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Jan 10, 2019

Cars Onboard Beginning with this installment, CYOB will take a look at support vehicles – the cars, SUVs, crossovers and even light trucks that boaters need as support vehicles. The goal is often simple enough: carry the gear required and arrive in style. After all, having a boat invariably means hauling stuff and lots of it.

Subaru, not too long ago was a fringe badge considered a bit of an outlier, has become much more common a sight in the quayside parking lot. This fall, I borrowed the 2019 Subaru Outback as my helper when I de-commissioned our boat for the season.

The TrunkAs you would expect, there was a bundle of bags and gear to take home for the winter. As you might not expect, the boat club was something of a driving hazard because the crew had already started moving supplies in for construction. It’s not clear whether this was because the crew was extra keen or because I had been a couple of weeks slow in getting around to putting my tarp on – no matter, there we were and it was helpful to have a vehicle that didn’t balk at a bit of lumpy terrain.

Trunk LoadedThe good folks at Subaru Canada were extra nice this time hooking me up with a loaded 2019 Outback 3.6R Premier with EyeSight. The Eyesight package is a number of very useful electronic driver assist features that we can discuss in a minute, but the basics of the vehicle are its reasonably large cargo capacity and quite lovely finish and comfort level and good clearance.

Especially at haulout and launch, junk capacity is critical. Short of a van or large SUV, what we conventionally thought of as a big station wagon was the traditional choice of the boating family. I recall perennial fleets of (often garish yellow) boxy wagons parked by the docks and they made a lot of sense at the time. A posh family car with capacity. The Outback is a much sexier version of that concept.

 

 



Folding SeatsWith the back seats folded flat, you get 197 cm, or roughly six feet of capacity so cockpit cushions or a big sail bag fit. The tailgate opening is fine, 117.5 cm but I was surprised that the internal height was only 82.5 cm; the nice exterior lines might have been sacrificed for more headroom. You can see from my shots how the stack of gear packed. I suppose a cargo van is functionally more accommodating but like boats, there’s always a trade-off.

Drivers SideThe upside of that trade is the delicious interior and driving. The outback, even this top of the line one, is well below the luxury vehicle price level at $42K and you can get a pretty sweet base model for under 30. You are traveling in pretty sublime comfort with cozy leather, very comfortable (and multi adjustable) heated seating.

Mine had the larger 3.6L 6-cylinder boxer engine driving a CVT. It ran smoothly and very quietly with all kinds of power (256hp) even loaded up and with was terrific when I took it on the highway. The less tricked-out models carry a 2.5L, 175hp, and 4-cylinder boxer, again providing the solid low-centre-of-gravity power that has pushed Subaru up the ranks over the years. I found the 3.6L engine a bit thirsty (the numbers show that the 2.5L is somewhat less so.) Both runs on regular, which is very welcome.

The other aspect of this and every other Subaru, which makes it a nice choice for boaters who need to negotiate back roads to the marina, is the full-time all wheel drive. My boat is in town, but as noted, the construction keeners had ripped the place up and it had been raining much of November so I appreciated the sure footedness of AWD. The Outback has minimum ground clearance of 200 cm, almost 3 inches higher than Subaru’s Legacy. As I said, this is a pretty civilized vehicle to drive and go out to a smart dinner with, but reveals some Jeep-like chops when needed in a grungy boatyard.

The EyeSight Package attributes are really something of a necessity these days and point the way toward driver-assisted and even self-driving cars. Blind spot and lane management alerts as well as back up cameras are becoming expected necessities today and certainly help the driver feel safe even on crowded roads and while it’s scary to rely on pre-collision braking I wouldn’t own a car without it any more. The adaptive cruise control is fantastic on urban highways, in that you can count on the car to slow when the traffic jams up. Automatic high beams and auto mirror dimming are handy extras.


As a boater, you find yourself looking for two seemingly opposite capabilities – workhorse carrying ability and svelte driving. The Outback does a pretty good job of delivering both.

-JM

Read about more Cars on Board: Porsche Cayenne S, Jaguar F Pace S