By Jim Bray
One of Subarus "legacies" is its self proclaimed worlds
first sport utility wagon, the Outback. Basically a beefed up version
of the Legacy, the Outback is newly redesigned for 2005, a freshening that
keeps what made earlier versions popular, but ups the styling and technology
ante to reflect the current state of the art better.
Id never driven a Legacy or an Outback before this review, though Ive
driven most other Subarus from the past couple of years, so I was extremely
interested to try this top-of-the-line 3.0R VDC model. I like Subarus, especially
the Forester, but on the whole am of the opinion that they dont come
off quite as refined in their feel and appointments as some of the Japanese
competition Ive driven.
This obviously doesnt matter to Subaru owners, who find many other things
to love including their four wheel drive stability and all around driving prowess
(as well as a good fun to drive quotient).
Well, the new Outback has closed that apparent refinement gap, and the new
vehicle is attractive, comfortable and pleasant, featuring such delightful
touches as doors that close with a nice, solid thunk, a very quiet
interior (except for wind noise undoubtedly caused by the roof rack) and a
sunroof so big you could almost use it as a point for ingress and egress.
My test model 3.0 R VDC is nicely upscale. It sports a three liter six cylinder boxer engine
(instead of a V6 or an inline six, the cylinders are horizontally opposed,
each row of three firing at each other like boxers fists duking it out), with
electronic throttle control (ETC), Active Valve Control System (AVCS) and Active
Valve Lift System (AVLS). Its a fine engine, making 250 horses @ 6600
rpm and 219 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4200 rpm and, while it doesnt take off
from a standing start like a solid fuel rocket, by the time you hit 3000 rpm
or so it pushes you back into the seat in a most satisfactory manner.
Yessirree, once you turn it loose it goes like heck!
Apparently, the Outback with the turbocharged 2.5 four cylinder boxer engine
is even faster, though I didnt have a chance to try it. But this six
goes just fine, thank you. We took it on a weekend road trip and found it to
be smooth and powerful and more than competent under all conditions we tried.
It cruised beautifully at highway speeds (well, highway speeds at which youd
get a steep fine if caught) and had plenty of grunt left over for passing.
Coupled to the engine is a smoothly shifting five speed electronic direct
control automatic transmission with Sportshift pretend manual mode.
The transmission worked very well, though as with so many pretend manuals its
better than a normal automatic but nowhere near as much fun as a real manual.
Still, its a reasonable compromise.
The suspension is four wheel fully independent, and raised up to give more
road clearance than the average family car. And of course the Outback features
Subarus variable torque distribution four wheel drive system with an
electronically controlled locking centre differential. It also sports Vehicle
Dynamics Control and traction control.
All of this adds up to excellent stability on the road, something we noticed
on our trip when we suddenly ran out of pavement on a back road we were exploring
and had to drive several kilometres on gravel. On that stretch, the Subaru
did display bit of wavering left and right, but far less than the last two
wheel drive vehicles I took onto gravel - and never to the point where it caused
any kind of concern. In fact, I managed to keep it going at what my wife considered
to be breakneck speed and it never felt unstable while on the relatively loose
gravel. In fact, it was fun!
I can see why Subarus are so popular and successful at rallies.
The Outback goes where pointed, travels with dispatch, handles with aplomb,
and lets you arrive in style and comfort. For what more could anyone ask?
Well, I would have liked to see a better audio system, but more about that
The new body style is terrific. Just as Volvo has managed to do over the past
while, Subaru has taken what was a rather boxy vehicle (though not nearly as
boxy as those old Volvos!) and created a new one thats sleek, fresh and
attractive, yet instantly recognizable as a Subaru. Well done!
As mentioned above, theres also a gigantic sunroof that extends from
just over the drivers head to just about the rear seats. Its quite
similar to the one on the Forester Turbo I tried a while back, though I liked
the one on the Forester better. Alas, instead of a little metal strip that
folds up to divert the shrieking banshees of the wind, the sunroof is broken
into two glass panels, the front one of which merely lifts up to act as a wind
breaker. This means that, in reality, the front passengers dont get an
open sunroof over their heads at all (unless, perhaps, your legs are much longer
than mine and you can put the seat back farther!) while those in the back get
Subaru has thought up a nifty selection of settings for the sunroof as well.
Push the button once and that front panel lifts up. Push it again and the big
main panel slides back to behind the front seats. Push it once more and it
extends back to its limits. It works well when youre opening it, but
closing it tends to pull the inner fabric covering forward with it. The added
number of settings also means you need to keep your hand off the steering wheel
What they really need is a sunroof powered by brainwaves, or with controls
on the steering wheel!
The driving position is very nice. The Outback 3.0R VDC wagon features an
eight way power adjustable drivers seat that makes finding the perfect
driving position childs play. The front passenger seat features four
way power adjustment. Both seats are covered in leather that looks and feels
kind of like vinyl (undoubtedly a utilitarian leather thatll wipe down
well to please those outdoorsy people who buy such vehicles) and feature variable-setting
The seats are very comfortable for long stretches of driving and feature good
side bolstering that keeps you in the seat during the wild twisty bits. The
rear seat holds three adults (as usual, two are comfortable and three are a
tad snug) and it splits 60/40 and folds flat to make a truly cavernous storage
area in the rear.
Instrumentation is full, analogue, and easy to read, though some of the LCD
displays on the radio and HVAC controls were a tad washed out in bright sunlight
when I was wearing polarized sunglasses. Subaru even includes nice little touches
such as an arrow that points toward which side of the car the fuel filler door
The automatic climate control works very well and features the lovely dual
zone operation feature that helps avoid fisticuffs among front seat passengers.
Then theres that audio system. It features an in-dash six disc CD/MP3
changer (as well as an AM/FM radio tuner) with four main speakers, two in-door
tweeters and a subwoofer. And there are controls mounted on the steering wheel.
While that looks pretty good in print, unfortunately Subaru either went cheap
on the speakers or the amplifiers (I suspect the latter) because the sound
quality is only average, bordering on anemic, even if you really crank it.
This may not matter to anyone but audio snobs, however.
My only other complaints are road noise and sensitivity to crosswinds, and
I think the roof rack is the culprit here. It shouldnt be enough to frighten
you away from this car, though.
Other than that, the Outback gives the impression that it aims to please,
and its very pleasing for driver and passengers. Its fast, stable,
and fun to drive. And because its all wheel drive and features about
all the air bags and other safety features you could want (including such nice
touches as keyless entry, a collapsible brake pedal and drivers foot
rest), its also a secure environment for your road trips.
Nice job, Subaru!
The Outback 3.0 R VDC Wagon sells fro approximately $33000 US/ $45000 Canadian.