2003 Subaru Outback Review


Pros & Cons

  • The security of all-wheel drive, comfortable on pavement, capable on dirt, well-appointed interior.
  • Not as capable as an SUV in terms of pure off-road capability or interior volume, four-cylinder models lack verve, upscale models are expensive.
List Price Estimate
$1,275 - $2,958

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Edmunds' Expert Review

A versatile alternative to mainstream wagons and crossover SUVs.

Vehicle overview

Introduction: Regular readers will know we've been fans of the Outback since its inception. Little did Subaru know that back in 1995, when the tiny Japanese automaker introduced a gussied-up Legacy Wagon called the Outback, that it was about to revolutionize the way Americans thought of sport-utility vehicles. Essentially a trim package that included gray tape, white-lettered tires and a catchy name, the Outback became a phenomenon in 1996 after it was billed "The World's First Sport-Utility Wagon."

That's the year Subaru raised the suspension, added large headlight-size foglights, boosted power and tacked on more substantial SUV design cues like an optional metal bar on the tailgate and a raised roof section aft of the front seats. Further improvements during successive years included the addition of a leather-lined Limited model, dual sunroofs and powertrain refinements.

No doubt you also recall past commercials for the Outback wagon. Good 'ol Crocodile Dundee (Aussie actor Paul Hogan), flails an Outback through Australia's Outback, outrunning the bad guys. Admittedly, the advertising never showed this Subaru traversing any seriously rough terrain, but the message was simple: The Legacy Outback will outrun the competition when the pavement disappears because it's actually a tall, nimble car rather than a bulky, overweight truck.

With responsive handling, a choice of a flat-four or flat-six engine, a well-appointed interior and oodles of sheer chutzpah, the 2003 Subaru Outback is one of our preferred crossover vehicles. Furthermore, it has a solid reputation for durability and quality. Recent entries from Honda and Toyota (the Pilot and Highlander, specifically) have eclipsed the Outback in terms of versatility, but the Subaru is still certainly worth considering.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: Like the Legacy that it's based on, the Outback is available as a sedan or a wagon. There are seven different versions: base wagon, a Limited sedan and wagon, an H6-3.0 sedan, an H6-3.0 L.L. Bean Edition wagon and an H6-3.0 VDC sedan or wagon. Even the base and Limited models have a high level of standard equipment, including air conditioning, a six-way power driver seat, heated front seats and side mirrors, cruise control, a CD player and keyless entry. The Limited also features dual power moonroofs (just one on the sedan), upgraded audio and leather upholstery.

Above and beyond the Limited, the H6 models automatic climate control, an air filtration system, an eight-way power driver seat and woodgrain-pattered trim. Order an L.L. Bean Edition, and you'll also get special leather trim and a three-year scheduled maintenance package. The VDC sedan and wagon come with Subaru's stability control system, called Vehicle Dynamics Control, as well as an impressive McIntosh audio system.

Powertrains and Performance: Every Outback comes with standard all-wheel drive. Powering the base and Limited models is a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine producing 165 horsepower. Acceleration is barely adequate with this engine; 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. The only transmission offered with the larger engine is a four-speed automatic.


Interior Design and Special Features: Cabin aesthetics have never been one of Subaru's strong points, but substantial improvements over the past few years in both design and material quality have turned the Outback into a legitimate near-luxury contender. The wood trim is convincing, the leather is supple and there's plenty of soft-touch material where it's needed. The rear seat is comfortable, but three adults will find it very cramped. In wagon form, the Outback can hold about as much cargo as an SUV; with the rear seats folded down, there's 68.6 cubic feet of room available.

Driving Impressions: 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, allows Outback owners to overtake SUV owners quickly when the road gets twisty. While no match against SUVs like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or Nissan Xterra 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.

