Subaru is famed for producing hardy four-wheel drive cars that provide strong off-road ability, without the bulk or in-your-face styling of a typical SUV – along with a line of rally-grade Impreza sports saloons.

The latest vehicle to come from the Japanese company, the new Outback, falls into the first category, providing estate car practicality along with four-wheel drive and high ground clearance for much more off-road capability than the average 4×4 buyer will ever need.

With its format as a jacked-up estate car with added all-terrain ability, the new Outback takes on rivals including the Volvo XC70, the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and the Skoda Octavia Scout – as well as more traditional-looking off-roaders, such as the Volvo XC60, Kia Sorento and Toyota RAV4.

What is it?

As Subaru’s upmarket off-road estate the Outback’s focus is on providing a comfortable experience for occupants with added off-road credentials, courtesy of a sophisticated four-wheel drive system and 200mm of ground clearance.

Though the Outback makes no allusions to offering a ‘sporty’ driving experience – unlike many new cars – Subaru claims that the new model offers a significantly more upmarket interior than its predecessor, with much sleeker exterior styling too.

Thanks to its estate format, the Outback also provides plenty of interior space for five passengers along with a large, practical boot. Just two engines are available – one petrol and one diesel. Both models are available with ‘CVT’ automatic gearboxes, with a manual gearbox standard on the diesel.

What is it like to drive?

With great visibility for a car of its size and light steering, the Outback is particularly easy to drive and place on the road when parking. Opt for a Lineartronic automatic gearbox – standard on the petrol and optional on the diesel – and the driving experience is similarly unintimidating.

In diesel form the Outback provides more than enough power for most drivers along with smooth gear changes, taking 9.9 seconds to accelerate to 62mph. The 148bhp 2.0-litre motor is neither the most powerful nor the most refined in this class, but it should satisfy most drivers looking for a tough off-roader. Fuel economy is lower than some rivals, with a claimed figure of 46.3mpg, though CO2 emissions of 145g/km mean that car tax will set buyers back a reasonable £145 every year.

Though the diesel engine is loud when worked hard, the Outback has low levels of wind and road noise, making it a comfortable motorway cruiser. Choose a model with 17-inch alloy wheels and the ride is also very smooth, with the soft, supportive seats in our car making long journeys a breeze.

What is it like inside?

Despite claims that Subaru has worked to give the Outback a more stylish and modern interior, rivals from Volvo, Volkswagen and Skoda all offer more attractive and easy-to-use dashboards. Ignore the slightly dated design of the Outback’s dashboard, however, and comfort levels are very high; whether passengers are sat in the front or the rear, the seats offer good back support.

Two trim levels are available – SE and SE Premium. Both feature a long list of standard kit including heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, a seven-inch touchscreen media system, automatic LED headlights, electric folding wing mirrors and 17-inch wheels. Meanwhile, stepping up to SE Premium adds leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, an electric tailgate, a sunroof and keyless entry to the equipment tally.

Automatic models also gain Subaru’s ‘EyeSight’ safety kit, which can automatically bring the car to complete stop if it detects an impending collision.

Is it practical?

Available only in estate form the Outback boasts a large, usable boot and plenty of space for those in both rows of seats. We found the front seats in our car particularly comfortable and even the middle seat in the rear offers sufficient room for relatively tall adults.

There are also several thoughtful details like a cubby hole for the boot cover under the boot floor too, meaning that you don’t have leave the load space cover at home if you need to flip down the rear seats for a large load. The raised suspension does, however, make loading heavy kit into the boot more difficult than in a standard estate.

Should I buy one?

Buyers after a tough, spacious estate with decent all-terrain ability should be very well served by the Subaru Outback. Thanks to its high comfort levels, strong value and long list of standard kit, it feels like a lot of car for the money – especially for buyers who need a machine with genuine off-road ability.

Performance and economy figures are reasonable too, though the Outback’s cabin will disappoint those after a similarly upmarket interior to rivals including the VW Passat Alltrack. If the design of the interior is not a concern to you, however, the Outback is a sound off-road estate option.

Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Subaru Outback in our classifieds here.

The facts

Subaru Outback 2.0D SE Lineartronic

List price: £29,995
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Power: 148bhp
Top speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
Fuel economy: 37.7mpg (urban), 53.3mpg (extra-urban) 46.3mpg (combined)
Emissions: 145g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five-star