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It might just be love at first byte. Subaru, longtime purveyors of sensible transportation for outdoor types, has got its geek on. The 2011 Subaru Outback comes with the option of on-the-move web access.

Through the services of Subaru Mobile Internet technology (supplied by a third party, Autonet Mobile, a company that claims to be the world's first in-car internet service provider), this feature provides a wireless, or Wi-Fi, connection to 10 or more users within 150 feet of the vehicle. It can also serve up uninterrupted Wi-Fi capability to passengers while the car is moving.

This is big. It means all manner of devices (with Wi-Fi functionality: iPhones, laptop computers, gaming consoles, etc.) can connect to cyberspace almost anywhere the vehicle may be. And it's interesting to note Subaru's choice of activities, reflecting what the company sees as its audience: "Outback passengers can check weather and traffic, download hiking trails, and even reserve a campsite," says the company. But the options are almost limitless – it allows users to check their emails, surf the web, listen to internet radio (some good stations can be found there), stream video and tell everyone on Facebook what snack they're eating right now. In other words, it brings the great indoors to the great outdoors.

Since internet video gaming is big these days, it's not hard to imagine some crabby teenager forced to go on a weekend trip with his folks, playing "World of Warcraft" or "Halo" and undertaking a virtual quest through the dark forest with his online buddies, while actually being in a real forest. This might raise the same kind of exasperated question as to why someone would spend hours on "Guitar Hero" when their time might be better served practicing on a real guitar. But that's another article entirely.

Seriously, this would make a great feature for people whose work takes them far from an office, but still requires a digital link. It's claimed to be a safe, fully encrypted 3G connection with download speeds of 400 kilobytes per second to 1.2 megabytes per second, which is comparable to a home setup.

Subaru Mobile Internet can be pre-installed and costs $499, plus an activation fee of $35. Then there's a minimum year's subscription of $29 a month, but Subaru offers the first three months for free. The whole system is considered a Subaru accessory and is therefore covered by the vehicle's warranty.

The Outback is one of those popular mid-sized, car-based crossover utility vehicles (CUV). It starts at $23,195 and comes with a four- or six-cylinder engine and has all-wheel drive as standard. The most frugal, the 2.5i Limited, can get 29 mpg on the highway.

author photo

Colin Ryan has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.

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