The end of the sport-utility era is upon us. It's now time to explore outside of the box and delve into the world of wagons. All are practical and some are, dare I say it, good looking. There are lots of choices, but we will look at the underdogs.
Part I dealt with the Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi. Part II will explore the Subaru Outback 3.0R.
The most common perception of Subaru is that its cars are owned by individuals who knit their own sweaters, live within 50 miles of the Canadian border and require all-wheel drive. Well, two out of three are incorrect.
If there was a brewing winter storm outside and I had to get to the emergency room fast, I would want to take a Subaru. Simply put, these cars chew up powder as quickly as a snow blower.
The Outback is essentially a Legacy on stilts. It is actually classified as the world's first sport utility wagon. Along with the extra ground clearance, the Legacy-on-stilts is equipped with an upgraded heavy-duty suspension. Although off-roading is certainly possible, I'm confident few owners will be fording rivers.
Subaru's turbocharged boxer engines push you back into the seat. But the Outback's naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine comes on rather disappointingly. The 3.0R sounds like a cross between an asthmatic and a sewing machine -- in low revs, it produces a pronounced whine. Although the 3.0R's motor is good for 245 horsepower and 215 foot pounds of torque, it's missing the fun factor of the turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer engine.
On the highway, the car's suspension creates float. It's kind of like riding a ferry on a morning commute. Good fun at first, but it wears off after several minutes and then you become seasick.
That said, the steering is uncomfortably light, yet sharp and agile. Although it may take time to get used to, once you adjust appropriately, it's not as worrying as when you first get behind the wheel.
Through a mix of the three settings, I achieved a respectable 20 miles per gallon. Not bad, considering the EPA suggests it's more likely to achieve a mediocre 17.
Bang for the buck is where the Outback shines. Taking a look at the competitors, the Audi A4 Avant and the BMW 328 wagon, both equipped with all-wheel drive and navigation systems, exceed $40,000. And they are less powerful. Although a major fault of many Japanese vehicles is component quality, especially on the interiors, Subaru has exceeded the mark.
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