Outback v Volvo Cross Country Review
Subaru Outback v Volvo Cross Country Long Term Review
You guys on here were very helpful last year in helping me choose which model Outback to buy to replace my Volvo Cross Country. So I thought Iíd repay you by doing a comparison between the two cars once Iíd driven the Outback for long enough Ė over 15 months. Hopefully itíll help others to decide which of these cars to buy.
What I Use The Car For
I need a car thatís good both on and off-road, the latter mainly on muddy rutted tracks, some with soft peat underneath. Iíve also a small stream to cross.
Reliability is a must, plus I need a car with an auto gearbox that can carry 2 people with plenty of luggage in comfort.
The Cars Themselves
The Outback I bought was a 2004 (last generation) model 2.5i with the 4AT gearbox in SE trim, the top available in the UK. Being made in Japan we got this model earlier than drivers in the US.
As soon as we got back from a long business trip to Scotland I took the advice given here to buy 5 Yokohama Geolander ATS tyres, these being the only all-terrain tyres available in the UK in the size that the Outback 2.5i comes with over here (215/60R16).
The Volvo Cross Country was a 1998 model with an auto gearbox and Dunlop SP Sport road tyres.
On-Road Driving & Comfort
Letís start with one of the few areas that the Cross Country really scored on Ė performance. However itís not really a fair comparison as the Volvo came as standard with a much more powerful engine that also featured a light pressure turbo. This gave excellent acceleration with plenty of torque at all revs, and moreover the turbo response was very fast. It should really be compared with the 3 litre Outback.
I certainly miss that performance, although Iím not an aggressive driver. This is because the 2.5 Outback is nowhere near as good for overtaking, including on a motorway (70mph speed limit here in the UK). This seems partly due to the maximum torque being quite high up the rev range. It means that I canít always accelerate out of trouble in heavy traffic when someoneís tailgating me on the motorway, especially going uphill. Talking of hills, the 4AT transmission does have a tendency to hunt going up a hill at motorway speeds. Overall, perhaps the best word to describe the Subaruís performance is ďadequateĒ.
The downside of performance is of course fuel economy. With the Volvo I averaged 22mpg on-road on a mixture of motorways and country lanes, with the Subaru just under 30mpg. Thatís UK gallons by the way. The US equivalents would be 18Ĺ mpg and 25 mpg. So a very clear winner here, even taking into account my pushing the Volvo rather harder.
I donít push cars anywhere near the limit, so Iím not qualified to write on the finer points of handling. Both cars are very sure-footed, and both are fun to zip along windy country lanes.
The ride on the Volvo was somewhat better, and not surprisingly the difference became slightly more apparent when I put all-terrain tyres on the Outback. I thought that switching to all-terrain tyres would also increase noise levels. However to my delight the Geolander ATS tyres are surprisingly quiet on-road, and donít affect fuel economy to any extent. I recently repeated the Scottish trip, and the difference in mpg was only about 1%. The ATSs are also hardly worn despite going over 10000 miles.
Comfort to me is very important, as I have back and leg problems. I was worried that without a reach adjustment on the steering column Iíd have trouble with the Outback, but these fears proved groundless. I did however miss the memory facility that the Volvo had Ė itís lacking on my Outback even though the driverís seat is electric.
As for comfort though there was no contest. The leather Outback seats for me are definitely better than the leather ones on the Cross Country - and the V70 is reckoned to have some of the most comfortable seats around! I found the leather Volvo seats a lot less comfortable than the superb cloth seats on my previous Volvo. But do bear in mind that what seat suits one person may not suit another.
Ventilation is another area where the Volvo scored, and not just because it had separate controls for driver and passenger. There were a lot more settings when wanting air to both face and feet, whereas in the Subaru the only option is 50/50.
Neither car has much legroom in the back, but the only person to go in the rear is our 3 year old granddaughter in a child seat. By the time sheís older Iíll probably have switched to the current Outback that has oceans of room in the back.
Iíd much rather have more space for luggage than passengers, and the Outback and the Cross Country both do very well here. Although on paper the Cross Country wins on capacity, the shape of the boot (trunk) is more practical on the Outback. Itís bigger top to bottom but not as wide, so in practice you can carry more typical holiday luggage in the Outback. Unfortunately this does mean that itís not so good for long European-style fishing rods lengthways across the boot, but most of you wonít worry about that.
