Subarus most popular model line was redesigned last year, and for 2001 gains two new upscale versions of the Outback wagon with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine.
Like Subarus four-cylinder engines, the new 3.0-liter six-cylinder has horizontally opposed cylinders instead of an inline or V-configuration. The new engine produces 212 horsepower, versus 165 hp from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder used in other Legacy and Outback models.
The new six-cylinder engine resides in the H6-3.0 VDC and L.L. Bean Edition luxury versions of the Outback wagon. This is the first partnership with a car company for clothier and outdoor outfitter L.L. Bean.
The Legacy line includes sedans and wagons, plus Outback versions of both that have SUV styling cues and higher ground clearance. All Subarus come with all-wheel drive, and the Outback wagon is the most popular Legacy model. Launched as a 1995 model and billed as the worlds first sport utility wagon, the Outback has led a sales resurgence at Subaru and encouraged other manufacturers to offer similar car-based vehicles with AWD and SUV attributes.
All Legacy and Outback wagons have a 104.3-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 187.4 inches, about 3.5 inches longer than the Volkswagen Passat wagon. Outback models differ from the Legacy wagon with chip-resistant lower body cladding, two-tone paint, a standard roof rack and larger fog lights. The Outbacks also ride on larger 16-inch-diameter tires instead of 15-inchers.
Outback models have 7.3 inches of ground clearance, 1.2 inches more than the Legacy wagon, and Subaru says they are suited for light offroad travel.
All models seat five, and the center rear position has a three-point seat belt. An integral safety seat for children who weigh between 20 and 40 pounds is optional on the base Outback. Cargo volume is 34 cubic feet behind the rear seat. Folding the 60/40 split, rear seat doubles the volume to 68 cubic feet.
An 80-watt sound system with a cassette player is standard on the Legacy wagon and base Outback. The Outback Limited adds a standard CD player, the L.L. Bean Edition includes a premium system with a single-disc CD player and the H6-3.0 VDC model has a 200-watt McIntosh audio system with 11 speakers.
The L.L. Bean Edition includes two-tone leather seats, a mahogany-leather steering wheel, special interior and exterior trim, and free maintenance for three years a perk not available on other models.
Under the Hood
The Legacy, the base Outback and the Outback Limited all use Subarus 165-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a four-speed automatic is optional on all models except the Outback Limited, which comes with the automatic only.
The new 212-hp six-cylinder engine is exclusive to the L.L. Bean and VDC models. VDC stands for Vehicle Dynamics Control, a lateral-skid control system included in a new all-wheel-drive system. VDC senses impending loss of control and then applies the brakes and apportions power among the wheels accordingly.
In addition to all-wheel drive, antilock brakes are standard on all models. The Outback Limited, H6-3.0 VDC and L.L. Bean models also have side-impact airbags for the front seats.
The Outback is a capable wagon that offers great traction and better fuel economy than any truck-based SUV. It lacks the room and offroad ability of a full-fledged SUV, but it costs less and rides and handles like a car, not a truck.
Though the new six-cylinder engine delivers more spirited acceleration than the four-cylinder, it is available in models that start at just under $30,000 right in the heart of midsize SUV territory.