Having released a six-cylinder Outback last year, Subaru has further expanded the line for 2002 with two additional six-cylinder models. Four-cylinder Outbacks continue nearly unchanged.
With either engine, Outback offers an attractive alternative to a bulkier, truck-based sport-utility. Even the powerful six-cylinder versions rate 20/26 mpg city/highway, and while that's not exactly economy-car territory, it's significantly better than the 15/20 mpg you can expect from even a mid-size SUV. Four-cylinder Outbacks deliver more than adequate performance, and get 22/27 mpg.
An Outback won't wring your wallet dry, and it it'll ride and handle much better than a truck. Yet it will give you a tall seating position, large cargo capacity, and foul-weather capability. In other words, the Outback will give you most of the positive attributes of an SUV. Unless you're genuinely interested in serious off-road adventure (and most SUV buyers are not), the Outback gives you everything you need. It works great on wet pavement, dirt roads, and on snow and ice. It's even fun to drive on dry pavement. And isn't that really where you drive most of the time?
The Outback lineup for 2002 includes the four-cylinder Outback Wagon ($22,895), Outback Limited Sedan ($25,995) and Outback Limited Wagon ($26,295); plus the six-cylinder H6-3.0 L.L. Bean Edition Wagon ($29,495), and the H6-3.0 VDC Wagon ($31,895). New for 2002 are the H6-3.0 Sedan ($27,995) and the H6-3.0 VDC Sedan ($30,395).
The H6-3.0 VDC is the technology standard-bearer of the lineup. VDC stands for Vehicle Dynamic Control, which combines Subaru's electronic Variable Torque Distribution with all-speed traction control and dynamic stability control (DSC).
The L.L. Bean Edition offers exclusive comfort and appearance features, including special L.L. Bean identification, plus two-tone leather and a three-year, no-cost, extended maintenance package. (Tire rotations and oil changes are covered for three years, at the manufacturer's recommended service intervals.) The Bean-mobile costs less than the VDC because it does not have traction control, and comes with Subaru's Active All-Wheel Drive rather than the more sophisticated Variable Torque Distribution.
VDC, L.L. Bean, and all Outback Sedans are built only with automatic transmissions. A five-speed manual is standard on base and Limited Outback Wagons, with the automatic offered as an $800 option.
Buyers of base Wagons may also order a $500 All-Weather Package, which adds heated seats, heated mirrors, and windshield wiper de-icers. This equipment is standard on Limited and H6 models.
(Subaru also manufactures a smaller wagon called the Outback Sport, and NewCarTestDrive.com reviews it separately.)
All of the Outback Wagons share chunky, functional styling. A wide grille and stone guard-shielded fog lights flank a beefy front bumper. Broad ribbed body cladding from mid-door downward dominates the profile. Dressy alloy wheels add a dash of flash. The rear view features wraparound taillights and a cut-down bumper into which the hatchback door is neatly recessed.
Outback Sedans are far more rarely seen than Outback Wagons. The heavy body cladding on the Outback Limited Sedan looks a little less natural than on the Wagon, not unlike a three-piece suit and hiking boots.
The interior of the L.L. Bean Edition is upholstered in two-toned leather with wood trim, and bears the logo of the well-known outfitter based in Freeport, Maine. The Outback VDC's cabin is very nicely appointed as well, as befits its price tag. The VDC also boasts leather-trimmed seating, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, Momo steering wheel, automatic climate control and a high-line sound system. Manufactured by McIntosh Audio (known to audiophiles for their premium home stereo components) the system includes 200 watts of power channeled through eleven speakers in seven locations. The AM/FM/weather-band receiver also houses cassette and CD players. The retro-looking faceplate stands out in a crowd, as does the exceptional sound quality.
The driving position is comfortable. The front seats adjust to fit most any size passenger. Visibility is good in all directions with the exception of straight back, where the view is hindered somewhat by the trio of headrests perched atop the back seat. Switchgear and controls are easy to reach and uncomplicated to use. The VDC, L.L. Bean and Limited Wagons all have an unusual, dual power moon roof. The front section pops up, the back opens and closes fully.
There is room enough for two adults in back (three in a pinch), though six-footers will find rear leg room in short supply, especially if the front-seat passengers are similarly long of limb. Storage space behind the 60/40 split folding back seat is plentiful, measuring 68.6 cubic feet with rear seats folded and 34.3 cubic feet with all seats in place. Lift-over height in back is low, affording easy access to cargo through the hatchback. A retractable cover shields the contents from inquiring eyes.
Subaru is is a world leader in all-wheel-drive expertise. Subaru actually builds three different all-wheel-drive systems. Manual-transmission models rely on a viscous coupling, a kind of speed-sensitive automatic clutch, to limit wheel slip at either end of the car. The system is purely mechanical, and nominally distributes driving torque 50/50, front/rear.
Active All-Wheel Drive, standard on automatic Outbacks, replaces the viscous coupling with an electronically managed multi-disc clutch. Torque distribution remains 50/50, but Subaru claims this system can respond more quickly to changing conditions.
