2001 Subaru Outback
    MSRP
    $22,895 - $31,895
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    2001 Subaru Outback Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    Having it both ways.

    Introduction

    Sustained, higher gas prices can take the wind out of SUV sales, causing buyers to consider their options. The search for sport-utility alternatives is leading many to look at crossover vehicles, and the Subaru Outback wagons are a prime example. Part small station wagon, part sport-utility, these hybrids make a lot of sense for a lot of people. They offer many of the virtues of an SUV-four-wheel drive and cargo capacity-while avoiding their vices-wallet-sapping gas mileage and daunting dimensions. 

    Subaru is no stranger to this turf. The company has a long history of building small, economical wagons and is a world leader in all-wheel-drive expertise. 

    For 2001, Subaru showcases its latest performance and technology in the new Outback H6-3.0 VDC. This new flagship model features an all-new 3.0-liter H6 six-cylinder engine, and benefits from a new VDC electronic stability control system. The net effect of all this new hardware is more power and control in a practical, well-equipped vehicle. 

    Lineup

    Completely redesigned last year, Subaru's Legacy-based Outback series features two new models for 2001. (Though it also carries the Outback name, don't be confused by the Outback Sport, which is a smaller, Impreza-based model.)

    Returning to the lineup are the Outback Wagon ($22,895), Outback Limited Sedan ($25,995) and Outback Limited Wagon ($26,295). All three get bigger front disc brakes for 2001, along with some interior refinements; and a limited-slip rear differential is now standard equipment on both the Outback Wagon and Limited Wagon. 

    The 2001 additions to the Outback series are both upscale models, and come equipped with Subaru's new 212-horsepower six-cylinder engine. Based on the Outback Limited Wagon, the L.L. Bean Edition ($29,495) offers a package of exclusive comfort and appearance features and a no-cost, extended maintenance package (tire rotations and oil changes are covered for three years, at the manufacturer's recommended service intervals). 

    The Outback H6-3.0 VDC ($31,895) is the technology standard-bearer of the lineup. In addition to the 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, the VDC uses the company's most sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, with all-speed traction control. VDC and L.L. Bean models come standard with automatic transmissions. 

    Walkaround

    All of the Outback Wagons share chunky, functional styling. A wide grille and stone guard-shielded fog lights flank a beefy front bumper. Broad ribbed body cladding from mid-door downward dominates the profile. Dressy alloy wheels add a dash of flash. The rear view features wraparound taillights and a cut-down bumper into which the hatchback door is neatly recessed. 

    As elsewhere in the Subaru lineup, Outback Sedans are far more rarely seen than Outback Wagons. The heavy body cladding on the Outback Limited Sedan looks a little less natural than on the Outback Wagons - not unlike a pair of hiking boots worn with a suit. 

    Interior

    The interior of the L.L. Bean Edition is upholstered in two-toned leather with wood trim, and bears the logo of the well-known Freeport, Maine, outfitter. The Outback VDC's cabin is very nicely appointed as well, as befits its price tag. The VDC also boasts leather-trimmed seating, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, Momo steering wheel, automatic climate control and a high-line sound system. Manufactured by McIntosh Audio - known to audiophiles for their premium home stereo components - the system includes 200 watts of power channeled through 11 speakers in seven locations. The AM/FM/Weather band receiver also houses cassette and CD players. The retro-looking faceplate stands out in a crowd, as does the exceptional sound quality. (If the kids borrow your VDC, be sure that you turn the sound down before you start the car.)

    The driving position is comfortable. The front seats are adjustable to fit most any size passenger. Visibility is good in all directions with the exception of straight back, where the view is hindered somewhat by the trio of headrests perched atop the back seats. Switchgear and controls are easy to reach and uncomplicated to use. The VDC, L.L. Bean and Limited Wagons all have an unusual, dual power moon roof. The front section pops up, the back opens and closes fully. 

