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Getting a Grip on the Subaru Outback

Welcome to another of our occasional series of car reviews. Regular readers will recall my criteria defining a good car are ease of access and egress, it must be quiet, and economical. This time we feature the Subaru Outback. Again, regular readers will know that our reviews do not talk about torque or dwell on engine capacities, or any of the technical details that are meat and drink to motoring journalists, we prefer to restrict our opinions to the driving experience.

Japanese car design, or should I say Japanese car design for the North American market seems to have been mining an angular theme over the last few years as exemplified by Lexus, Nissan and Honda whose sharp edged creations appear to be endeavouring to carve their way through the atmosphere. Perhaps easier on the eye with more rounded models are Ford, Chevy and Audi. Every few years one style drifts out of favour and those angular vehicles find themselves acquiring a few softer lines and then in response the rounder cars start evolving a sharper edge. No one wants to rock the boat: there is so little novel thinking about the look of most cars these days, though I would give kudos to Tesla and the current range of Volvos and Subarus as being quite distinctively different in not following the herd, producing designs which are clearly both more practical and original.

Subaru is also to be given credit for their approach to marketing, I don’t believe I have previously noticed the use of humour in motor car advertising. I hope everyone reading this has seen, (or will quickly google), the Subaru advert where cars are scampering around as if in a dog park. Their most recent promotion for the Subaru Outback pitches its tenacious four wheel drive system against a goat’s legendary ability to scale steep unstable terrain. Not only are these adverts hilarious, they provide a refreshing change to the typical overtly masculine displays of aggression, speed and power presented by most other companies. Surely this approach must now be considered old hat and totally discredited in the post Harvey Weinstein – Me Two era. Further it should not be forgotten that about forty-five percent of all car purchase decision are made by women and it is calculated that women influence seventy to eight percent of all buying decisions. As we shall see safety is top of mind for Subaru. Taking our cue from the Subaru ad we thought it would be entertaining to take the Outback to Haute Goat Farm to introduce the car to some friendly goats and we would like to thank Paul Selby, General Manager of Whitby Subaru for his courage in supporting our adventure.

Ironically our venerable Chevy Equinox that had performed such stalwart service distributing Grapevine Magazine for the last several years had just days before the test drive visited our mechanic. Half an hour later Randy pronounced the “last rites” and I had to rent a car to drive down to Whitby Subaru. Extricating myself from the rental car was a huge relief and it was clear that sedans are no longer for me.

Whilst I am 6’ 4” I still expect to access a vehicle without being required to perform a series of acrobatic contortions befitting an Olympic gymnast, so it was a pleasant surprise to effortlessly slip into the Outback, lower myself to the seat and find my hand naturally guided to its controls and begin the simple process of adjusting it, (every which way you can imagine), to suit. No tall person’s syndrome here with plenty of head room. We are off to a good start. Once inside, it was time to admire the view, and what a view it is! Inside it is all upholstered first class lounge meets high tech spaceship, the central console appears to be a gigantic Ipad, just shy of a foot tall! Napa leather seats, (heated and ventilated at the front and heated at the rear) in a matt finish, soft to the touch and sophisticated on the eye, exude quality.

Just as the stunned expression adorning my face was wearing off, Warren Khan, Sales Manager arrives to fill me on a few of this model’s particular attributes. “This has facial recognition technology with which to set the seats, mirrors and climate control in the chosen positions for different drivers. And this is in a forty thousand dollar car!” My face returned to fully stunned mode…is that really true? Apparently yes and it does more as we will see later. For the record, there’s also a forward facing camera for getting up close and personal with your parking space or garage door, blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert, radar adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and throttle management and a driver assist technology known as Eyesight. The list of safety features is impressive and seemingly endless. I should mention StarLink with which one can amongst many other things, trigger a remote start and set the climate control via a cellphone from the comfort of the sofa. It can also monitor another driver’s performance, so if you allow your children to use it, the car could send you an alert if a particular speed parameter was exceeded.

