What's New for 1997
Front-wheel-drive models are given the ax as Subaru returns to its all-wheel drive roots. Power and torque are up marginally with the base 2.2-liter engine. The 2.5-liter motor (also stronger this year and now available with a manual transmission) is now the only engine mated to the Outback. L models gain cruise control, antilock brakes and power door locks as standard equipment. GTs get a manual transmission, larger tires and revised styling. The Outback lineup is expanded with the introduction of a Limited model, which includes a leather interior, new alloy wheels, fresh exterior colors and wood grain interior trim.
Recently, Subaru decided to distance itself from mainstream automakers by emphasizing all-wheel drive models. A wise move, since loyal Subaru buyers stick with the brand, partially because of the wide variety of AWD models in the company's stable. In the early 90s, the company attempted to steal market share from Nissan, Toyota, Honda and Mazda. The campaign failed dismally.
These days, Subaru is enjoying rising success in the United States, in part due to consumer awareness of the safety benefits of all-wheel drive vehicles, and in part because of the popularity of the sport-utility vehicle. In 1996, Subaru introduced a jacked-up, duded-out edition of the hot-selling Legacy station wagon. Called the Outback, it was sold as the world's first sport-utility wagon. Evidently, Subaru marketing gurus, like much of the buying public, have forgotten the AMC Eagle Sportwagon of the early '80s.
The Outback is leading the way again for 1997. Subaru has added leather seats, woodgrain trim, and gold badging to this popular wagon, creating the Limited Edition. All that's missing now is the vinyl woody siding. All Outbacks are equipped with a 2.5-liter engine this year, including those equipped with manual transmissions. We've driven the Outback, and were impressed by its on-road handling and off-road capability. Great family vehicle. We recommend it.
However, we also like the 2.5GT. Available in sedan or wagon format, the 2.5GT finally gets a much needed manual transmission. Also new for 1997 is revised styling, more horsepower and torque, and larger tires. Lesser but still loaded LSi models only come with an automatic transmission, and are more luxury than sport oriented.
Bargains can be had in the Legacy lineup. The L model moves up to fill the gap left by the departed LS model. Cruise control, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and power door locks make their way onto the standard equipment list for 1997. The real deal is the Brighton Wagon. With all-wheel drive, an 80-watt sound system, and air conditioning all standard, this wagon is priced much less than most other two-wheel drive wagons on the market. Add some alloy wheels, and nobody will know it's the cheapest model in the lineup. Unfortunately, ABS is not available on the Brighton.
Subaru has a good thing going with the Legacy, which offers a little something for everyone. Roomy, comfortable, and loaded with utility, the Legacy's standard all-wheel drive should make you think twice about that Taurus, Accord or Camry.