At Subaru, the Outback is a quasi-sport utility vehicle version of the compact Legacy, which is the companys larger series. Known as sport utility wagons, all of these Outback variants of the Legacy feature SUV-like styling cues and a higher ground clearance.
GMs OnStar communication system is a new standard feature for all Outback H6-3.0 models in 2003. In addition, every Outback gets freshened front-end styling and front-suspension modifications. Outback Limited and H6-3.0 models gain an in-dash six-CD changer.
Seven sedan and wagon versions of the Outback are available. They include the H6-3.0 sedan, H6-3.0 L.L. Bean Edition wagon, and H6-3.0 VDC sedan and wagon. All H6-3.0 models use 3.0-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engines that produce 210 horsepower. Flagship VDC editions feature Subarus Vehicle Dynamic Control electronic stability system and Variable Torque Distribution all-wheel drive (AWD). Three H4 Outbacks with four-cylinder engines round out the list.
Equipped with AWD, the Legacy and its Outback companion were last redesigned for 2000 and rank as Subarus most popular series. Most Legacy sales are for wagons, notably the SUV-like Outback. The Outback and Legacy are Subarus only domestically built models.
Outback sedans ride a 104.3-inch wheelbase and measure 184.4 inches long overall, vs. 187.4 inches for wagons. The Outback sedan has 7.3 inches of ground clearance far more than other models and stands 58.3 inches high, compared to 55.7 inches for the regular Legacy sedan. Outback H6-3.0 models have 7.9-inch ground clearance.
Subaru says the Outback is suitable for light offroad travel. The Outback sedan borrows some of the Outback wagons styling cues, which include bigger front fenders, lower-body cladding, large fog lights and two-tone paint.
Seating for five occupants is possible with the Outbacks front buckets and rear three-place bench. The center rear position has a three-point seat belt. The rear seatback does not fold for additional cargo space, but there is a small pass-thru section into the trunk. Trunk capacity totals 12.4 cubic feet.
Gauges have new silver trim rings. The Outback Limited sedan has a standard six-way power drivers seat, air conditioning, CD player and dual-mode heated front seats. Outback H6-3.0 vehicles have automatic climate control, an eight-way power drivers seat and a Momo-designed leather-wrapped steering wheel, which is crafted in mahogany wood.
The Outback Limited has leather-trimmed upholstery and a 100-watt stereo with a six-CD changer. The Outback H6-3.0 models have automatic climate control, an eight-way power drivers seat and a Momo-designed leather-wrapped steering wheel thats crafted in mahogany wood. The Outback H6-3.0 VDC gets a 200-watt McIntosh audio system. In addition to perforated beige leather upholstery, the L.L. Bean Edition includes special trim.
Under the Hood
In the Outback Limited sedan, Subarus 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine sends 165 hp to a standard four-speed-automatic transmission. Outback H6-3.0 sedans use a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that produces 212 hp. A manual gearbox is available only in four-cylinder wagons. Every Subaru has AWD; three AWD systems are available, depending on the model.
Antilock brakes are standard. Outback Limited and Outback H6-3.0 sedans have seat-mounted side-impact airbags to protect front occupants.
With its AWD lineup, Subaru occupies a unique niche in the compact-car market. Promising sufficient interior space for a small family, the Outback, like its Legacy counterpart, is a competent sedan that offers more than just all-season traction. Performance is sufficiently strong even with four-cylinder power, helped by a smooth-operating automatic transmission. The Outback is easy to drive anywhere, and its stable on the highway.
The Outback sedan or wagon adds extra advantages over the Legacy for driving on less-than-perfect roads, and it makes a satisfying alternative to an SUV. It is well assembled and yields a solid feel on the road. On the negative side, a rather stiff suspension means the Outbacks ride can become harsh even jarring on urban pavement, but its pleasant enough for highway travel.