Talk about upward mobility! When Subaru introduced its first Impreza Outback wagon/car/SUV in 1994, it was a relatively basic crossover vehicle distinguished primarily by its all-wheel driving system.

Exterior design of that original model, to put it mildly, was eclectic -- a diverse mixture of the ugly and modestly cute that appealed to ascetics and reverse snobs.

The interior was Kmart-stylish in a deep-discount sort of way. There was nothing about it to make you want to stay inside a second longer than you needed to be on the road.

By 1997, Subaru had heard enough of those complaints. It gave the Impreza Outback several upgrades, including a new name, the Outback Sport. The little crossmobile received an improved engine and suspension, improved interior materials, more comfortable seats, and more consistent exterior styling.

In the latter category, it was no longer eclectic. It was either perfectly ugly or cuddly cute, depending on your perception of beauty.

Now, for 2002, Subaru has done it again. It says it has "completely redesigned" the Outback Sport, though it is easy to argue with the company's definition of "complete." Subaru, as happens with other automakers, uses "completely redesigned" to describe a substantially reworked vehicle that also includes some carry-over components from previous models.

But the new Outback Sport is discernibly different from its predecessor. It has a larger, more comfortable interior, outfitted with more attractive plastics (trim painted to resemble aluminum) and better fabrics (medium-gray woven cloth upholstery, in this case).

There are more standard amenities, including a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area, a cargo-area light and four tie-down hooks, carpeted floor mats, cruise control and fog lights.

But the biggest change is under the hood, where Subaru installed a horizontally opposed, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 165 horsepower. The new engine replaces a 2.2-liter, 144-horsepower boxer-four.

The engine change is notable for another reason. The Subaru Impreza and its initial derivatives were conceived as economy rides. But consumers, perhaps seduced by low gasoline prices, demanded more power. Subaru could have done what some might regard as the environmentally noble thing and refused to give in to those consumer demands. Competitors doubtless would have taken advantage of that refusal, as indicated by power upgrades in models such as the 2002 Honda CR-V crossover vehicle.

Companies are in business to make profits, not policy. Politicians are charged with policymaking. It would be smart of the politicians to start with a serious analysis of why consumers choose the vehicles they choose. To do otherwise is to come up with policies that are both senseless and ineffective.

Please pardon the lecture. The bottom line is that the new Outback Sport is a comp etitive entry in the increasingly competitive crossover vehicle market. Even its exterior styling, accented by lovable, bug-eyed oval headlamps, is attractive. It will definitely get more buyers than some politicians will get votes in the upcoming congressional elections.