Used 2002 Subaru Outback Review

A versatile alternative to mainstream wagons and SUVs.

what's new

Subaru has expanded the availability of its new 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine to the Outback sedan. The result is two additional sedan trim levels: 3.0-H6 and 3.0-H6 VDC. Minor upgrades to all trim levels this year include a dome light off-delay, an ignition switch illumination ring and wood grain-patterned door switch trim. Cars with the Vehicle Dynamics Control system now have a button to turn the system off, and sedans receive an internal trunk release. The automatic climate control system is upgraded with an air filtration system.

vehicle overview

What recipe does an automotive manufacturer use to boost 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 the Subaru Outback. Available in either wagon or sedan form, the Legacy-based Outback is Subaru's answer to the question: Why would anyone want to drive an ill-handling, gas-guzzling, difficult-to-park SUV? With standard all-wheel drive, aggressive styling, a heavy-duty raised suspension 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 off-road situations without losing an oil pan or cracking a differential.

Subaru has expanded the Outback's model lineup this year. There are now five different trim levels: base, Limited, H6-3.0, H6-3.0 L.L.Bean Edition and H6-3.0 VDC. Powering the base and Limited models is a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine producing 165 horsepower. Power is adequate with this engine, but those planning on frequent hauling of people and cargo will likely want the more powerful 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine. Like the four-cylinder, it's horizontally opposed, and it brews up 212 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission offered with the larger engine is a four-speed automatic transmission.

The H6-3.0 cars have even higher levels of standard equipment. Highlights include special 16-inch alloy wheels, a limited-slip rear differential, a mahogany wood and leather steering wheel, automatic climate control with an air filtration system, an eight-way power driver seat and a rearseat center armrest. The L.L.Bean Edition, so named because of a marketing partnership with the active-lifestyle clothing maker, comes standard with special two-tone leather seating and a security system. The H6-3.0 VDC comes with Subaru's stability control system, called Vehicle Dynamics Control, as well as leather seating and an impressive McIntosh 11-speaker audio system.

Thanks to the AWD system, the Subaru is sure-footed on both dry and wet roads. The H6-3.0 VDC, with its stability control system, is even more so. A tight, responsive steering rack, along with a decent-riding suspension, allow Outback owners to overtake SUV owners quickly when the road gets twisty. In wagon form, the Outback can hold about as much cargo as an SUV; with the rear seats folded down, 68.6 cubic feet of cargo can be stored.

In 1999, people complained that the Outback didn't have enough power. So in 2000, Subaru answered with the bigger H6 engine. Problem was, it only came in the pricey L.L.Bean and VDC models. With the introduction of the cheaper H6-3.0 sedan for 2001, it would seem Subaru continues to listen.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.