Devin Paisley, Subaru owner and founder of the Woodstock Moto Co, swopped his 2006 Outback for a 2019 model for a weekend away, and here’s how it panned out.
Overberg in the Outback
I was recently reminded of how lucky Capetonians and visitors to the Cape are. On our doorstep we have some of the world’s most magnificent roads, both dirt and paved. I inherited a love for back-country roads from my father, and my family grew up exploring the country by car.
It had been a few weeks since my wife, fur-child Felix and I returned from our 6 000-km honeymoon road trip through South Africa in my 2006 Subaru Outback and the gravel itch had begun to scratch again. I’ve explored the Overberg region by motorcycle, but not much by car, so I opened up Google Maps to plot a route that would encompass some of my favourite roads within 120 km of Cape Town.
Hitting the road
Our Saturday started “early” – as usual. I was excited. I had a brand spanking new 2019 Subaru Outback for the weekend, courtesy of Subaru Somerset West. My wife and Felix were less excited, choosing to sleep in until 10:00. Then I held up the proceedings further with my standard 15-minute pre-journey faff.
Finally on the road and heading for Stellenbosch, I was impressed by how smooth the Outback is. Experimenting with the EyeSight Adaptive Cruise Control, which keeps the vehicle a predetermined distance from the car ahead, I had a glimpse into the autonomous future.
It also took me a while to work out that the gearbox is a CVT unit. At first I thought it was a conventional auto-box. In S-mode it’s plenty responsive, but I found myself switching over to I-mode most of the time, as it is just so smooth. Combined with the exceptional 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, it created a cocooning, calming capsule to travel in.
Pausing briefly in Stellenbosch for coffee, we then headed over Helshoogte Pass, through Franschhoek and up the mountain, stopping to admire the view and chat to some tourists.
Cresting Franschhoek Pass in the clouds, we wound our way down the serpentine slither of asphalt to Theewaterskloof Dam, which has filled considerably since the drought, but still has some way to go until it’s full.
I got my first taste of gravel on a shortcut from the Theewaterskloof bridge to the R43, and oh my, is the Outback smooth! My 2006 Outback has seen some rough roads and has developed some rattles and squeaks along the way. The 2019 edition wafted us along unnoticed corrugations while we enjoyed audiophile levels of music.
A short stint on the N2 and through Caledon had us looking for more dirt roads. Turning left off the R320, we found a deserted stretch leading down to the R326 and our stay for the night: Blue Gum Country Estate in Stanford.
We arrived as the sun was slipping behind the hills, basking the scene in warm golden light. Check-in was quick, and once we were settled in Felix set off to make friends with the local farm dogs while we went for a walk in the fresh evening air. Finding pet-friendly accommodation can be tricky and we were very glad to add Bluegum to our list.
Dinner at the onsite restaurant was an exceptional three-course affair, leaving us in a comfortable food coma, tucked into bed with a roaring fire crackling in the fireplace.
The journey is the destination
Rising slowly the next morning, we ambled back down to the restaurant for a breakfast spread and to plan our meandering route home.
All packed up and ready to roll, we made quick work (other than a stop-go) of the asphalt section from Stanford through Hermanus to the Kleinmond turnoff, before taking the Highlands Road over the mountain to Peregrine Farmstall, where homemade pies were eaten with gusto.
I’ve ridden the Highlands Road numerous times by motorcycle and it is usually terribly corrugated, so I was interested to see how the vehicle would deal with it. I’m not sure if the Outback was just that good or if the road had been recently graded, but our ascent left me a bit disappointed as I was expecting a bit of a challenge for the vehicle, but it didn’t even bat an eyelid.
So, time to up the ante. Instead of turning left out of Peregrine and homewards, we turned right heading towards Botrivier. Just before the road splits into a dual carriageway we hooked a hard left and took the old Houwhoek Pass running next to the railway line. This has to be one of my favourite passes of all time as it is usually completely deserted, and feels as though you’ve stepped back in time.
It’s a rough sandy jeep track with a loose rocky descent section, and I thought it would be the perfect time to test the Subaru X-mode and hill-descent control. At the push of a button the Outback takes over controlling the brakes independently on each wheel to keep lock-ups at bay. This took a little getting used to, but only because I hadn’t read the instruction manual and didn’t understand the electronic wizardry that was taking place.
Clever tech that works
You can hear the humming and buzzing of the individual brake callipers working away to maintain optimum traction at all four wheels. X-mode also alters the throttle response so that initial pedal inputs produce less torque, but once the accelerator is opened further (for example, gunning it up a steep section) full power is provided. Additionally, the CVT gearbox stays in a lower gear while in X-mode, for maximum torque. All of this modern magic is in addition to Subaru’s legendary Symmetrical All-wheel Drive system which debuted way back in 1972.
I was slightly nervous about taking the Houwhoek Pass, but once I’d worked out that X-drive knew what it was doing, and left it to gently usher us downhill, I was confident that the Outback would be able to handle much rougher roads.
The pass pops out at the back end of Botrivier, and with the sun sinking towards the horizon, we slipped onto Van Der Stel Pass, a lovely gravel stretch that meanders through farmland and orchards, emerging at Theewaterskloof Dam.
Wanting to catch the last rays at the top of Franschhoek Pass, I flipped the CVT into S-mode and gave it gas. I would have loved to try out the 3.6-litre version, but this 2.5 was no slouch. In the twisties the gearbox holds gears when you need it to and drops a few when you give the pedal a proper stab, before smoothly and effortlessly making quick work of whatever road surface is in front of you.
We made it up just in time to see the last of the sunlight fading across the valley and quickly snapped some shots in the chilly air. Hopping back into the driver’s seat, the sadness at having to return the Outback started to seep in.
I honestly believe this car has the perfect blend of street and dirt abilities. It laps up the gravel roads, inspiring confidence, and when you get back on the blacktop it doesn’t suffer from body roll issues thanks to its profile that’s lower than that of other SUVs. I found myself driving along smugly, knowing that I could take this vehicle places that mere soft-roaders wouldn’t dare go.
The 2019 Outback is a magnificent car, possibly my perfect car. For now I’ll have to stick to its grandfather, my own 2006 Outback. But one day…
Visit Woodstock Moto Co. online or at 7 Barron Street, Woodstock, Cape Town.