Whatís also better, in fact much better, on the Subaru is the folding seat design Ė thereís no fiddling about with the headrests as there is on the Volvo, although to be fair with the latter the seats do fold completely flat.
On the other hand the slanted rear of the Outback means thereís less shelter from the rain when loading/unloading or when changing footwear, and itís not quite as good as the Volvo for very bulky items.
Overall thereís nothing in it, and both cars are good choices if youíre after a lot of cargo capacity. However, Iím looking forward to the new generation Outback thatís quite a bit wider and even more capacious.
Moving forward to the cabin, the Volvoís is classier. However, within reason Iím not bothered about how classy a car looks, either inside or out. So Iím not the right person to comment here. For me itís how it does its job thatís important. Both score very highly here.
I had a few niggles with each. With the Volvo it was reflections from the dashboard, the flimsy cupholders, plus the wipers had only one speed on intermediate. With the Subaru itís the lack of a 70mph mark on the speedo, too quiet a tick on the indicators, and the lack of audible confirmation on locking the doors.
I donít do many miles off-road but my Volvo Cross Country badly let me down, twice getting stuck in mud with the front wheels spinning and power not being transferred to the rear as is supposed to happen. The first time I eventually got out, but the second I needed a tow from a tractor.
Additionally, despite having plenty of power, on one occasion the Volvo failed to grip the gravel climbing out of the streambed when towing my dinghy, and I only just got up. Even without the boat it didnít do so easily in wet weather.
Driving along the track the Volvo tended to slip and slide all over the place when the grass was wet, and it was hard to keep going straight. This was especially disconcerting as the worst section was beside the stream, that I didnít fancy tipping into!
In case any readers think that the Cross Country is useless off-road itís not. Itís just that it wasnít the right car for my off-road needs. Although Iíve no rock-hopping to do, parts of my tracks are very soft and peaty. And to be fair I wasnít using all-terrain tyres, which do make a difference. For going to gymkhanas etc the Cross Country may well fit the bill nicely, and will certainly be better than 2WD.
Because weíve had my disabled mother-in-law living with us part of the time I havenít used the Outback off-road as much as Iíd intended. If necessary Iíll update this review in the light of further off-road experiences.
When I have been off-road the water table has been high, and so the tracks have been particularly soft. Not once though has the Outback got anywhere near stuck, and I suspect that if it did on my land then so would almost any SUV.
Despite the lower power, it climbs out of the stream more easily than the Volvo, although to be fair the tyres may play an important part here. I also havenít towed my boat yet as I initially bought the wrong towbar.
Anyone want to buy an unused towbar for the earlier model?
The only small problem is that when the track is wet it does slide somewhat in the bad section I mentioned earlier, but nowhere near as much as the Volvo.
Guys, would having VDC help here Ė the 2004 2.5 didnít have it in the UK?
One of the reasons I sold the Cross Country was the awful reliability. My previous 2WD Volvo had been fine; the Cross Country cost me more in repair bills than it did to buy! I suspect it had been thrashed off-road.
The only problem Iíve had with the Subaru was water leaking into the front passenger area. The rubber door seal was replaced under warranty, which was just as well as the cost was horrifying at around £175!
I had to get a new battery early on after being stranded off-road. The local dealer (Doveís of Folkestone) said the only way to solve the problem was to recover the vehicle as even with a new battery it wouldnít start without the security code, which I didnít have. I therefore phoned another dealer (Waldonway, near Maidstone) who simply looked up the security code on their computer. A quick change of battery and I was away. You can guess who didnít get to service the car!
The cost of the service plus new brake pads was similar to what I was used to with my Volvo. The only other expense was regassing the air conditioning, which a local garage did at a very reasonable price.
On-road itís difficult to choose between the two cars. I miss the performance of the Cross Country, but not the fuel bills. I suspect that had I chosen the 3 litre Outback Iíd have preferred it to the Cross Country, especially for the more comfortable seats.
Off-road thereís simply no comparison, even taking into account the better tyres. The Outback wins hands down.
And when you consider that the Outback has a very much better reliability record than the Cross Country, and you can buy a considerably newer model for the same outlay, it really is a no-brainer!