This is the Subaru that Paul Hogan doesn't advertise. Yes, it's an Outback. But it's the cute one, not the brawny one. Let me explain. Subaru has two wagons, the smaller Impreza and the larger Legacy. Both are available in Outback
trim. Hogan pitches the larger Legacy version, while the smaller Impreza gets ignored. Too bad. This cute little wagon elicited a lot of double takes and stares. There's an impressive variety of models to the Impreza line, available in front or
all-wheel drive configurations in coupe, sedan or wagon. Lesser Subes come with a 1.8-liter horizontally opposed, single overhead cam four-cylinder engine. Horsepower and torque measure 110. Jump up to the Outback and the engine increases to 2.2 liters
and 135 horses at 5,400 rpm and 140 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. That means if you are headed to the outback (or an unreasonable facsimile) in your Outback, you'll get there faster than you can say "Crocodile Dundee." Plenty of noise will
filter through to the cabin, but handling is decent. The car feels neutral, but there's some body lean in corners. The short length of this car (172 inches, about the size of a Corolla) means this Sube is ideal for scooting through city traffic. Pound
through the potholes and it will be felt. Part of that is because of the short wheelbase, a mere 99 inches. But it's no worse than any small car in this class. Traction from the all-wheel-drive setup is excellent, and anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes
are standard on the Outback, as well as the LX model. They worked as expected, without noticeable fade in stop and go traffic. Suspension is fully independent MacPherson strut at all four corners. Besides the bigger engine and better brakes, Outbacks
get two-tone paint, a roof rack and splash guards. Inside, power windows, locks and mirrors are standard, as is air conditioning. An 80-watt AM/FM cassette stereo provides the entertainment. It's somewhat tinny, but helps to drown out the noise in this
car. If you don't mind the road and tire sound, you'll find the front seats are comfy, clad in a cloth notable more for its durability than elegance. The plastic dash sweeps door-to-door, with a center console housing the stereo and climate controls.
The effective, albeit noisy, climate control consists of three rotary dials -- big, simple and easy to use. The low-mounted stereo is also easy to use, although the buttons are minuscule. The cupholders are hard to find, but work well once discovered.
There's no console bin, but there are a couple of nooks and crannies for storage, including coin slots and a visor strap for turnpike tickets. The bucket seats offer decent support, although thigh support is somewhat lacking. Headroom is good all
around, while backseat leg room depends on how nice the front seat passengers are. Cargo room is excellent for a small wagon. It opens to a roomy 62.1 cubic feet with the seats folde
d. There's a plastic tray in the back to prevent any sloppy freight from spreading and staining the cargo bay. Assembly quality overall was average, with a couple of small rattles punctuating the interior. Safety was well taken care of, with the
anti-lock brakes dual airbags, adjustable seat belts and 5-mph bumpers. The Impreza also meets 1997 side impact standards. So what we have here is as unusual a vehicle as you can get these days: a small wagon with all-wheel drive, lots of cargo
carrying capabilities, and the good looks to stand apart from the crowd. Add to that decent handling and reasonable all-wheel drive fuel economy, and you have a car that deserves its own commercial. Are you listening, Mr. Hogan? Impreza Outback
Wagon AWD Standard: Dual airbags, all-wheel drive, four-channel anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, 2.2-liter single overhead cam horizontally opposed engine, five-speed manual transmission, distributorless ignition, variable pow
r steering, four-wheel independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars, 185/70HR14 all-season radial tires, Outback wheel covers, two-tone paint, air-conditioning, power door locks and side-view mirrors, power windows with driver's auto-down,
80-watt AM/FM cassette deck, intermittent wipers, rear wiper/washer, ignition off-headlights off system, rear cargo cover and cargo tray, 60/40 split rear seat, roof rack, splash guards, rear bumper step pad. Options: Four-speed automatic transmission
Base price: $17,595 As tested: $18,890 EPA rating: 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway Test mileage: 25 mpg.