- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

The old saying, "What goes around, comes around," could serve as a motto for Subaru.

Every time the Japanese manufacturer seemed to be stuck in a ditch, with the rest of the automobile world passing it by, a combination of circumstances some generated by Subaru itself, others not came to the rescue.

The company sat there with only a couple of basic models, the Legacy and the Impreza, while others were jumping on the sport utility bandwagon. So Subaru simply revamped the existing Legacy station wagon, called it an Outback and sold it successfully as a "sport utility wagon."

But it also got a boost from the fact that station wagons, especially ones that are small and expensive, were on the comeback road. So Subaru was even able to charge higher prices by stuffing six-cylinder engines and luxury accouterments into some models.

Later, of course, Subaru also managed to produce the Forester, which was not all that much different from the Legacy and Impreza, but at least looked like a traditional SUV.

The experience in transforming the Legacy into the Outback has been similar with the once-humble Impreza, which started out as an economy car that competed with the likes of the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic except that, like all Subarus, it had all-wheel drive.

Now the Impreza has been transformed into what some people might call "table grade." At the top of the model lineup is the inexpensive but potent WRX, which has the young performance-sedan folks salivating with its 227-horsepower engine and rally-bred handling characteristics.

But the model that also looks to fit the current motoring fashion is the 2002 Impreza Outback Sport. The basic body style, which has been around for some time, is somewhere between a small station wagon and a four-door hatchback.

As an economy Impreza, it was a useful if quirky-looking little people mover that also could carry more stuff in back than a big Lincoln Town Car.

Now that it's an Outback Sport, it still has those virtues but in a slick new package that's right in keeping with current trends. It straddles the divide between the four-door hatchback, which was once close to extinction but now is coming back, and the small luxury station wagon.

Though the basic body style is unchanged, the 2002 model presents a handsome face, with new oval headlights, a blacked-out grille and standard fog lights. It rides on 16-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, giving it the jacked-up, semi-SUV look of the Legacy Outback. The interior has been redesigned and upgraded as well, with new instruments and controls, tasteful trim, high-quality cloth upholstery and bucket seats up front that are beautifully shaped, supportive and comfortable.

In short, there is no longer any hint of an economy-car orientation.

To go along with the new look, there's ample power. The Outback Sport uses the same 2.5-liter engine that powers the larger Legacy Outback. Like all Subaru engines, it's a horizontally opposed design, sometimes referred to as a "flat" or "boxer" engine because the cylinders lie opposite each other, feet to feet, instead of standing up or leaning as in traditional in-line four or V-6 engines.

The only other manufacturer currently using boxer engines is Germany's Porsche, which produces expensive, high-performance sports cars but also is at work on a sport utility.

In the Outback Sport, the flat-four delivers a solid 165 horsepower through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Though the Outback Sport is a decent performer, its upscale orientation exacts a small penalty. All those touches that give it a substantial, luxury feel also increase the weight, which dampens the performance somewhat. For people who simply want a sporty small wagon with all-weather capabilities, the Impreza Outback Sport should do nicely. Its base price is $20,020 and, with a couple of minor options that included remote locking, topped out at $20,435.

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