Subaru describes its off-road-focussed estate as the toughest and most rugged SUV it has ever made.

With that in mind, you might expect the Outback to be a bit agricultural when driving around town.

But you’d be in for a pleasant surprise, as its on-road manners are not too shoddy either.

Okay, it’s not the last word in refinement, but the improvements made to the Outback’s on-road sophistication are well worthy of note.

Under the bonnet, the sixth-generation Outback features a reworked version of the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer petrol engine seen on the previous model.

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With 167bhp and 186lb ft of torque available, it’s a vehicle with just enough grunt for the more relaxed driver, but might feel a bit underdone for those who like to get a move on.

The engine is paired with Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which is smooth enough but won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It has eight artificial gears to replicate the feel of a normal automatic. If it isn’t quite working to your liking though, you can use the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles to take back some control of the revs.

The Outback’s well-documented sure-footed quality is underpinned by a symmetrical permanent four-wheel drive system and torque-vectoring, giving you peace of mind for whatever the weather might throw your way.

So why is the new Outback better on the road than its predecessors? For starters, the ride quality has been much improved, with the suspension isolating road imperfections, either at lower of higher speeds.

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What’s more, the amount of road noise entering the cabin seems to have been reduced significantly, making for a more pleasant environment.

A few other well-judged tweaks mean the Outback’s chassis feels more composed when you’re trying to push on along undulating and twisty B-roads. As you might expect from a fairly tall vehicle with considerable ground clearance, body roll is quite apparent when cornering at speed – but it’s pretty well controlled.

The interior now offers a tad more room than previously, further boosting the car’s practicality.

Meanwhile, the introduction of new and improved tech has elevated the cabin.

The centrepoint is the large tablet-like infotainment touchscreen, measuring 11.6 inches. It’s intuitive, responsive and within easy reach of the driver.

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With previous generations of the Outback, you always felt confident that the interior was solid and well bolted together. Happily, that hasn’t changed, but you now notice an improvement in material quality throughout the cabin, with more soft touch features.

There’s plenty of adjustment for the driver, along with generous head and legroom, while the high driving position offers a commanding view of the road ahead.

In terms of looks, this is a car for those who like the idea of an SUV but don’t want to buy something big and boxy.

It has some sharp styling queues, a relatively sleek silhouette and one or two design flourishes - especially at the front - that suggest a family resemblance to the legendary Impreza.

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Meanwhile, the large roof rails and wheel arch surrounds add an element of ruggedness. In terms of off-road abilities, the car has 213mm of ground clearance, a number of improvements to ramp angles and towing capacity of 2000kg with a braked trailer.

The car comes with a raft of safety features, including Subaru’s EyeSight system, which reduces the rate of rear-end crashes with injuries by up to 85 per cent.

All things considered, the improvements have created an excellent all-rounder that’s now as comfortable on the road as it is in a muddy field.

Subaru Outback ES Touring

PRICE: from £35,995 (increasing to around £40,000 for Touring spec)

ENGINE: 2.5i, 4 cyls petrol

PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph time of 9.9sec

ECONOMY: 33.0mpg combined and emissions of 193g/km


WARRANTY: 3 Years/60,000 Miles