Outstanding Outback is snow contest

Snow contest - ANDY RUSSELL was glad he had Subaru's all-wheel drive Outback.The ferocity of the blizzard took everyone by surprise as we suddenly went from dry roads to three or four inches of fresh snow.

Snow contest - ANDY RUSSELL was glad he had Subaru's all-wheel drive Outback.

The ferocity of the blizzard took everyone by surprise as we suddenly went from dry roads to three or four inches of fresh snow. Judging by the handful of cars which slid on to the verge or into the central reservation it caught some drivers out.

But while other cars slithered and snaked as they scrabbled for grip, Subaru's new Outback never putting a tyre wrong whether pulling away, braking or turning.


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That was the story of the 300 miles I covered in snow and slush in the Outback. It proved so accomplished, the biggest danger was complacency to the conditions as I tackled roads I would never have contemplated with two-wheel drive.

It brought home the attraction of traction and made me appreciate Subaru's four-wheel drive expertise.

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Subaru is a loyalty brand and it's not difficult to see why owners come back for more. The rally-proven all-wheel drive - a winner in extreme conditions worldwide - just brushed aside snowy Norfolk.

The all-new, fourth-generation Outback was launched with the new Legacy Tourer estate on which it is based. With slightly more macho styling and raised ground clearance, the Outback is Subaru's contender in the fast-growing crossover market. The Japanese car-maker claims to have pioneered the crossover concept with the original Outback in 1996, bringing together estate car practicality and on-road handling with the off-road capability and ground clearance of a sport utility vehicle.

The first thing that strikes you about the new Outback, and Legacy Tourer, is how much more presence they have - they're significantly bigger in every direction than the previous models.

Longer, wider and taller on the outside and sitting on an all-new platform with a longer wheelbase, makes for a cavernous interior. There's more head and shoulder room all round and considerably more rear legroom with almost limousine-like levels of space.

Thanks also to new, compact rear suspension, the boot has grown to a vast 526 litres, rising to 1,726 litres with the 60/40 split rear seat backs folded flat. The wide, tall tailgate gives good load-bay access and a low sill makes loading and unloading large items easy, while self-levelling rear suspension means the Outback stays on an even keel.

All three engines are horizontally-opposed Boxer units, favoured by Subaru. The latest modified version of the 150PS 2.0-litre diesel, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, will be the big seller but for those who want petrol power there's a 167PS 2.5-litre with Subaru's new Lineartronic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) and a flat six-cylinder 260PS 3.6-litre with a five-speed automatic gearbox.

I'm a fan of the diesel - it's not the most economical but delivers strong performance - but chose the smaller petrol-engined model which really brought out the Outback's relaxing cruising ability and was better than expected in the snow with decent low-down flexibility and engine braking for slowing.

The CVT gearbox gives seamless, if not particularly brisk, acceleration and the normally hushed engine can drone when worked hard. For overtaking I found it better to use the standard paddle-shifters on the steering wheel to manually change between six set ratios. Fuel consumption was not as bad as I had feared with a respectable 30mpg overall and 37mpg on a run.

Given the usefully high 200mm ground clearance the Outback drives well but the suspension is biased towards comfort rather than entertaining handling but don't forget the Outback is an alternative to an SUV and, in this company, it compares well. Push hard and body lean builds in bends, but the four-wheel drive system gives bags of grip for confident cornering.

The interior may not be high on flair but it's hard to fault for function and build quality with clear, conventional instruments and with a 10-way electrically-adjustable driver's seat it's not difficult to get comfortable in the bigger, softer front seats. I thought the silver trim panels on the dashboard, centre console and doors looked cheap and tacky on a car this price. But I liked the new electronic park brake button, especially as it released itself when you moved off.

The range starts at �26,745 for either the diesel or 2.5 petrol SE - not cheap but a lot of car when you weigh up the generous equipment which includes electric windows, heated door mirrors, headlamp washers, front fog lights, 17in alloy wheels, power tilt/slide sunroof, leather seats - electric and heated in the front, automatic headlamps and wipers, dual-zone automatic air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, six-CD autochanger, front, front side and curtain air bags, stability and traction control with hill-start assist, ABS and four-wheel drive. For another �2,250 SE NavPlus adds keyless entry and ignition, DVD satellite navigation and audio system, onboard computer, AUX video input and rear-view camera.

The Outback in the snow brought home the benefits of four-wheel drive - I didn't appreciate how much until after it had gone back.

SUBARU OUTBACK 2.5i SE NAV PLUS

PRICE: �28,995

ENGINE: 2,457cc, 167PS, horizontally-opposed flat four-cylinder, petrol

PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 10.4 seconds; top speed 120mph

MPG: Urban 25; extra urban 42.2; combined 33.6

EMISSIONS: 194g/km

BENEFIT-IN-KIND TAX RATE: 26pc

INSURANCE GROUP: 12E

WARRANTY: Three years/60,000 miles

WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE: Length 4,775mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,052mm; height (including roof rails) 1,605mm

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