The alterna-SUV grows bolder and better.
by Bob Storck and Marty Padgett
SUN MOUNTAIN, Wash. -Subaru's signature series of crossover wagons has been revamped for 2000, with all the right improvements. The Outback sedans and wagons are stiffer, roomier and more powerful than before, and that means for the upscale crowd that hates SUVs but still wants versatility, the Outback has all the right stuff.
When you drive the luxurious Outbacks, you might forget that Subarus used to be the darlings of postal employees and college students everywhere looking for cheap transportation. Indeed, it was just a few years back that Subaru decided to play up its best technology and turned its whole lineup onto all-wheel drive.
At the same time, they created the Outback brand, which pretty much saved the company in the U.S. by giving a popular face - Paul Hogan’s - to the tech-savvy but decidedly niche nameplate. And Outback has spread. Today, Subaru offers a compact Outback Sport based on the Impreza wagon, an Outback wagon (our subject here), and a pair of high-zoot Outback Limited vehicles, a sedan and a wagon.
With all its recent sales success, it’s no wonder the 2000 mods to the Legacy-based Outback are evolutionary. The styling is not markedly changed, but under the skin are more power, a refined drivetrain, a revised four-wheel independent suspension, a comfortable interior and dual airbags. A longer wheelbase translates into better ride and more interior room.
Thriving on attitude
This is a car that thrives on attitude - one of dependability and go-anywhere capability. Power comes from a twin-cam 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (the largest that Subaru delivers to our market), with output of 165 horsepower and excellent torque numbers too. (The Legacy GT sedan also carries this powerplant.) All-wheel drive is standard, a feature that is becoming more prized for its safety with each passing year. A manual transmission is standard, while a four-speed automatic is optional.
The engine is laid out in a horizontally opposed format, with two cylinders on each side. This is similar to the layout made popular by VW and Porsche, but this version is water-cooled, like the newest Porsche six-cylinders. This configuration results in a lower center of gravity and a sleeker hood height.
The combination of high power, good suspension, and ABS/AWD control makes the Outback an ideal vehicle for mountain trips, or suburban slip-and-slide weather. All-wheel drive is standard on all U.S.-market Subarus. Traction control is available, and it uses the engine management system and brakes to maintain optimal thrust to the driving wheels. The all-wheel-drive system sounds complex but functions seamlessly: if traction is lost at either end, a center viscous coupling locks up and splits more power to the axle with traction.
Subaru is alone in offering a hill-holder feature that will keep the car from creeping back when stopped going up an incline with manual transmissions. Once the car is stopped, the brakes are lightly held without the driver's foot on the pedal until the car moves forward under power.
The Legacy Outback is being touted as the sport-utility vehicle for people who don't want to drive a truck. It has active-lifestyle features aimed at off-road use and camping, and has distinctive appearance trim items. These include all-season tires on alloy wheels, a cargo area tray and hooks, and a 12-volt power outlet in the storage area (for camper use).
But if your lifestyle is less outdoor-oriented, you might check out the Legacy wagon and add some of the features on its option list. These include special colors and graphics (with a matched interior), power sunroof, luggage rack with bike rack or ski attachments, seat and engine block heaters, front skid plate, alloy wheels, rear-anti roll bar, mud flaps, and height- adjustable air suspension.
Subaru’s retail coverage across the country is spotty, with a strong dealer network in the northern tier of states and a smattering across the lower U.S. Even if you live in an area where Subarus aren’t common and the weather isn’t too harsh, though, the Outback deserves a look - especially if you dread going down the SUV road.
2000 Subaru Outback
Engine: 2.5-liter flat four, 165 hp
Transmission: five-speed manual, electronically controlled four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Length: 187.4 in
Width: 68.7 in
Height: 63.3 in
Weight: 3415 lb (manual), 3480 lb (automatic)
Fuel economy: 21 city/ 28 hwy (manual), 22 city/27 hwy (automatic)
Major standard equipment:
Dual frontal airbags
Daytime running lights
Power door locks and windows
Six-way power driver’s seat
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