We kept checking the Farmer’s Almanac and the skies, hoping that a big snowstorm would help us evaluate the 2002 Subaru Legacy Outback H6-3.0 all-wheel-drive sedan. No snow, but black ice coating the roads drove the point home about this Japanese-designed, American-built car.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to its billing. This new edition of the Legacy Outback is basically a cheaper, stripped-down version of last year’s model — minus the vehicle dynamics control system, a feature we sorely missed on slippery roads. Lack of VDC would have been more palatable had we felt our $28,520 test car was a solid value. But next to competitors like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, it’s only middle of the road.
He: I love the idea of an affordable mid-size sedan with all-wheel drive. Unfortunately, this is not it. In most other respects, the Legacy Outback sedan is a pretty competent product that’s loaded with features, from standard heated seats with leather upholstery to a power moonroof. And yet, for nearly $30,000, the Legacy Outback sedan is lacking some basic amenities — small things like a cargo net in the trunk, which would have kept my groceries from rolling around, and a trunk opener on the keyless remote fob. On the upside, this Subaru comes with such great features as a weather-band radio, an air filtration system, and a heavy-duty suspension that gives you nearly eight inches of ground clearance.
She: Wow — I’m so PROUD that you went grocery shopping!!! So that’s what happens when I go out of town.
He: Honey, I have a confession. I forgot to pick up the dog doo.
She: And empty the wastebaskets and the dishwasher. But you are making progress. Too bad I can’t say the same about Subaru. In so many ways, this 2002 model seems like a step backwards. I am struck by how dated it looks. It seems like all the hot new products — I’m thinking of things like the Toyota Matrix and the Pontiac Vibe — have a monochromatic, cladding-free look. Our test car was red pearl with titanium-color cladding. That’s last year’s look. I had problems with the car, both on sunny days and in bad weather. Yesterday, I took it out in the afternoon and the bright sunshine obscured the digital readouts on the dash. Not a critical problem, but I had to guess which radio station I was hearing. And when we went out on Saturday night, we were slipping and sliding on ice.
He: I was reminded that all-wheel drive is not the be-all and end-all for winter driving when we went around a corner and hit a patch of black ice. The rear end started to swing out, and I just barely caught and corrected it. A stability control system, like the one on the more expensive Legacy Outback VDC edition, would have made this maneuver a no-brainer. Other than that, it’s reassuring to have all-wheel drive in Michigan winter. Our test vehicle also handled well, although the turning circle seems unusually wide, which can make parking in tight spaces a bit of a c hore.
She: We had a difference of opinion on the seating position. You felt like your head was in the ceiling and you couldn’t get the driver’s seat low enough for comfort. I missed the command seating position I’ve come to expect on most four-wheel-drive products, including a lot of the crossovers. What I did like about this Subaru is that it tries hard to be the quintessential cold-weather car.
He: With stability control, Subaru could probably make that claim. But you know what? Give me a Camry or an Accord with a V-6 engine and stability control, and I can get just about anywhere the Legacy Outback will go. Speaking of engines, the 3.0-liter opposed six-cylinder engine in the Subaru is peppy enough when you build up the rpms. But there seems to be a bit of a throttle lag when you first accelerate, which is a disconcerting feeling.
She: Our test vehicle had no options and standard items included front and side air bags, plus four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock. S ou do get peace of mind with the Subaru’s safety features.
He: And here I always thought peace of mind meant making the bed and picking up the dirty laundry before your spouse gets back to town.
Anita’s rating: (Acceptable)
Paul’s rating: (Above average)
Likes: Aims to be quintessential cold-weather car. Standard weather-band radio and heated seats. All-wheel drive. Good safety features, including side air bags, ABS. Gorgeous Momo wood-and-leather steering wheel.
Dislikes: Two-tone styling and body cladding look outdated. No cargo net in trunk. Can’t lower driver’s seat enough (Paul). No command seating (Anita). Fake wood looks fake. Can’t see digital dashboard readout in sun. Overpriced vs. Camry and Accord. Stability control costs extra.
Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan.
Price: Base, $27,995; as tested, $28,520 (inc. $525 destination charge).
Engine: 3.0-liter O-6; 212-hp; 210 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,403 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
Where built: Lafayette, Ind.