2003 Subaru Outback

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$18,895

starting MSRP

2003 Subaru Outback

Key specs

Base trim shown

Overview

6 trims

Starting msrp listed lowest to highest price

Wondering which trim is right for you?

Our 2003 Subaru Outback trim comparison will help you decide.

2003 Subaru Outback review: Our expert's take

By

The verdict:

Versus the competiton:

Some circles should be broken. The Subaru H6-3.0 Outback sedan is proof. It is the unfortunate progeny of a trend in which cars became pickup trucks in the manner of the 1959 Chevrolet El Camino — then pickup trucks became sport-utility vehicles, SUVs became hybrid wagon/truck/minivans and hybrid wagon/truck/minivans became sedans.

In the case of the H6-3.0 Outback sedan, both the tested 2002 and slightly changed 2003 version, the result is an ugly car that rides like a truck.

I can put it no other way.

The car is ugly, square, confused, stylistically injured. Its face says SUV. Its side panels, including its egregious lower-body cladding, say pickup truck. Its boxy rear end bespeaks the severest form of automotive celibacy. I wish that Subaru had left this one alone, had left it as God intended it to be — a wagon/SUV with modest off-road and excellent all-weather driving capabilities.

The Outback was and remains desirable as a wagon/SUV. In that form, it has commodious cargo volume, up to 34.3 cubic feet, compared with a relatively paltry 12.4 cubic feet for the sedan. Its 7.9-inch ground clearance befits its standing and handling as an all-wheel-drive wagon/SUV. That means you expect it to dip and sway a bit in the curves.

But the identical ground clearance in the sedan version can get you into trouble if you take a curve too fast. The acceptable dip and sway in the wagon/SUV threatens to become a dip-sway-skid in the 2002 sedan, for example. Subaru is apparently aware of this, because the company is using new front struts with internal rebound springs to help reduce body roll in the 2003 model.

It truly pains me to write these things. Regular readers of this column know that I like Subaru and have often hailed its many virtues. But the simple fact is that the H6-3.0 Outback sedan is disappointing. It’s like watching an A student turn into a dropout candidate. In such a circumstance, the shocked observer must grab any straw of hope available. Luckily, the H6-3.0 Outback sedan has more than a few.

The engine is the soul of any car, and the Outback sedan, in that regard, has a very good soul. It is a 3-liter (thus the “3.0” part of the car’s name), horizontally opposed (thus the “H”), 24-valve six-cylinder engine that produces 212 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 210 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. Power delivery is smooth. The car has no trouble accelerating when it must.

Also, Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system remains the best in the business, and it does not lose that distinction in the Outback sedan. I ran into very little rain during my week in the 2002 H6-3.0 Outback. But a little rain on a highway packed with months of grease and grime can be a very dangerous thing. Just enough water falls to mix with the oil and dirt and bring the slippery mess to the surface, turning the affected highway into a skid pad. When that hap pened on one of my Outback sedan drives, I was happy to be in the car, which suddenly seemed beautiful. The all-wheel-drive system, effortlessly shifting power from slipping to gripping wheels, worked perfectly.

The Outback sedan can be saved. Subaru only needs to do to the car’s body and its corner-handling characteristics what it’s done to its soul.

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.3
  • Interior design 4.4
  • Performance 4.3
  • Value for the money 4.3
  • Exterior styling 4.2
  • Reliability 4.4

Most recent consumer reviews

3.9

Expectation

I say this car is very nice mine has 283,000 miles and still wants to run but the only issue is 02 sensor but even with that problem man it's still one hell of a vehicle

4.7

Ridiculously reliable

It turns 17 years old this year and has been amazingly reliable. Granted it only has 97,000 miles, but I'm still very pleased with the minimal repairs I've had to do on it: an exhaust sensor went up, had to replace the speakers, a CVT joint needed replacing, and something regarding a spark plug. The only persistent problem I have is the bulb in the left headlight likes to burn out more frequently than it should.

5.0

Very Reliable - just flipped 250,000

Excellent value. Subaru service is excellent, and I expect I will probably get at least another 50,000 from this wagon. This is my second outback wagon, and I use it for commuting, road trips, camping, getting around town, etc. This car has never let me down or left me stranded.

See all 31 consumer reviews

Warranty

New car and Certified Pre-Owned programs by Subaru
Certified Pre-Owned program benefits
Maximum age/mileage
5 years/80,000 miles
Basic warranty terms
Coverage available for purchase
Powertrain
7 years/100,000
Dealer certification required
152-point inspection
Roadside assistance
Yes
View all cpo program details

Have questions about warranties or CPO programs?

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