Finally, Variable Torque Distribution combines the electronically managed clutch with a planetary gear that splits torque 45/55 front/rear, for a ``performance-driving feel.'' Additional electronic sensors monitor the position of the throttle and steering wheel, as well as the vehicle's yaw rate and the individual speed of each wheel. When combined with traction control, claims Subaru, this system can actually anticipate a loss of traction before it happens. New for 2002 is a switch to turn the traction-control function off, a feature that may be useful in deep snow or mud.
The new 3.0-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine produces 212 horsepower and 210 pounds-feet of torque. The 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine makes 165 horsepower and 166 pounds-feet of torque, still competitive for this class.
The power boost from the bigger motor is not readily apparent except in high-demand situations, like passing. Many of us who have owned four-cylinder cars over the years have become accustomed to tepid performance as a tradeoff for fuel economy, and we've learned to wait for a stiff tailwind before attempting a passing maneuver. No need with the Subaru H-6. The power peaks at 6000 rpm, so when you kick down the automatic transmission and step out to pass you're not out there for long. By the EPA's reckoning, fuel economy measures 20 mpg city/26 highway for the six-cylinder VDC, nearly as good as for the four-cylinder models. (Our test drive netted 22 miles per gallon in a mix of city and country driving.)
Handling is more car-like than truck-like because the Outback is essentially a car. More than 7 inches of ground clearance doesn't make the VDC corner like a sports car, but the Outback is still noticeably nimbler than taller, slower-maneuvering SUVs. The Outback delivers a comfortable ride quality, too. And you won't need a rope ladder or a running start to hoist yourself into the cabin.
The VDC concept combines sophisticated all-wheel drive with traction control to assure that you get a grip on the road, and keep it. This is not to say that you won't ever get into trouble if you encounter bad road conditions or exercise poor judgment. But it is reassuring to know that the Subaru system is there to help you maintain control, when foul weather or ragged roads make for rough sledding. Subaru's technology also helps make driving in adverse weather much easier, less stressful and more enjoyable.
Subaru's line of Outbacks can conquer the worst road conditions, and the Outback Wagons continue to serve as sensible alternatives to big, heavy sport-utility vehicles. They are practical, comfortable, useful vehicles.
The VDC and Bean models inject power, luxury and enhanced traction into the relentlessly sensible Subaru lineup. Six-cylinder engines coupled with the latest electronic stability control systems improve safety and increase performance at the same time. Though loaded with features, these top two models are also pricey. At $31,895, the Outback VDC is priced close enough to invite comparisons with base models from upscale manufacturers, for example, the Volvo Cross Country ($36,500), Lexus RX300 ($35,955), and Acura MDX ($34,370).
The best values in the Outback lineup remain the less expensive and highly competent four-cylinder models, starting at $22,895.
|Model Line Overview |
|Model lineup: ||Wagon ($22,895); Limited Sedan ($25,995); Limited Wagon ($26,295); H6-3.0 Sedan ($27,995); L.L. Bean Edition Wagon ($29,495); H-6-3.0 VDC Sedan ($30,395) H6-3.0 VDC Wagon ($31,895) |
|Engines: ||2.5-liter sohc 16-valve flat-4; 3.0-liter dohc 24-valve flat-6 |
|Transmissions: ||5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic |
|Safety equipment (standard): ||Dual-stage front airbags, ABS (standard on all), front side-impact airbags (all but base), traction control (VDC only) |
|Safety equipment (optional): ||N/A |
|Basic warranty: ||3 years/36,000 miles |
|Assembled in: ||Lafayette, Indiana |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): ||Outback H6-3.0 VDC Wagon ($31,895) |
|Standard equipment: ||air conditioning with automatic climate control; McIntosh 200-watt, 11-speaker AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo with weather band; power windows, door locks and mirrors; cruise control; tilt steering; keyless remote entry; dual power moon roofs; leather-trimmed upholstery; Momo wood/leather steering wheel; eight-way power driver's seat; heated front seats and exterior mirrors; Halogen fog lights, front; wiper de-icer |
|Options as tested (MSRP): ||N/A |
|Destination charge: ||($525) |
|Gas guzzler tax: ||N/A |
|Price as tested (MSRP): ||$ 32,390 |
|Layout: ||all-wheel drive |
|Engine: ||3.0-liter dohc 24-valve flat-6 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): ||212 @ 6000 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): ||210 @ 4400 |
|Transmission: ||4-speed automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: ||20/26 mpg |
|Wheelbase: ||104.3 in. |
|Length/width/height: ||187.4/68.7/63.3 in. |
|Track, f/r: ||57.9/57.7 in. |
|Turning circle: ||36.7 ft. |
|Seating capacity: ||5 |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: ||38.5/51.3/43.3 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: ||N/A |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: ||37.2/51.9/34.3 in. |
|Trunk volume: ||68.6 cu. ft. |
|Payload: ||N/A |
|Towing capacity: ||2000 Lbs. |
|Suspension, f: ||Independent |
|Suspension, r: ||Independent |
|Ground clearance: ||7.9 in. |
|Curb weight: ||3715 lbs. |
|Tires: ||P225/60R16 |
|Brakes, f/r: ||disc/disc with ABS |
|Fuel capacity: ||16.9 gal. |
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of June 21, 2001.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-782-2783 - www.subaru.com
Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.