Subaru's Outback could be the perfect family wagon for those needing four-paw grip and plentiful luggage potential, but not wanting an SUV
It's basically a high-riding Legacy, with that car's smart interior ambience. Perfect for my semi-rural lifestyle in fact - or it would be if I had kids.
The next best thing? Relatives arriving. Three adults are almost lost inside this capacious interior, which is bigger than ever before. But it passed the mum-in-law test with flying colours. She thought the restrained and just a tad dated cabin design very smart, and loved its ride.
Actually that's a little soft for my liking, with a touch more corner roll than I'd prefer, the compromise you make for the extra ground clearance on top of Outback's already less-incisive-than-before Legacy base. But it's undeniably comfortable, so much so that she didn't notice how briskly we were tackling those bends: pick the right line and Outback's happy to carve round provided you don't ask too much, and don't make any rash tweaks to your line.
Not that you're likely to get rash, for this is hardly a rally car, though its motor-transmission pairing is impressively able.
Outback is quite large for a normally aspirated 2.5-litre petrol engine to manage, and performance is closer to relaxed than manic. Relaxed, but not sluggish - and always smooth thanks to this CVT transmission. You can change gear via the lever or steering wheel mounted paddles, but I rarely bothered. Hustling her along isn't rewarding; sitting back to appreciate effortless motoring is.
I also appreciated the car's relatively abstemious thirst. Subaru claims an 8.4l/100km average. I netted 8.6, but that's after 400km spent largely driving briskly to and fro over the Waitakere ranges - with just one extended highway trip.
What else? There's a large and nicely-finished boot, with bag hooks to stop your shopping doing laps; and split-fold second-row seats, the two sides each dropping at the pull of a lever.
The front seats are pleasantly supported, the cabin's well thought out with plentiful storage, and the steering wheel-mounted controls for radio and cruise proved idiot proof.
Not the handbrake though; it's an electronic one you push for 'on' and pull for 'off', the opposite of manual levers, so it took a few tries to get used to. No doubt it'd be second nature by week two of ownership.
All wheel drive is of course standard, as are seven airbags, ABS and electronic stability control - this is a five-star NCAP car and a lot of vehicle for the sub-fifty-grand price tag.
Overall, Outback is not a car you buy for driving pleasure - or its pretty face for that matter, for the latest styling is, as is now almost a Subaru tradition, a bit of an acquired taste. But it is a practical any-roads wagon that'll suit the stereotypical active Kiwi family lifestyle.
See the Subaru Outback for sale here.