The first time my path crossed with the brand Subaru was during my bachelor days chilling behind the television armed with a Playstation One controller.
The game was Colin McRae Rally and you only had two realistic weapons of choice from the actual World Rally Car circuit to conquer the big boy class, featuring the world’s most notorious dirt, gravel, tarmac and ice courses – a blueish metallic Subaru Impreza WRC with yellow decal and a white Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer with red markings.
The Subaru was undoubtedly the star of the show.
If you weren’t persuaded by the fact that it was the feature car on the cover and also the actual one driven by the late McRae in the 90s, then the Impreza’s standout colours and golden mags would have persuaded you to choose it over the bland Mitsubishi anyway.
Fast forward many years and I found myself holding the key to a Subaru Outback last week, ready to let alone drive, but enter a vehicle from the Japanese manufacturer for the first time outside a video game.
It was blueish all right, but lacked the windgat styling of my dirt racer and certainly didn’t have any eye-catching features to differentiate itself from your stock-standard modern SUV.
But I wasn’t going to judge this book by its cover after seeing the figure of 191kW in the 3.6R-S Lineartronic CVT’s brochure. In fact, that number wasn’t all that far off my rally version’s output of 224kW.
But before I even met the beast under the bonnet, I was overwhelmed by the sheer comfort and array of safety features crammed into this car Subaru calls a “Crossover SUV”, not to mention the vast amounts of space on offer both in the cabin and in the stupidly spacious 512 litre boot.
Leather seats, massive touchscreen entertainment system connectable with both iPhone and Android complete with 12-speaker sounds system bearing the very suave Harman Kardon name, fully electronic adjustable front seats, automatic gearbox with paddles for manual shifting and an electronic sunroof all add to an extremely smooth ride, while the safety specs will make sure a panelbeater will never rob you of precious time with the Outback.
Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, brake assist and rear, front and side cameras, along with the usual list of suspects, will make sure you feel safe when the temptation to unleash the beast takes over.
And when you finally drop your right foot on the accelerator, it lives up to the expectation, especially if you shed the sheep’s clothing of Economy mode to unshackle the wolf in Sport mode and unleash an ever scarier version of the wolf in the jaw-dropping #Sport mode.
An elegant roar from the front end and a feeling of pure brute horsepower trickles up your spine when you effortlessly overtake a car on the open road that’s been holding your cruise ship up at a mere 120km/h.
But just how thirsty is this wolf, you might ask? A lot, to be honest, but, it’s a two-edged sword. While you pay the price for a heavy foot, you will also be handsomely rewarded for good behaviour.
The estimated consumption is listed at 9.9l/100km. I managed to get close to 11 with the wolf in full flight, but down to almost 9 bearing the sheepskin.
The only niggle I had with the Outback was navigation. One of the nicest things during my days of gliding the Impreza over gravel roads was the reassuring voice of McRae’s real-life navigator, Nicky Grist.
The Welshman had a heavy accent, but was a great companion when you were flying over a bump at 200km/h and with a tight hairpin coming up.
Move over to the Outback and there’s a fellow called TomTom.
In fact, he didn’t sound like a dude at all, but more like one of the scariest things known to man: a strict female maths teacher.
And she couldn’t even find a road smack bang in the middle of Pretoria. In fact, her calculations were so far out that a few kilometers south on the N1 leaving our capital, she still urged me to “turn around” as we were apparently stuck in the middle of an empty field.
The pricetag of R655 000 places this Outback in a unique bracket.
It slots in between the upper end of the medium SUVs like the Audi Q3 and the Ford Everest, and just below the likes of the Jeep Cherokee, Audi Q5, Jaguar E-Pace and Volvo XC60 as far as price goes.
But, in terms of power, you simply won’t find the same number of horses under the hood of anything close in its price range.
In fact, you’ll have to fork out in the region of R100k more to match it in one of its competitors.
This, coupled with the safety features and comfort, make the Outback a serious choice if your bank stamps your vehicle loan application of R655k and you have a family with lots of luggage to move in effortless elegance.
And with the wolf only a press of a thumb away, I’ll confess my fingers have much more fun in this Subaru than working the joysticks during my rally days. As long as the dodgy tannie keeps quiet, of course.