    There is room enough for two adults in back (three in a pinch), though six footers will find rear leg room in short supply, especially if the front-seat passengers are similarly long of limb. Storage space behind the 60/40 split folding back seat is plentiful, measuring 68.6 cubic feet with rear seats folded and 34.2 cubic feet with all seats in place. Lift over height in back is low, affording easy access to cargo through the hatchback. A retractable cover shields the contents from inquiring eyes. 

    Driving Impression

    The new 3.0-liter horizontally opposed six produces 212 horsepower and 210 pounds-feet of torque. This compares with 165 horsepower and 166 pounds-feet in the four-cylinder engines found elsewhere in the Subaru lineup. 

    The power boost from the bigger motor is not readily apparent except in high-demand situations, like passing. Many of us who have owned four-cylinder cars over the years have become accustomed to tepid performance as a tradeoff for fuel economy and learn to wait for a stiff tailwind before attempting a passing maneuver. No need in the VDC. The power peaks at 6000 rpm, so when you kick down the automatic transmission and step out to pass you're not out there for too long. By the federal EPA's reckoning, fuel economy measures 20 mpg city/27 highway for the six-cylinder VDC - almost the same as the four cylinder models. My test drive netted 22 miles per gallon in a mix of city/country driving. 

    Handling is more car-like than truck-like because the Outback is essentially a car. Seven-plus inches of ground clearance and high-profile tires don't make the VDC corner like a sports car, but it is noticeably nimbler than the taller, slower-maneuvering SUVs. The Outback delivers a comfortable ride quality to boot. And you won't need a rope ladder or a running start to hoist yourself into the cabin. 

    Three Subaru systems work in concert to assure that you get a grip - and keep it. They are: VTD, VDC and TCS. Here's how to decode the alphabet soup:

    Variable Torque Distribution is Subaru's latest all-wheel-drive system. VTD splits the power almost equally among all four wheels, all the time. (Other Subarus put 90% of the power to the front tires, shifting to all four when traction is poor.)

    Vehicle Dynamics Control, or VDC, is Subaru's new stability control system. This system monitors the angle of the steering wheel, throttle position, brakes and other inputs while the car is in motion, then makes adjustments if you're steering in a different direction from where the car is heading. 

    The Traction Control System comes into play only if all-wheel drive doesn't right your course. This traction control system applies brakes and/or reduces engine power to reduce wheel spin to help you keep your footing. 

    The net effect to the driver is a sophisticated system that enhances driver control in poor conditions. This is not to say that you won't ever get into trouble if you encounter bad road conditions or exercise poor judgment. But, it is reassuring to know that the Subaru system is there to help you maintain control, when foul weather or ragged roads make for rough sledding. Subaru's technology also helps make driving in adverse weather much easier, less stressful and more enjoyable. 

    Summary

    Subaru's line of Outbacks can conquer the worst road conditions, and the Outback Wagons continue to serve as sensible alternatives to big, heavy sport-utility vehicles. They are practical, comfortable, useful vehicles. 

    The VDC and Bean models inject power, luxury and enhanced traction into the relentlessly sensible Subaru lineup. Six-cylinder engines coupled with the latest electronic stability control systems improve safety and increase performance at the same time. Though loaded with features, these top two models are also pricey. At $31,895, the Outback VDC is priced close enough to invite comparisons with base models from upscale manufacturers: Volvo V70 Cross Country ($34.900), Lexus RX300 ($35,655), and Acura MDX ($34,370). 

    The best values in the Outback lineup remain the less expensive and highly competent four-cylinder models, starting at $22,895. 

    Model Lineup

    Wagon ($22,895); Limited Wagon ($26,295); Limited Sedan ($25,995); L.L. Bean Edition ($29,495); H6-3.0 VDC ($31,895). 

    Assembled In

    Lafayette, Indiana. 

    Options As Tested

    Model Tested

    Outback H6-3.0 VDC Wagon ($31,895). 

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