2003 Highlights

Only minor changes have been made to the 2003 Subaru Outback. All models have freshened front-end styling and revised front struts. The struts feature internal rebound springs that are said to reduce body roll when cornering, as well as brake dive. In terms of features, the four-cylinder powered Outbacks gain the formerly optional All-Weather Package as standard equipment. The base Outback now has a standard CD player, and Outback Limiteds have an upgraded audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. All six-cylinder Outbacks now have the OnStar communications system. Finally, the Outback H-6 3.0 VDC's premium McIntosh audio system has been fitted with an in-dash six-disc CD changer.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 2003 Subaru Outback.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Its taken me to the moon..now I want to come back
Ok. So I am a died in the wool subaru fan but will make no bones about the fact that the H4 (2.5 liter models during these years and current models) have a BOATLOAD of head gasket problems. Their failure rate is very high. I happen to be lucky enough to have the 3.0 H6. I have just about 270k now and it still runs great and burns no oil. I maintain it well and do all the maintenance repairs myself. Have had no major repairs as of yet.
Head Gasket built to fail
it started off as Beautiful Relationship. but the honeymoon ended quickly. 1st the Air conditioner dropped to about 10% output, then the Brakes needed a complete remake, rotors pads fluid, all went bad, then the radio, and now after only 40K the Head Gasket is leaking. This is a "known" problem and there have been many recalls but when i contacted Subaru they took the position of," it's 1yr out of warranty". i agreed, but anyone who knows anything about cars knows a 40K engine should never have a HG failure. Subaru makes TERRIBLE Head Gaskets, look it up on-line BEFORE you buy one. the 1 piece of misleading information out there is that many more HGs have failed than have been written about!
Nice car, be good to it and will probably be good to you.
We have owned this car for about 5 years,bought the car with 60k and have put a little over 100k on it. The car has been quite an investment to buy and service but has never left us stranded.Head gaskets were replaced shortly after purchase under warranty and have been fine since. I was told subarus can be considered a specialty vehicle and I agree as they are built different than a lot of cars. Still starts right up,shifts smoothly,rides nice. If you are hard on your vehicle and used to putting very little money into it in the meantime, probably not for you.
Big Dissapointment
I purchased this car new and have had nothing but COST. At 36,000 it had a leaking head and it was pulled out and fixed, then it was the timing belt at 50,00 miles. Something wrong with it all the time. At 77,000 BOTH heads was leaking again & pulled resurfaced. Heater not working & fixed. When contacting SUBRAU they wanted all servicing recordss. I got the packet together of services & plus ALL fixes.. We waited A MONTH- called many times. My hubby called them and They wouldnt do a thing for me !!! One statement why was I didnt have the car serviced all the time from a Subrau dealer - we were very upset and never a SUBRAU again!

Features & Specs

19 city / 26 hwy
Seats 5
4-speed automatic
165 hp @ 5600 rpm
17 city / 23 hwy
Seats 5
4-speed automatic
212 hp @ 6000 rpm
19 city / 26 hwy
Seats 5
4-speed automatic
165 hp @ 5600 rpm
18 city / 25 hwy
Seats 5
5-speed manual
165 hp @ 5600 rpm
See all Used 2003 Subaru Outback features & specs


NHTSA Overall Rating

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    DriverNot Rated
    PassengerNot Rated
  • Side Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
  • Side Barrier Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver5 / 5
    Passenger5 / 5
  • Combined Side Barrier & Pole Ratings
    Front SeatNot Rated
    Back SeatNot Rated
  • Rollover
    Rollover4 / 5
    Dynamic Test ResultNo Tip
    Risk Of RolloverNot Rated

More about the 2003 Subaru Outback

Used 2003 Subaru Outback Overview

The Used 2003 Subaru Outback is offered in the following submodels: Outback Sedan, Outback Wagon. Available styles include AWD 4dr Wagon (2.5L 4cyl 4A), L.L. Bean Edition AWD 4dr Wagon (3.0L 6cyl 4A), Limited AWD 4dr Wagon (2.5L 4cyl 4A), AWD 4dr Wagon (2.5L 4cyl 5M), H6-3.0 AWD 4dr Sedan (3.0L 6cyl 4A), VDC AWD 4dr Sedan (3.0L 6cyl 4A), VDC AWD 4dr Wagon (3.0L 6cyl 4A), Limited AWD 4dr Sedan (2.5L 4cyl 4A), AWD 4dr Wagon w/Premium Audio System (2.5L 4cyl 4A), Limited AWD 4dr Wagon (2.5L 4cyl 5M), AWD 4dr Wagon w/Premium Audio System (2.5L 4cyl 5M), and H6-3.0 AWD 4dr Wagon (3.0L 6cyl 4A).

What's a good price on a Used 2003 Subaru Outback?

Shop with Edmunds for perks and special offers on used cars, trucks, and SUVs near Ashburn, VA. Doing so could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Edmunds also provides consumer-driven dealership sales and service reviews to help you make informed decisions about what cars to buy and where to buy them.

Which used 2003 Subaru Outbacks are available in my area?

Shop Edmunds' car, SUV, and truck listings of over 6 million vehicles to find a cheap new, used, or certified pre-owned (CPO) 2003 Subaru Outback for sale near. Simply research the type of car you're interested in and then select a used car from our massive database to find cheap prew-owned vehicles for sale near you. Once you have identified a used vehicle you're interested in, check the AutoCheck vehicle history reports, read dealer reviews, and find out what other owners paid for the Used 2003 Subaru Outback.

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Find a used Subaru Outback for sale - 8 great deals out of 11 listings starting at $9,602.

Find a used Subaru for sale - 5 great deals out of 13 listings starting at $8,645.

Find a used certified pre-owned Subaru Outback for sale - 8 great deals out of 11 listings starting at $17,576.

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Should I lease or buy a 2003 Subaru Outback?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

Check out Subaru lease specials
Check out Subaru Outback lease specials