Subaru’s reinvented Outback and Legacy tackle the terrain
January 29, 2010
How do you know you’ve officially stopped being a true mountain person, and turned into one of those loathsome Front Rangers? Simple: You’re the guy stuck on Loveland Pass New Year’s weekend for three hours, “just trying to beat the traffic,” when you could have been chilling at the Goat or passed out on a friend’s couch.
And as I sat there, grating my teeth and cursing my Denver-area mailing address, the only thing that kept me from breaking down in tears was the warm, safe and now quite substantial shelter provided by the all-new 2010 Subaru Outback.
The high country’s most ubiquitous ride (and its sedan sister, the Legacy) both got a total makeover this season and the results are quite impressive – though they may prove a little unnerving to Subaru purists.
In an age when many carmakers have opted to downsize their wares, Subaru has been working to bring its fleet up to 2000s-era American standards, the result being an Outback which is now 2 inches wider, 4 inches taller and has a 3-inch-longer wheelbase, but is actually shorter overall than the car it replaces.
Interior passenger space is up by almost 10 percent; with larger brakes, a built-in roof rack with storable cross rails and 8.7 inches of snow-beating clearance, the Outback now takes on a much more fulsome status (just as we saw happen with the much-less-dorky-looking Forester, which got its own makeover last year).
While Subaru still owns just 2.5 percent of the American car market, the mountains are obviously a huge exception to that rule and so the company is heavily stressing that adventure lifestyle in all of its national ad campaigns – as well as prominently plastering its vehicles with “AWD” badges.
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Not sure if this strategy will fly in the sun belt (I saw a grand total of zero Subarus during my week in south Florida at Christmas), but up here, it just takes a well-known entity and makes it better.
I got to tackle the pass (quite literally) in an Outback sporting a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine, a larger mill borrowed from the Tribeca, and I was suitably impressed by both the 256 horsepower and the 23.5 mpg I got in mixed highway and city use.
There was a little flatness in the acceleration at the very top of the tunnel (it’s not a turbo), but I found it and the mated five-speed automatic (shiftable with wheel-mounted paddles) to be mostly seamless.
Even with company-supplied all-seasons, the symmetrical AWD system kept me absolutely glued to even the worst of roads. At 3,658 pounds, it’s no longer a lightweight vehicle, but the substance and the size felt good; Outback’s growth also results in easier entries and exits and a more commanding view of the road.
With the exception of those new, ungainly body mouldings – Subaru apparently did not see the lack of aesthetic success GM had with them on its old Avalanche truck – the larger, taller-yet-shorter, much-more-angular look is very nice.
A fresh dash and instruments, plus a streamlined center stack, also brighten things; the futuristic-looking shift knob, slightly bioluminescent gauges and the requisite mix of perforated leather and wood paneling makes it all rather pleasant. The apparently nuclear-powered heated seats are even hotter than ever.
A couple of new touches include a new, fully electronic and oddly loud-to-engage parking brake (also found on the Legacy); a new continuously variable “six-speed” transmission is an option.
I also spent time a few weeks later in the reconfigured Legacy (you know, the Subaru sedan that nobody in the mountains buys), and while it’s pleasant-looking and also sporting the whole taller-wider-longer-but-actually-shorter thing, I must admit that I absolutely loathed its base, non-turbo 2.5-liter boxer engine.
Subaru old-schoolers may feel some extra affinity to the gurgling clatter of the boxer (you knew it and you loved it in your Brat), but I found myself frequently parking the Legacy and driving the Suzuki SX4 I had at the same time just to avoid the Legacy’s rototiller engine noise. The Legacy’s six-speed manual, also new, was overly sticky.