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A versatile alternative to mainstream wagons and SUVs.
The security of all-wheel drive, comfortable on pavement, capable on dirt.
Could use more power, still not an SUV in terms of pure off-road capability.
As with the Legacy platform it's based on, Subaru's hot-selling Outback is completely redesigned for the millennium.
What recipe does an automotive manufacturer use to boost sagging sales? Ask any Subaru executive and she'll tell you to take one part popular Australian movie star and one part advanced all-wheel-drive system. Stir in an undercurrent of SUV backlash with a dash of resurgence in the station wagon market, and behold: The perfect environment for a totally new Subaru Outback. Available in either wagon or sedan form, the Outback is Subaru's answer to the question: Why would anyone want to drive an ill-handling, gas-guzzling, difficult to park SUV? With 7.3 inches of ground clearance, standard all-wheel drive and a base price in the low 20s, the Outback offers on-road practicality with off-road capability at a bargain price. While no match for the likes of Jeep's Grand Cherokee or Toyota's Land Cruiser in terms of hill climbing, the Outback can hold its own in light to moderate off-road situations without losing an oil pan or cracking a differential.
A Phase II 2.5-liter, 16-valve, 165-horsepower boxer engine powers both Outback models. By reconfiguring the engine's valvetrain, Subaru squeezed a bit more torque from the 2.5-liter, upping the total to 166 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm. All models come with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The Outback Wagon and Outback Limited Sedan come with both the four-speed automatic and Subaru's Active All-Wheel Drive that can transfer power to the wheels that need it even before slippage occurs.
Additionally, all Outbacks receive four-wheel disc brakes, ABS, protective lower body cladding, a heavy-duty four-wheel independent suspension, and 24-hour roadside assistance as standard equipment. Opt for the Outback wagon and you'll also get a 60/40 split folding rear seat, keyless entry, a 12-volt cargo area power outlet, a rear wiper/washer, and breakaway power side-view mirrors. Limited models, in sedan or wagon configuration, get leather upholstery, heated seats, a CD player, and a power moonroof (dual moonroofs on the wagon). Safety was another area where Subaru refused to skimp. The new Outback models feature a "Ring-Shaped Reinforcement" body structure for maximum protection against frontal, offset, side and rear impacts. Side beams in both the front and rear doors further enhance side-impact protection, but, regrettably, only the Limited models come with side airbags. These structural enhancements not only boost safety but also improve the Outback's torsional strength by 20 percent. Combined with the new multi-link rear suspension and rubber-isolated subframe, the sedans and wagons offer superior handling and reduced road noise compared to last year's models.
We like the fact that Subaru offers a viable alternative to the SUV. The Outback proves that safety, style and all-weather traction can be had in a non-truck-based vehicle, and at a reasonable price. Now if we could just get one of their turbocharged engines from Japan over here.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.