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Subaru Outback

Broadcast dates : 11th July 2004
15th July 2004

With all the rally success Subaru has achieved with its WRX models, it is easy to forget that the Japanese company has a strong family- utility heritage.

Since the late 1960s Subaru has gained a loyal following in the North American market. The all-wheel-drive Subarus became highly regarded amongst people living in rural areas. Particularly in the northern areas where winter snow brings treacherous driving conditions.

The Subaru Legacy is perhaps an archetype of the modern Sports Utility Vehicle, although most people would perceive it as such.

It has an off-road ability at least the equal to soft-roaders like the BMW X3, or the Volvo XC90.

This is not immediately apparent, as the vehicle does not have the elevated driving position of most modern SUVs.

But according to Car Magazine, which tested the Subaru Outback earlier this year, "vehicles like the Audi All-Road, the Volvo XC70 and the Subaru Outback equal or better almost all SUVs when it comes to ground clearance."

The Outback is offered in both 2,5-litre and 3,0-litre form and our test model was the three-litre version. The horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine produces one hundred and eighty kilowatts and it is a unit as smooth as silk.

Like Car Magazine, we were somewhat surprised that the engine does not have any of the traditional Subaru offbeat warble at low engine speeds.

But then, this engine is similar in configuration to that of a Porsche 911, so it is not surprising that it is both smooth and powerful.

The Sportshift gearbox offers a full-automatic mode and a manual sports shift mode. It is a five-speed unit and very smooth-shifting.

Another excellent feature is that when the gearbox is in manual mode the system remains fixed in the selected gear. In other words, it does not override the manual mode, either when the engine redline is reached, or when speed drops very low in the rev range.

This provides the type of control a driver needs off-road. And it is useful on tarmac mountain passes too.

Torque transfer via the all-wheel-drive transmission makes for very effective traction over rough ground.

In its on-road acceleration tests, Car Magazine found the three-litre Outback a very efficient machine. Zero to one hundred at the coast was recorded in eight, comma four-six seconds, and top speed was two hundred and eight kilometres an hour - more than enough for a family sports wagon.

With a much lower centre of gravity the Outback feels safer at high speed cruising than a tall SUV, with less body roll.

This is a car for someone who wants something really different.

The standard, lower driving position does have its disadvantages in heavy traffic, especially with so many 4X4s, SUVs and tall commercials on our roads today. But for an effortless holiday cruise with a capacity for some mild off-road indulgence, the Subaru Outback takes some beating.

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