, it’s becoming more frequent as new cars increasingly rely on complex, software-driven, semi-autonomous safety tech such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise, and lane-keeping.
If you’ve never had a software bug send your computer haywire, you’re fortunate. It’s now an almost inevitable issue from time to time with cars, too.
Subaru’s new Outback SUV, launched in February, has already been recalled twice. The second recall concerned the twin cameras in front of the rearview mirror that sends digitized images of what’s going on in front of you to a processor that decides if it’s necessary to apply the brakes to avoid a collision. The cameras, said the recall notice, could “misrecognize” what they’re looking at and potentially trigger an unnecessary and utterly unexpected emergency braking intervention. Not good, especially if there’s a Kenworth up your clacker.
Subaru has a software fix in place, and owners have been alerted. It certainly hasn’t deterred the Subaru faithful, who have been waiting quite a while for this sixth-generation Outback. Sales have soared in the months following its release.
At $39,990 plus on-road costs, the base model Outback offers a lot of SUVs for relatively modest money. Rivals at this price are front-wheel drive, but the Subaru comes standard with all-wheel drive and a particular off-road traction control setting to improve grip on slippery surfaces. Other standard gear includes 18-inch alloys, dual-zone airconditioning, a massive portrait-style infotainment touchscreen, voice control, digital radio, keyless entry and start, power front seats, four USBs (two in the back seat), and steering-responsive LED headlights.
As tested at $44,490, Sport is the value sweet spot, with a power tailgate, satellite navigation, heated front, and rear seats, front and side view cameras, roof rails, water-repellent upholstery, and stylish dark metallic alloys.
I had no issues with Outback’s safety tech on a test. Still, I have experienced overly intrusive autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping on several test cars recently, including Kia’s Stonic, the Hyundai i30 sedan, and the Mazda BT50 ute.
Calibrating these systems to intervene only when necessary, but always when necessary, is an incredibly complex task, and some makers, notably the Europeans, do it better than others.
That said, Outback offers one of the most comprehensive safety packages on the market at any price. Innovations include a front passenger seat-cushion airbag, driver attention monitoring via camera, and automatic speed limiting based on advisory signs.
Outback is a big five-seater, spacious and comfortable for drivers and passengers, with supportive seating, plenty of legroom, and a lovely open, light-filled cabin featuring elegant design and premium materials.
While a lot is going on the infotainment screen, its size, proximity to the driver, vertical menu layout, responsiveness, and clarity make it one of the more user-friendly touch systems around.
Ample storage is provided, but no wireless phone charging tray.
Low noise levels and a supple, smooth ride make long distances in the Outback a pleasure. It’s up there with hefty dollar luxe Euros in comfort and refinement on the open road.
Outback feels much less bulky, more agile, and car-like than other comparably sized SUVs, thanks to its rigid body, low center of gravity, delicate balance, lightweight (1626-1661kg), and finely-tuned, compliant suspension.
At speed, it feels similar to a BMW 3 Series in the way it responds precisely and immediately to your inputs. Stability is rock solid on any road, and in adverse conditions,s Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system provides exceptional grip and control. Outback’s dynamics are so good it could easily accommodate a more powerful engine than the 138kW2.5-liter naturally-aspirated “boxer” four, now matched with a continuously variable automatic that features eight “ratios” and shifts paddles.
The extensively overhauled 2.5 has ample performance for day-to-day driving, and the S model adds a bit of extra kick and responsiveness from the CVT. Fuel efficiency, another traditional weakness of the boxer engine, is now reasonable, and it still runs on regular unleaded.