Versus the competiton:
When we tested Subaru’s so-called Sport Utility Sedan last year, we told you we thought it was a silly concept, worthy of that old huckster P.T. Barnum.
Apparently Subaru’s marketing wizards have seen the light, and have rechristened this otherwise competent all-wheel-drive sedan, which gets a substantial redesign for 2000 and a new name: The Outback Limited Sedan.
Subaru has made some notable mechanical improvements to the car, and loaded it up with all kinds of accessories. But is the $26,650 Outback Limited Sedan really superior to the regular Legacy Sedan, which lists for under $20,000?
She: I’ll answer that question right away. Save your money and go for the Legacy with its standard all-wheel drive. Unless you really need such affectations as big fog lights with stone guards and two-tone paint, two features on the Outback. In fact, the Outback reminds me of the Pontiac Montana minivan that masquerades as a sport-ute. Maybe the auto companies have to sugar-coat their practical vehicles to get guys to swallow them. Surely, their wives and significant others aren’t that easily fooled.
He: So are you saying the Outback sedan is aimed at men or women?
He: Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sorry, but I don’t need lower body cladding, oversized bumpers and a jacked-up suspension if I’m in the market for a mid-sized sedan. If I’m looking for a sport-ute, chances are I’m going for a truck, not a passenger car. I really like the idea of having all-wheel drive on my family sedan, but why should I pay a premium for the Outback when I can get a nicely equipped Legacy for several thousand dollars less? Or does that sound too practical and sensible to be coming from a guy?
She: I just saw you out on the driveway admiring the exterior of the Outback. So you sing a different song in print. You love those gold-accented alloy wheels, don’t you?
He: They don’t bother me as much as they bother you. Just because I admire the appearance of the Outback doesn’t necessarily mean I’d be willing to spend nearly 27 grand on one. Haven’t you ever admired a St. John dress in the window at Neiman Marcus? I don’t see one hanging in your closet.
She: Boy, I really hit a nerve. If you are trying to sell people on the Outback, it’s hard to make a case. For 2000, all Subaru vehicles include 24-hour roadside help. So if you can get it on the cheaper Legacy, why bother with the Outback?
He: We both agree. So what’s the argument?
She: Whether this is a guy car or a girl car. It’s a guy car.
He: It’s a good car. Let’s leave sex out of this conversation for once, and talk about nuts and bolts. Like the new multi-link suspension, which improves ride control and comfort. Or the greatly improved cabin, which looks as good as anything Honda or Toyota is doing. I just wish I could order a six-cylinder engine on this car. Even with more low-end torque this year, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder invariably runs out of steam, especially if you’re trying to accelerate and merge with freeway traffic in an automatic-transmission model. On the plus side, our Outback got 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 on the highway. Try to squeeze that kind of mileage out of your SUV.
She: Subaru does tap into the mind set of SUV owners in some ways. Our Outback Limited had great standard features like a weather-band radio, heated front seats and exterior mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. It does make you feel prepared for bad weather. And the safety features are terrific. They include standard front and side air bags and anti-lock brakes. Unfortunately, you can’t get side air bags on a regular Legacy sedan, unless you order the top-of-the-line Limited model.
He: I still don’t know exactly who will buy an Outback Limited sedan. For that kind of money, I’d rather have an Audi A4 Quattro.
She: I’m giving the Outback Limited two stars because I’m not convinced of its appeal or dability. I’m very lukewarm about it. But I guess if you can be mesmerized by its very presence in our driveway, you’d better give it three stars. Poor baby. Fooled again by looks.
2000 Subaru Outback Limited
Anita’s rating: acceptable
Paul’s rating: above average
Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan.
Price: Base, $25,895; as tested, $26,650 (inc. $495 destination charge).
Engine: 2.5-liter 4 cylinder; 165-hp; 166 lb.-ft. torque.
EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/27 mpg highway.
12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,322*
* Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.
Where built: Lafayette, Ind.
What we liked: Love the weather-band radio (Anita); huge trunk; one of the few all-wheel-drive sedans in the mid-size segment; ride and handling on a par with Honda and Toyota; greatly improved cabin.
What we disliked: Sluggish acceleration, especially with automatic transmission; desperately needs a six-cylinder option; fake wood looks really fake; get rid of the gold wheels (Anita); regular Legacy sedan is a better value.