Keyless entry is becoming the norm these days and requires just a press of the button to bring the engine into life, immediately I am transported to heaven, I seem to be surrounded by angles playing the harp, but no, it’s just the car carrying out the pre flight checks and inserting the clasp into the seat belt retainer brings the harpists’ performance to a swift conclusion. I pull out, head into Whitby, right into Brock Street and along to the highway 401. It was quiet on the road, I set the cruise to 100k and off we go towards The County. Minimizing gas consumption is my driving priority so my frugal soul was elated to learn this car runs on normal gas. After a while we are thinking it’s a tad noisy and begin to check whether we have fully closed all the windows and doors, opening the sunroof by accident in the process, and experiencing an icy late February blast, only to eventually realize what we are hearing was the ventilation system well cranked up as it was very cold when we first collected the car. Once we figure out how that’s adjusted on the Ipad, (like most other things) tranquility is restored. Your ideal travel companion would be a child of ten raised on a diet of Minecraft and Nintendo to decipher all the icons and operate all the available functions. This would have been a great time to check out the audio system, which is provided courtesy of high end hi fi company Harmon Kardon. Naturally I had forgotten to bring a couple of CDs for the trip, but it didn’t matter, the sound system is so sophisticated it doesn’t actually play CD’s! Apple Car Play and Android are available so we contented ourselves with the radio which held the same station all the way to Brighton with great clarity and signal strength, then we come across Sirius satellite radio.

Experimenting with the cruise control, I discover it seems to increase or decrease in five kilometer steps, which is perhaps a little unusual. I also notice that the car displays the speed limit appropriate to the road upon which it is being driven: in other words there is no longer any excuse for not knowing the speed limit even if in unfamiliar territory. Another remarkable feature of the car’s safety system is that the facial recognition system, employed to adjust seats and mirrors for different drivers, also monitors the driver’s attention span and flashes up a warning if you have taken your eyes off the road for more than a few moments.

This is most impressive, but a bit “big brother.” Imagine if that information was beamed to your insurance company or an awaiting traffic cop? Whilst there may be issues of personal freedoms here, it cannot be emphasised sufficiently that excessive speed is the major contributary factor to most accidents. Indeed on our return from Tweed on Sunday, we came across an overturned vehicle in which, we learned the next day a young man of just twenty seven had died.

Once leaving the highway and driving towards Haute Goat Farm the road conditions rapidly deteriorated to a mix of slush and ice, with one set of wheels on ice-snow mix and the other pair driving on slush and melt water. These are my least favourite conditions as years ago I overturned a car in precisely such conditions and yes, excess speed was a factor. Access to the Haute Goat Farm is via steep and narrow snow covered hill road which the car navigated with ease, but then a car coming the other way obliged me to stop and reverse back down the hill, a task again accomplished without drama. At that point I was particularly pleased to discover that operating the rear wash wipe also cleans the rear view camera! Brilliant! Rear view cameras are a real boon to anyone with a stiff neck or otherwise challenged with reversing, but in mucky wintery weather they are rapidly covered with grime and rendered useless.

For the remainder of our adventures at Haute Goat please see the accompanying article.

Entering Tweed provided an opportunity for the EyeSight system to demonstrate its capabilities, a car directly in front of us abruptly stopped to turn left (without indicating) into a gas station : I was obeying the speed limit and really didn’t believe there was any prospect of a collision, but the car’s safety system applied the brakes before I did. The next port of call was Potter Settlement Winery in preparation for the challenge of assault on Potter Settlement Hill. Located somewhat more north, Potter Settlement Winery attracts more than its fair share of snow even as spring looms. The ground was covered with a good six inches of fresh snow over ice. Many vehicles boast some kind of four wheel drive, but there is four wheel drive and real four wheel drive. In the former system front wheel drive predominates and the rear wheels are brought into play by electronic gizmos detecting wheel spin. In most cases this might get you out of a snowy car park but provides no serious off road capability. Subaru offers real four wheel drive which means that all four wheels are driven simultaneously and continuously. One other advantage in Subaru’s armoury is the “boxer engine.” Not to get too technical, in this design two cylinders oppose the other two cylinders in the horizontal plane instead being four in a vertical line. Such a design confers several benefits to practical daily driving, the engine and its considerable weight are lower in the car, so the centre of gravity is lower which confers greater stability, less vibration is transmitted to the body shell and it occupies less space so those extra inches required by a conventional power plant can find their way into the passenger cabin.

So did we make it up the hill? Indeed yes we did…slowly and steadily as I have precious little experience of this kind of driving we ascended the steepest face clambering over snow with packed ice beneath…impressive stuff!

The Subaru Outback is a fabulous combination of practicality and extreme comfort for five with a very decent trunk area and just about every safety feature you can possibly imagine. It is luxurious, but not a luxury car, you could still pick up a ten foot long piece of lumber from the DIY store. Suits a big guy like me and meets my criteria on fuel consumption. Our journey from Whitby to Rednersville, Rednerville to Haute Goat, Haute Goat to Potter Settlement just outside of Tweed, back to Rednersville and then reluctantly to Whitby covered about six hundred kilometres with at least three eighths of a tank remaining. Happy with that.

If you would like to experience the Subaru Outback please contact Paul Selby or Warren Khan at Whitby Subaru. Whitby Subaru.com 905.430.6666

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